Sunday, September 19, 2004
Future doesn't look bright for American side
By Ron Sirak Golf World
Maybe the United States should see if Fiji is interested in becoming the 51st state.
That way Vijay Singh might be able to help the U.S. team get the Ryder Cup back. Europe has now taken home the trophy in seven of the last 10 of these little tea parties and four of the last five. And but for the fact that the hole happened to get in the way of Justin Leonard's ball at The Country Club in 1999, the U.S. team would have lost five in a row. Seems like it is safe to say that it can no longer be considered an upset when the Europeans win. The 18½ to 9½ thumping absorbed Sunday by the Americans at Oakland Hill Country Club is the worse loss ever in this event for the United States and the truth of the matter is that there is no relief in sight.
The U.S. team lost for the fourth time in the last five Ryder Cups.
Perhaps the most alarming development for the Americans is that they no longer dominate in singles play. Ever since Europe was added to Great Britain and Ireland in 1979, the trend has been for the Americans to fall behind in better-ball and alternate-shot play and then storm back on Sunday when it was one-one-one competition. The excuse was always that the team formats are quirky but in singles play the cream rises to the top. That was case in 1999 when the U.S. team won eight of the 12 singles matches and halved another to squeak out a 14½-12½ victory. But at The Belfry in 2002, and again this year, the Europeans humiliated the Americans in singles play by winning seven matches and halving one. The cream, it seems, now rises in a different cup.
The expected rally by the home team lasted about two hours and then collapsed in flurry of missed American putts and great European shots. Trailing 11-5 entering singles play, the Americans needed to win 9½ points on Sunday. When Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Davis Love III, Jim Furyk and Kenny Perry -- the first five matches out of the box -- grabbed early leads, it seemed briefly possible. But squandering early leads was one of the storylines of this Ryder Cup. In match after match over all three days it always seemed as if the European side would get stronger as a match would progress and the Americans would leak oil.
On Sunday, only Woods and Furyk among those first five Americans out held on to win their matches. Mickelson was 2 up after eight holes when Sergio Garcia reeled off three consecutive birdies to take a lead he never surrendered. Love was 2 up with three to play but Darren Clarke birdied 16 and 17 to earn a halve. And Perry was 2 up through seven holes only to lose to Lee Westwood. Quite simply, the Europeans showed more resolve under pressure than the Americans. Exactly why that is remains a question the next American captain must pose to his team when it travels to The K Club in Ireland for the 2006 Ryder Cup.
Maybe what the United States needs to do is make Jack Nicklaus be the next captain. After all, this mess is his fault. Nicklaus was the guy who suggested that Europeans be added to the Great Britain and Ireland team in order to even up the competition. That was done in 1979 after the Americans had won 17 of the previous 18 Ryder Cups. The U.S. side managed to win in '79, '81 and '83 but since Europe's breakthrough victory in 1985 the tide has definitely turned. And there is no reason to think it is going to start rushing in the other direction anytime soon.
The guys who lifted Europe to parity are gone -- Seve Ballesteros, Nick Faldo, Ian Woosnam, Sandy Lyle and Bernhard Langer. But the replacement parts have been easy to find. The core of the European team now -- Sergio Garcia, Darren Clarke, Lee Westwood and Padraig Harrington -- will be around for a few more Ryder Cups. And in Luke Donald, Ian Poulter and Paul Casey, the Europeans have some young studs who could be around for years to come. The only player under 30 on the American team was Woods. It is unlikely that Perry, Fred Funk and Jay Haas will ever play in another Ryder Cup and Love will be two years farther removed from his A game when the next Cup is contested. Simply put, the European have more players on the way up and the Americans have more on the way down.
There was a time when it was considered a good thing that Europe had become competitive in the Ryder Cup. There was a concern that fans would lose interest if the Americans won all the time. That time seems a distant speck in the rearview mirror. Now it is the Americans who have to figure out how to make the Ryder Cup competitive again. While the question as to why Europe is winning this competition now with such regularity likely requires an answer of many components, it is not far removed from the truth that one of those components is simply this: They want it more. To say that is not to question the competitive desire of the American team but rather it is by way of praising the determination of the European team.
Anyone trying to understand exactly what happened at Oakland Hills need only peek into the soul of one man -- Colin Montgomerie. He shows what the European side is made of. For them, it is all about pride and team. For them, the Ryder Cup is golf's version of World Cup soccer. For them, this is the Olympics of golf. It was altogether fitting and proper that Monty should secure the Cup-clinching point for Europe. Like all 11 of his teammates he has never won one of golf's four major championships. And when Montgomerie says he considers winning the Ryder Cup is like winning a major he likely is telling us why Europe is so successful. It is a fire -- and a desire -- the Americans need to find if they want to reclaim the Ryder Cup.
Ron Sirak is the Executive Editor of Golf World magazine.