GLENEAGLES, Scotland – This is the recurring nightmare for American golf.
A scoreboard bluer than Tom Watson’s eyes.
That infuriating song – “Ole, ole, ole, ole” – already echoing to the far corners of the Scottish Highlands.
It’s only Saturday night, but Europe’s poised to turn Sunday singles into another victory parade through the American ranks. The champagne’s on ice. Scottish bagpipers are prepping their blow sticks, ironing their kilts.
With a near clean sweep of Saturday’s afternoon foursomes, Europe built a commanding 10-6 lead.
“We got shellacked this afternoon,” U.S. captain Tom Watson said.
Scotland’s Colin Montgomerie, a Ryder Cup star and winning captain, doesn’t see much hope for the Americans.
“I can’t see Europe losing,” Montgomerie said.
No, it’s not officially over. We’ve seen epic comebacks in this event before. We saw the Americans overcome that same deficit at Brookline in ’99. We saw the Europeans do it just two years ago at Medinah, but that powerful phenomenon so integral to these Ryder Cups is rolling all downhill on the Americans. Momentum favors the Euros as they seek to win this event for the sixth time in seven tries and the eighth time in the last 10.
The merciless way Europe finished Saturday makes you believe a record rout is more likely than an epic comeback.
With the Americans looking as if they might salvage one stinking point in the afternoon foursomes, the Euros wouldn’t take a foot off their necks.
Teaming with Martin Kaymer, Europe’s Justin Rose holed a 5-foot birdie at the last to win a half point in the last match on the course against Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed, who looked to be in control until Reed missed an 18-inch putt at the 16th hole.
“We were just talking about that in the locker room just now, talking about how important Justin's putt on 18 was,” Europe’s Graeme McDowell said. “Because any glimmer of momentum that [the Americans] had, say they win that match, they take something with them into the locker room.”
McDowell remembered how important that was to the Euros two years ago, when they came roaring back on Sunday at Medinah. Ian Poulter’s hard charge on Saturday evening, his five-birdie finish to win a match that kept the Americans from taking an 11-5 lead into Sunday, resonated through Europe’s team room.
“That's why that putt for Justin was so huge, because it gave them nothing to take away this evening,” McDowell said.
European captain Paul McGinley has been striking the right notes all week, from bringing Manchester United soccer legend Sir Alex Ferguson into the team ranks, to his almost shaman-like devotion to some secret architectural template unique to Europe’s Ryder Cup effort, to the inspirational images and messages he has posted in the team room.
One image was particularly relevant Saturday night.
“It’s a picture of a European rock in the middle of a raging storm,” McGinley said.
That’s what McGinley’s expecting from the Americans Sunday. He’s expecting them to storm Gleneagles, but he’s expecting something else, too.
“We will be that rock when the storm arrives.”
That’s the inspirational message McGinley said is printed out below the image.
All of this brings Capt. Watson to a moment of truth.
Can he fix what’s so dreadfully wrong with the American Ryder Cup effort? This is his time. This is his moment. And this is a crossroads for the PGA of America. It’s why the organization broke tradition so boldly, bringing Watson back at age 65 to see if he could work one more magical victory in Scotland, where he won four of his five British Opens.
“You might think it’s a given that the Europeans are going to win, but I sure as hell don’t,” Watson said.
The woeful plight of the American Ryder Cup effort, and the depth of its desperation, is evident in the singles lineup Watson is sending out. He is putting rookies Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed out first and second in a front-loaded lineup.
Spieth (21) and Reed (24) combined to win 2 1/2 points in fourballs and foursomes on Friday and Saturday. They were the best American team this week. They were also the youngest American pairing in the history of the Ryder Cup.
“As I told the rookies, you could be the future soul of the Ryder Cup,” Watson said. “I like their attitudes. They are fiery. I like the look in their eyes.”
Is this where the American Ryder Cup effort is at? Rebuilding for the future? Hoping there’s something better for these rookies to lead someday?
Phil Mickelson and Keegan Bradley were the best new American team in years at Medinah. Watson sat them both sessions Saturday.
Watson is frontloading his lineup with youth. He’s sending Rickie Fowler (25) out third behind Spieth and Reed.
“Every player here is going to have to fight their guts out,” Watson said looking over his singles lineup.
If Watson’s all out of golfing miracles, if the Euros finish this shellacking, where does the American Ryder Cup effort go next?
Back to Paul Azinger? Do they bring back the last captain to lead the Americans to victory? His pod system in ’08 at Valhalla, his intricate architectural construct, seems closer to whatever template McGinley secretly guards than anything the Americans offer. McGinley spoke all week about how certain principles and practices have been handed down by past European captains. The Americans don’t have anything like that in place. They go in a new direction every two years.
The writing’s on the wall for Capt. Watson. There are two fates awaiting him in the history books, it seems. He’ll be remembered as one of the greatest American captains ever, the savior and demigod who rescued the U.S. effort. Or he’ll be the icon whose legend got gashed, the old man who was too far removed from today’s game, too out of touch with today’s players, to make a difference.
That’s the way it is for Ryder Cup captains these days, all or nothing.
If reaching for Watson was a desperate act, where does the desperation reach next?
What about following the lead of corporate America? What about outsourcing? What about doing what American sports empires do best? Go after the other team’s best coaches and players. Sign ‘em up as free agents. Change the American Ryder Cup rules. Forget about requiring players and captains to be American born. Sign up Ian Poulter, Justin Rose, Henrik Stenson and Graeme McDowell. They live in Orlando most of the year, anyway. Sign up Rory McIlroy and Lee Westwood. They’ve got homes in South Florida. Sign up Bernhard Langer as captain. He lives in Boca Raton.
OK, that’s a joke, but if Watson doesn’t bring home the Ryder Cup, the PGA better have some radical new template in mind, because it makes no sense that the United States should have so many highly ranked players who can’t win a Ryder Cup.