US Dominance Just Wait

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2004 UBS CupTake this test to see if youre a real golfer (or golf fan): When you drive by a course and see an undulating swath of velvety fairway leading to a slightly elevated green capped by a wind-whipped flag, does your pulse quicken?
 
Of course it does. And as one of The Initiated, you understand that that fairway, which looks like a carpet rumpled in the night by a mischievous giant, can cause dozens of crazy bounces. And somewhere within the driving zone is a speed slot ' which, if you hit your ball there, will fling a ball an extra 20 yards to the good ' and inches to the left of that, a shortcut to a stroke-sucking bunker.
 
Such is golf, and what seems unfairness to some is really the excitement of randomness to others. The games immutable relationship with fate also works against domination and dynasties. So if you expect the United States to continue to dominate in the UBS Cup, just wait ' all good things (or bad, if youre a Rest of the World fan) must come to an end, or at least a turning point.
 
In the first three Cups, U.S. players in the over-40 crowd have stepped up big. Hale Irwins overall record is 5 points. Scott Hoch is 4-3-2 since the Cups began in 2001, and Raymond Floyd is 4-2-3. Both Tom Lehman and 2004 Ryder Cup captain Hal Sutton are each undefeated at 3-0-0.
 
Nine U.S. players have won more matches than they have lost in the first three cups. Seven Rest-of-the-World players have done that, most notably Nick Faldo (6-2-1), 3004 captain Gary Player (4-2-0) and Des Smyth (4-1-1).
 
So what the U.S. has isnt quite a dynasty ' yet. Clearly, there have been some red, white and blue bounces on those undulating fairways. But as any golfer or golf fan knows, things could go the other way rapidly.
 
And thats what makes the game interesting every time you tee it up. Just as the Ryder Cup became a pressure cooker after years of U.S. ownership, just as Vijay Singh surpassed the incredible Tiger Woods in the World Golf Rankings this year, golfs only constant is change.
 
It stands to reason when you consider the personnel in the 2004 UBS Cup. On both sides, youve got a bunch of gamers, perfect gentlemen on the outside burning with competitive fires within.
 
As he showed us in the Ryder Cup, Colin Montgomerie can handle match play. Critics have dogged Monty for his lackluster records in big stroke play events in the U.S., but something about mano a mano makes the blood of his Scottish golf ancestors run hot through Montgomeries veins. Monty paired with 2004 European Ryder Cup captain Bernhard Langer to take down Raymond Floyd and Hale Irwin 5 and 3 in a foursomes match in the 2003 UBS Cup, a feat of giant-killing proportions in the golf world.
 
Watch out for Langer too, and for former Ryder Cup captain Sam Torrance. Each has a solid body of work in match play, and neither is likely to be an easy opponent. (Trust me; Hale Irwins 7-and-5 drubbing of Langer in the singles matches in the 2003 Cup was an anomaly. In the 2001 Cup, the best Irwin could manage against Langer was a half.)
 
Thats the key to both teams ' seasoning. Experience rests on the shoulders of all the UBS players, and that adds a special luster to the matches. Consider some of their accomplishments: Five British Open championships for Tom Watson. Two Masters for Langer. A stunning opening season on the Champions Tour for Craig Stadler. Fifty-five wins worldwide for Mark McNulty. All the UBS players long ago graduated from being able to fit their playing resumes on one page.
 
And dont forget the effect of this years playing captains. Not a golfer alive can bear the thought of disappointing either U.S. captain Arnold Palmer or Rest-of-the-World captain Gary Player, two of the games reigning elder statesmen. Age has not dampened their competitive infernos, so expect the younger set to play hard to please their skippers.
 
So what really dominates at the UBS Cup is not one team or the other ' but rather the unalloyed spirit of match play, done right by the seasoned experts. Thats not a knock on youth, just a realization that the greatest of games rewards experience as richly as it does muscle flexibility.
 
It would take a few more wins for the United States to claim real dominance. The real fun this year will be in watching the Rest of the World try to make a non-issue of it.
 
Related Links:
  • Meet the Teams
  • Full Coverage - UBS Cup