The Bitter Truths

Trying to figure out why the U.S. has lost five of the last six Ryder Cups has become a parlor game for golf fans everywhere. Which theories hold up?
September 15, 2008

1 The Europeansare simply better golfers than the Americans.
You can make the case that the European teams have been deeper than theAmerican teams over the past five Cups, but the most significant factor isthis: The U.S. team, during its recent losing streak, has had Tiger Woods andPhil Mickelson. Tiger and Phil! The Euros, for talent on paper, have had noone-two punch remotely equal. Two of the best golfers in history have played onevery American Ryder Cup team since 1997. And in those matches the U.S. is1--4. Having Mickelson and Woods playing for 10 points between them (when theyare not paired together) should all but guarantee U.S. victories. Mickelson andWoods should easily be able to combine for seven points. By that math the U.S.would need only 7 1/2 points from its 10 other players to win.
False.

2 The Europeansare loose; the Americans are tight.
Just look at them. The Euros treat the Ryder Cup as an all-expenses-paidholiday, with an open bar and a nightly all-you-can-eat buffet. The Americans,of course, have the same banquet spread before them, but not the same attitude.They see no novelty in it. After all, they play on a Tour that does not equategolf with fun. How can they be expected to suddenly switch gears? Theycan't.
True.

3 The Europeanshave had better captains.
Winning captains always look better than losing captains. (Theory Number 2applies to captains too.) Seve Ballesteros was way into Tom Kite's head. SamTorrance brought his wife, while Curtis Strange brought Mike Hulbert. BernhardLanger was cool, Hal Sutton overwrought. And Tom Lehman was much too serious,while Ian Woosnam was the ultimate good-time Charlie.
True.

4 The PresidentsCup hurts U.S. Ryder Cup play.
For Tiger, probably for Phil, maybe for Jim Furyk more than he knows, giving upa week of your life every year to represent your country in an essentiallymeaningless exhibition can take a toll. These three signed up as kids to play asolitary sport for personal enrichment, and for one week a year they are out oftheir element. Still, most players regard the freebie week as a careerhighlight.
Partially false.

5 The coursesfavor the Europeans.
The home team chooses the course and how it will be set up. Besides, theEuropean courses since '97—Valderrama in Spain, the Belfry in England and the KClub in Ireland—are as American as anything you'd find in southern Illinois.
False.

6 The Europeansare tougher.
Sure, there's Monty in his Gucci loafers, but for the most part the Europeanplayers grew up working class, didn't go to college and, as pros, don't make asmuch money as their American counterparts. We're not saying that theircountry-club childhoods and plush U.S. collegiate careers have made theAmerican golfers soft, but ... actually, that's exactly what we're saying.
True.

7 The Europeansare more accustomed to match play.
The Europeans played lots of matches as juniors, and in days gone by continuedto do so as pros during match-play money games during practice rounds. Thathasn't been the case for 20 years.
Partially true.

8 The Europeansputt better than the Americans.
Nick Faldo, Lee Westwood, Sergio García and Colin Montgomerie, among others,all tormented American golfers in various Ryder Cups with lights-out putting,then went back to being indifferent putters in majors and other stroke-playtournaments. To paraphrase Bobby Jones, there is putting and there ismatch-play putting with a partner, and they are not at all the same. The Eurossomehow take better advantage of the team-putting mentality.
Partially true.

9 The Europeanshave fielded better teams.
The won-lost column doesn't lie.
True.

Photo galleriesfrom every Ryder Cup session at GOLF.com.

WHO'S HOT?

Take away doublemajor winner Padraig Harrington, and no one is. Here's the overall record ofthe members of the two teams from the British Open through the Deutsche BankChampionship.

[This articlecontains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]

  Eur. U.S.
Starts 55 62
Wins 2 0
Top 10s 22 16
Cuts Made 42 52
Avg. Finish 40.6 39.8

SINGULARSTRUGGLE

In Ryder Cupspast, conventional wisdom held that the U.S. could be counted on to dominate insingles. Not anymore. In their last five Cup wins Colin Montgomerie (above) andhis European teammates have come out on top in singles four times. Here's thepoints breakdown.

[This articlecontains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]

    Singles
  Final Eur. U.S.
2006 Eur. 18 1/2--9 1/2 8 1/2 3 1/2
2004 Eur. 18 1/2--9 1/2 7 1/2 4 1/2
2002 Eur. 15 1/2--12 1/2 7 1/2 4 1/2
1999 U.S. 14 1/2--13 1/2 3 1/2 8 1/2
1997 Eur. 14 1/2--13 1/2 4 8
1995 Eur. 14 1/2--13 1/2 7 1/2 4 1/2
PHOTOPhotograph by ROBERT BECKWATCH DOGS The U.S. team and its entourage sat together during the Sunday singles in Ireland in '06, but couldn't replicate the togetherness and determination of the Europeans. PHOTOBOB MARTIN

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)