Sheboygan, Wisconsin — Welcome to the Ryder Cup, where the European team are a big underdog. Again.
Haven’t we learned anything? Haven’t we been careful over the past 20 years when the European underdogs – sorry, the so-called European underdogs – have repeatedly crushed the mystified and stunned American team?
Numbers don’t lie, only liars who use them do. The numbers say the Euros, forgive my abbreviation, have won four of the last five Ryder Cups, seven of the last nine and nine of the last 12.
In other words: in the last 26 years, the United States has won the Cup only four times.
During the same period, this is also the number of times the undersized and overstaffed US Naval Academy has defeated the mighty Notre Dame in football.
Europe is the dominant Notre Dame of the Ryder Cup. The United States is their navy. Until Americans do something remarkable like win back-to-back Ryder Cups for the first time since 1993, the Euros are the undisputed kings of this continental hill. They own it. Now, an American victory – if there is another – must be presented as an upheaval.
The backing music for the Euros would be “We Are the Champions” by Queen. Americans? Maybe Green Day’s “Wake Up When September Ends” because this nightmare repeats itself more often than the terrible “Legend of Bagger Vance” on Golf Channel.
The Euros are the reigning champions. They are not underdogs despite what the statistics might say. Do Americans have ten of the top 12 players in the world rankings? So what. Three years ago in France, the Americans had an average world ranking of 11.2 against 19.1 for the Euros, and half of the European team ranked lower than 17th Tony Finau, the second-most American misclassified. How did this Cup go? The United States has been grilled à la française.
Consider this sobering nugget: The last time Tiger Woods won a Ryder Cup was… 1999. Woods is not here this week in the role of vice-captain due to his recovery from a car accident. car in February. The United States was 1-7 when playing in a Ryder Cup and 3-9 when Phil Mickelson was on the squad.
The secret sauce to winning the Ryder Cups is clearly a European recipe. What is that? If they know, they don’t say it. But it’s a combination of chemistry, selflessness, fun, and aggressive putting that works. As a team, they are special.
Padraig Harrington, the European captain, played into this sentiment by showing an inspiring video for his team on Monday night which explained how this was a select squad: 164 men have played for the European team in history of the Ryder Cup.
The video is awesome. If this Ryder Cup was a video battle, it’s already over and the Euros come from Pearl to shelter the Americans.
“He (Harrington) played a video to put it in context,” said Rory McIlroy, who was playing in his sixth Ryder Cup. “There are only 570 people who have been in space. Over 5,000 have climbed Mount Everest and 225 have won a major men’s championship. When you break it down like that, we’re in a pretty small group and it’s pretty cool.
The video also tagged each player with their number according to the Cup timeline.
McIlroy is # 144. Englishman Lee Westwood, 48, is No.118. Ryder Cup rookie Bernd Wiesberger from Austria is No.164. Each player has a designated and numbered place in the story. It’s like having your own parking space as Employee of the Month, only better.
“It’s something to be very proud of,” said Westwood.
Spaniard Sergio Garcia (No.120, by the way) said the video “is very powerful” and shows how difficult it is to put together a team for the Ryder Cup. “It’s an honor,” said Garcia, 41. “That’s why we give him the respect he deserves.”
Garcia played his first Ryder Cup in 1999 at the age of 19. He won 25.5 points in the Ryder Cup, a record for each team.
“I wasn’t really aware of that until Sunday three years ago in Paris,” Garcia said. “I’m very proud of it and it’s something I’m going to have the rest of my life, personally, but once you get on that first tee it’s not about you, it’s about the team . I’ve always said it, I’d rather go 0-5 and win the Ryder Cup than 5-0 and lose it. This is not going to change.
McIlroy just said, “We play for each other.”
Maybe the magic recipe really is that simple. There is something about being a major ingredient, however. The Ryder Cup, like golf itself, is a putting competition. The best players in the world have all done well. Maybe American Collin Morikawa is the best iron player in the world right now, but the likes of Spieth, Westwood and Garcia are only tiny behind him and on any given day, well … not like the era of the tiger when he was so much the best player with an iron in his hands all yardage that no one else deserved to be called second best.
We’ve seen players who are – let’s be polite – average putters like Garcia and Westwood and Colin Montgomerie transform into Ben Crenshaw on the greens when the Ryder Cup begins. How can this be? Perhaps it is the aspect of team play that relieves the pressure. Bringing into match play is not the same as putting into stroke play. In match play, the worst that can happen is to lose a hole.
In stroke play, the worst that can happen is anything you can imagine: three putts, four putts, five putts, yuck. Match play putts tend to be make or die and there is less concern of having a risky three-foot comebacker if you miss because the putt can be conceded, the hole has already been won or lost or halve or your partner has to clean up your mess.
In stroke play, weak putters tend to be more worried about facing a disturbing three-footer for the par than about making the 15-footer for a birdie. They putt more cautiously, more timidly, perhaps defensively. Doesn’t that sound more like Garcia or Monty on a normal day?
So why doesn’t this theory work for Americans either? Well, that’s why it’s a European recipe. There is more to the magic sauce than it looks. This is why Europeans came here eagerly to have another exuberant celebratory party and why Americans arrived here excited to have the chance to atone for the debacle in France three years ago, but hoping, without expecting it. They are also familiar with recent history and may dread the possibility of another Ryder Cup Scarlet Letter – L for Loss.
The clashes will not matter. The talent on either side is unmatched. The Americans have an Olympic gold medalist (Xander Sc Chaudele); the Open champion (Morikawa); the FedEx Cup champion (Patrick Cantlay); golf’s biggest hitter and biggest draw (Bryson DeChambeau). The Euros have the winner of the US Open and world No. 1 player (Jon Rahm); a Ryder Cup superhero (Ian Poulter); and a quadruple major champion who still has time to carve out his legacy as the best European player of all time (McIlroy).
It’s just the hits that count. “I’ve watched a lot of Ryder Cups on TV and that’s who makes the putts, who returns those games, who cuts the halves and who does it,” said Justin Thomas, who is expected to team up with Jordan Spieth for them. United States “We have 12 amazing players, they have 12 amazing players and that’s really going to perform the best.
History says that it is usually the Europeans who do this. They are 7-2 in the 21st century.
So don’t call the euros the underdog this week at Whistling Straits. Don’t even suggest it.
Or haven’t you learned anything?