Of the 19 flags that rippled in a cool breeze Tuesday morning at The Grove, none was a blue banner with 13 gold stars. They were from Northern Ireland and South Africa, Canada and Australia, the United States and England.
Chad Campbell, Brett Wetterich and Jim Furyk walked down the first fairway as friends, but not teammates. Phil Mickelson has gone back on vacation, if he ever left. No one will pick up a ball from anywhere but the bottom of the cup.
Everyone is responsible for his own golf. Only one player gets the trophy.
The winner gets $1.3 million.
The only winning streak anyone is talking about involves Tiger Woods, the best in the world when he's playing for himself. While his streak ended two weeks ago at the World Match Play Championship about 30 miles down the M25 at Wentworth, a victory in the American Express Championship would be his sixth in a row at PGA TOUR events.
Ah, this is more like it.
Sure, Woods successfully defending his title at this World Golf Championship would only emphasize that Americans care more about their own achievements than winning a 17-inch golf trophy named after an English seed merchant.
But that's how it should be.
Golf is an individual game. Legacies are built on personal success, not team play that happens one week out of the year. Think of the players who are linked with their performance in team events, and you'll find guys who have never won a major, some who have never won many tournaments at all.
Colin Montgomerie. Sergio Garcia. Chris DiMarco.
No one has won more points for Europe than Nick Faldo, but that's only a postscript on the resume of a six-time major champion who won back-to-back at the Masters and once made 18 pars in his final round to win the British Open.
The Europeans are not just winning the Ryder Cup -- three in a row, five of the last six -- but dominating. Just don't get the idea that Europe is dominating the world of golf.
How else to explain why their players have been shut out in the last 29 majors?
'We've got a lot more top-10s in the majors, we've got more wins in the majors, we've got more tournament wins,' Stewart Cink said. 'In every category, we outpace them.'
The exception, of course, is the Ryder Cup.
But does that matter?
We give the Ryder Cup too much credit for its place in the game. It is a wonderful exhibition, and because it is so different from the 72 holes of stroke play seen the majority of the year, it is by far the most exciting tournament in golf to watch.
If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, consider what has followed: the Presidents Cup, the Seve Trophy, the Royal Trophy, the UBS Warburg Cup (now extinct, thankfully), the Lexus Cup and something called the Handa Trophy, which pits senior U.S. women against senior women from the rest of the world.
All of them were or still are promoted as being styled after the Ryder Cup.
But these matches only decide which team gets the trophy. It doesn't make the Americans a bunch of chops, nor does it make the Europeans a world power.
Perhaps the most telling match of the Ryder Cup was when Garcia and Luke Donald defeated Woods and Furyk in a foursomes match Friday afternoon. Garcia played in the final round against Woods at the British Open and got smoked. Donald was tied for the lead with Woods in the final round at the PGA Championship and fell apart.
As partners, Garcia and Donald are 4-0 in foursomes play at the Ryder Cup.
'It's match play over 18 holes, and anything can happen in an 18-hole sprint,' Woods said. 'You play a stroke-play event, all you're looking for is one shot over 72 holes. It's more of a marathon. It's about being consistent. It about never making big numbers. You could be three down after the first nine holes ... you've got 63 holes to go.
'In match play, it can turn pretty quickly.'
The Ryder Cup was never that big of a deal before World War II, when the United States won four matches and Britain won twice. After the war, when Britain took far longer to recover, the Americans won the Ryder Cup 18 out of 19 times before the other side caught up. Britain first got help from Ireland in 1973, then all of continental Europe in 1979.
Just like the America's Cup, it became a big deal when the Americans started losing.
Now, the PGA of America wants it to be a big event because the Ryder Cup has become its biggest moneymaker. Europe needs it to become a big event -- and needs to win -- to help increase sponsorship for its tour.
No doubt, the top 12 Europeans as a whole are equal to the top 12 Americans, and Ian Woosnam probably was right when he said Europe is strong enough now to field two teams.
It's also possible that Europeans are about to catch up in the four Grand Slam events, as they did when their 'Big Five' of Faldo, Seve Ballesteros, Bernhard Langer, Ian Woosnam and Sandy Lyle combined to win 16 majors.
Europe had eight players finish in the top 10 at majors this year, including three who played in the final group: Kenneth Ferrie at the U.S. Open, Garcia at the British Open and Donald at the PGA Championship. Montgomerie was a 7-iron away from winning at Winged Foot.
That still shouldn't change the dynamics of the Ryder Cup.
It's still an exhibition, golf entertainment at its finest, and nothing more.
One of the famous stories about Woods as a child was that he kept a list of Jack Nicklaus' achievements on the wall in his bedroom.
It's safe to say that list included nothing about the Ryder Cup.
Copyright 2006 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.