A few weeks ago, the hot topic in the World of Golf was the trouncing that the European PGA Tour players put on their American counterparts in last month’s Ryder Cup competition in Scotland. It’s hard to figure out exactly why the European pros have bested the American squad eight times in ten competitions going back to 1995, but that doesn’t keep bloggers that have absolutely no idea what they’re talking about (like me!) from trying. Here goes:
Reasons why the Europeans Keep Kicking America’s Collective Butt in the Ryder Cup
- The Europeans aren’t the “Big 10 Conference” of golf anymore: these Euros can golf their ball, despite their tight white pants and aversion to BBQ and big trucks. Since 1993, when Old Tom Watson captained the American team to victory in our squad’s last road win, American players have accounted for 48 major-championship victories out of 88 opportunities…however, once you take out the 19 victories by guys named Woods & Mickelson, it evens out somewhat. Without counting Tiger and Phil, Americans have accounted for 29 victories since ’93, and the Europeans have 17. In the last ten years, Americans have 18 wins in majors (Woods and Mickelson combine for ten), and the Europeans claim 12 (four by Rory McIlroy, and three by Paddy Harrington). The talent pool looks almost even, until you consider that…
- You need a microscope to find the highest-ranked American players in the world among all the top players: alright, that’s hyperbole, but still, six of the Top 18 players in the world are Europeans, and of those six, four of those have won majors. Ten Americans are in the Top 18, and five have won majors (including Woods), but it’s pretty obvious that the Europeans have been steadily creeping up the World Golf Rankings (and accumulating titles) for the last several years. Currently, four Americans reside in the Top 10 in the WGR (with Jim Furyk the highest-ranked at #4), but four Europeans are in the Top 6.
- The Europeans like each other: players that like each other, spend time with each other, goof on each other (publicly via social media, or privately), etc., will usually compete harder for fear of letting their mates down. Tiger and Phil hold a grudging respect for each other, but don’t hang out after the round is over, and by all accounts, really don’t like each other very much. American players on tour that have “made it” (like the guys that earn a position on the Ryder Cup team) travel with a tightly-knit entourage, and keep their circles very small; European players tend to travel and bunk up together (especially the ones that still play full-time in Europe, where prize money is typically less), play practice rounds together, and genuinely seem to have more close friends. For proof of this camaraderie, just look at the last eight European celebrations after their Ryder Cup victories in 1995, 1997, 2002, 2004, 2006, 2010, 2012, and 2014. It was rumored before this year’s competition began that European stalwarts (and countrymen) Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell had beef over a lawsuit between McDowell and Rory’s management company over McDowell not getting as much focus as golf’s current wunderkind. Do these guys look like they have any residual hard feelings? https://mtc.cdn.vine.co/r/videos/2281F9722E1128050746357637120_23d6ea87503.5.1.11012420199005361236.mp4?versionId=zJDVDaCOQnQtLROXVspnAS85tfImY2bR
- The format befuddles American players: There is only one match-play event on the yearly PGA schedule, the WGC Accenture Match-Play Championship (which includes the top European players). Match play is a wonderful format for playing (after all, if you pull a “Kevin Na” and make a 17 on a hole, you can still win the match), but it is difficult to watch on TV unless you like watching only two players for over four hours. Conversely, European players get a few more opportunities to play in match play events during the season, which can’t hurt with their Ryder Cup preparation.
Seve’s ghost: I don’t really believe in ghosts, but Seve Ballesteros’ spirit is almost palpable around the European team. With the late Spaniard’s best buddy Jose-Maria Olazabal coaching the European team a year after Seve died in the 2012 matches, the Euros stormed back from a final-day 10-6 deficit to win the Cup. They haven’t looked back. Remember, it was Seve’s burgeoning influence on the game that helped to change the biennial matches from a US-vs.-Great Britain matchup (typically won by the Americans) into a US-vs.-Europe competition.
- It’s the coaching: I love Tom Watson. He’s one of my favorite all-time players. I was never more crestfallen after a sporting event than when 59-year-old Tom Watson lost a playoff to Stewart Cink in the 2009 Open Championship. Not even Bill Buckner’s error to end Game 6 in the 1986 World Series broke my heart as badly. So, with that said, maybe Tom and the other previous American skippers should take a page from the last successful American captain, Paul Azinger, who formed three four-man groups before the 2008 matches started in order to get his guys to bond…a tactic used successfully by past European captains. It must have worked, because the Americans won, 16-11…without Tiger Woods competing.
Born and raised on the stretch of Interstate 4 that connects Tampa Bay to Disney World, Scott Fields grew up around Central Florida golf courses. A former competitive player and University of Florida alum, he now lives with his wife and two sons in the North Dallas/Fort Worth area, where he still enjoys an occasional round (with cigar and beer) when it’s not college football season. He is even more passionate about the game now than he ever was. Check out more about Scott on his blog Grits and Golf.