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Struggling Americans Face Tough Road in Ryder Cup

Come to think of it, Corey Pavin has the worst job in golf. How would you like to be handed the task of putting together an American team to beat the Europeans in the Ryder Cup?

Given the performance of the U.S. contingent at its national championship, the prospects of an American victory in the fall in Wales look as dim as a fading summer sunset. Not only will the U.S. team be the underdogs, it might have absolutely no chance.

The top end of American professional golf hasn’t been in such dire straits since before Tiger Woods introduced himself in 1996 with a cheeky, “Hello, world.” Since then, American golf has been churned up in the Tiger tsunami and now the flotsam and jetsam have washed up on shore. The wreckage is not a pretty sight and it cuts a wide swath.

What’s left is a country whose golf is in tatters. Only six Americans are in the top 20 of the Official World Golf Ranking and none of them is playing a lick. If you had been offered a head-to-head bet pitting Woods against Gregory Havret in the final round of the U.S. Open, how much action would you have anticipated on Havret?

When they went birdie-bogey on the first hole on Sunday in Havret’s favor, the game was over. Woods bogeyed half of his first 12 holes and Havret went on to finish second at Pebble Beach, one shot behind winner Graeme McDowell. Not only didn’t Woods threaten the lead, he looked no better than ordinary. If you can’t beat Havret, who can you beat?

Woods hasn’t played this badly when it counts since he was 11 years old. Yes, he’s still No. 1 in the world, but that is owed to the vagaries of the Official World Golf Ranking. He certainly isn’t the best player in the world at the moment. He’s not even the best American. Yes, he tied for fourth at the U.S. Open with Phil Mickelson – No. 2 in the world – but we are measuring Woods and others according to their own high standards.

America’s top-ranked players have done little or nothing this year besides Mickelson’s Masters victory to justify their high ranking. Steve Stricker has been injured and way off his form and Jim Furyk continues to mystify with his own poor play. Yet, they remain in the OWGR top 10.

On the other hand, eight of the top 20 are from Great Britain and Ireland, five in the top 10. Think of a European Ryder Cup team with Lee Westwood (No. 3), Luke Donald (7), Paul Casey (8), Ian Poulter (9), Rory McIlroy (10) and McDowell (13). And there is one other European in the top 20 – Martin Kaymer of Germany at No. 11.

The Europeans are going to be so good that Padraig Harrington, Sergio Garcia and Justin Rose might be fighting to be captain’s picks for Colin Montgomerie. On the other hand, the Americans are so desperate that names such as Tom Watson and Fred Couples have been tossed about as possible captain’s picks for Pavin.

Who is the best American player at the moment? Or, better yet, who is the least mediocre?

We had the highest of hopes for Dustin Johnson – and still do – despite his Sunday unraveling at Pebble Beach. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, it’s said, and let’s hope he’s not slain by an 82. American golf needs him.

If Rickie Fowler would break through and win a time or two between now and the PGA Championship, he might be a pick for the Ryder Cup team. He is certainly the most exciting player on Tour. And consider the twentysomethings who have won 10 times on Tour this year, such as Johnson and Hunter Mahan. Anthony Kim would automatically be on this list if not for hand surgery that has him on the shelf.

How to turn this around is problematic at best. Jim Colbert, who used to be able to play a little, always said there were no flimsy excuses for bad golf on the PGA Tour. “Just play better,” he said. The top players in the U.S. are all capable of great things. But whether they haven’t been inspired or don’t have the right teacher or their personal lives are in disarray matters not. Just play golf.

Woods knows how to swing a club. He has been doing it since he was 3 years old. He’s the best in the world at making a score with less than perfect mechanics. If he’d just let the golf swing go and instead play by feel and instinct and have some fun, who knows, the assault on Jack Nicklaus’ majors record might crank back up in earnest.

Mickelson needs to ditch Dave Stockton, dump Dave Pelz and bounce Butch Harmon. Mickelson is one of the two best players in the game at visualizing shots. Go do that. Leave theory alone and go play. He’s at his best when left to his imagination and nothing else.

Otherwise, when left to our imagination and nothing else, all we can see on the horizon is American golf gone from riches to rags. Unless it can reverse itself in three short months, we won’t be able to get the sing-song, “Ole, ole, ole, ole,” out of our heads.


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