Now that the Americans return home following what we can now confidently describe as their traditional biennial Ryder Cup thrashing, it is interesting to consider one of the great sporting puzzles.
The immediate reasons why the millionaire Major-winning Americans keep getting pounded by their relatively poor European counterparts are not mysterious: despite having better individual players, they simply cannot adjust to playing a team game.
Golf is a game of very fine margins at the top level and is therefore played mostly in the mind. Thus, you could have staked your house on the Europeans after the first round of fourballs, just from watching the body language. The Europeans made it look like golf was actually a fun game, the Americans, especially Woods, made it look like the whole thing was a chore somewhat less pleasant than cleaning out sewers.
The deeper puzzle is why this should happen, when the USA is, after all, a proper and ferociously patriotic country, and the ‘Europe’ is an entirely artificial team of convenience, which participates under said banner in no other major sport. Surely it should be the other way about, with the US uniting under the flag, and the Euros but a Babel Tower of disconnected individuals?
But perhaps therein lies the answer. When the British Isles team was expanded to include continental Europe in the late 70s to make it a proper contest, the idea was presumably so that the Brits could be augmented by some extra decent players. But the Europe banner provides much more than just a couple of ice-cool Swedes and suave Spaniards – in a way it takes all the pressure off. The US team has to cope with the burden of representing a nation, and put up with all those oh-so-endearing and not at all infuriatingly repetitive chants of “Yoo Ess Ay”. There are no chants about ‘Europe’ because nobody supports ‘Europe’. They’re just a bunch of otherwise-underachieving men aiming to knock the private jet-flying yanks off their perch every couple of years, and we love them for it.
Much is made of the fact that the players don’t socialise on the US Tour – they play their round then go back to the hotel and order room service, whereas the European tour players all drink pints of the Black Stuff in the bar together. And that is what it comes down to: the American team consists of a set of men who don’t like each other, burdened down by the expectations of a nation. The European team is a group of mates playing just for each other.
The whole thing is thus completely unfair.
Other than reverting back to a British-only team, the only way to even it up for next time will be to change the US team to “The Americas.” You wouldn’t even need to actually have any token Mexicans or Canadians playing, just so long as nobody watching can jinx the home golfers by shouting “Yoo Ess Ay, You Ess Ay….”
(ps. The US team would also immediately benefit by dropping that waste of space Mickelson)