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Ryder cup reality: americans should embrace being the underdogs


It has been a month since the U.S. Ryder Cup team got blown away by the European team 16 ½ to 11 ½ at the Marco Simone golf club in Italy. The last time the U.S. team won a Ryder Cup on foreign soil was 30 years ago, in 1993, in England. Two years ago at Whistling Straits, a stacked U.S. team beat the Euros 19 to 9, prompting golf pundits to start chatting about an “emerging dominance” from the U.S. team. Then eight months later the LIV tour changed pro golf. So what happened to the U.S. team in Italy?

Things started to go south from the first tee shots. The morning matches on Day One were foursomes, the two-against-two match play term for alternate shot golf. The Americans lost all four matches. So, after 5 hours of the 2023 Ryder Cup, the U.S. was down four points! On Day Two foursomes the Euros won 3 to 1; a total 7-1 for the week in one format. Despite spirited play from the Americans in the singles matches, they dug themselves into too deep a hole in the pairs matches.

Not that there wasn’t drama at this year’s Ryder Cup, like almost every other Ryder Cup. In 2004, at Oakland Hills there was the Woods-Mickelson pairing which went 0-2, the rainsuits that didn’t work in
Wales in 2010, and Tom Watson’s ill-fated captaincy in 2014 at Gleneagles. But this year it was “hat-gate.” Patrick Cantlay went hatless, saying his hat didn’t fit, leading to a false rumor, that spread like wildfire, that he refused to wear the hat because he was protesting not getting paid to wear it. And it may have created a rift in the locker room. The episode spurred the 40,000 Euro fans to hoot and waive hats in-mass every day from every stands. It doesn’t take much to cause drama and distraction.

One of the best, and most accurate, assessments of the current American Ryder Cup debacle came from Hal Phillips, who was writing for www.firstcallgolf.com Oct. 13. He notes in the years where the U.S. played Britain, from 1927 through 1982, it was the U.S. 22 and Britain 3. Then in 1985, the Ryder Cup added Continental Europe (and 200 million more people) to the battle and things changed drastically. “For 30 years now, European Ryder Cup teams have perpetrated an uncanny competitive fraud. Somehow, in the run-up to each renewal of golf’s most prestigious and hotly contested team competition – and despite going 11-4 vs the Americans since 1995 – these Euros have managed to inhabit and shrewdly leverage the role of perpetual underdogs,” writes Phillips. Since 1985, the Euros have gone 12-6-1! The U.S. side has blindly hung on to the belief that public claims of superiority and greater talent depth, however specious, bolster the will to win and the false confidence of certain victory. “Self-belief is important,” Phillips says. “But delusion is never the answer. In the face of adversity, against a competitive equal, it’s the equivalent of an anchor around one’s neck.” In my view, the American media is mostly responsible for promoting that delusion.

Phillips then poses the question why the U.S. players do not relish their Ryder Cup experiences like their European counterparts, regardless of which side of the Pond they’re playing. “There’s no mystery to it,” he says. “All the Yanks talk about are the pressures associated with this event. If they lose, they’ve been ‘upset’ by inferiors, again. If they do prevail, said victory only reinforces this unreasonable assumption that the U.S. players ‘should’ win every two years.” His theory is that the Euros compete with joy and freedom and far smaller doses of pressure because they don’t saddle themselves with any self-imposed, baseless expectations of a “must win” ideal. Also, I say, it has much to do with the fact that the Euros come from a diverse collection of countries, unlike the U.S. boys.

That said, hats off, so to speak, to the Euros for out-coaching and out-playing the Americans, making more long putts and chip-ins, and playing with unified fervor. If I were coaching the U.S. Ryder Cup team I would arrange for three weeks of alternate-shot practice leading up to the tournament.