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America: The Land Of Opportunity

It’s not popular to defend the United States and it needs no one to speak for it. America speaks for itself. For all its flaws, this is the greatest country in the world and there is no second place.

But it is easy to get a first-class hate on against Americans for thinking they’re the biggest, the best and the baddest, and in no other place in sports does the vitriol go on the rise as in the Ryder Cup. Paul Casey, a European Ryder Cup player in years past, was quoted a few years ago as saying he “properly hates” Americans in those team matches, and those ill-chosen words cost him an equipment endorsement contract and some bad press. He was simply saying out loud what many Europeans who play golf for a living say to each other.

But it did not cost him any affection from the American people because free speech is the first and most enduring principle on these shores. If you want to say something bad about the U.S. or its inhabitants, go right ahead because Americans will defend to the death your right to speak your mind, no matter how damaging or critical to themselves.

The British press savaged U.S. captain Corey Pavin for inviting Maj. Dan Rooney – a fighter pilot, war veteran and PGA professional – to speak to his team. Writers wondered why Americans are so obsessed with warmongering and constantly comparing sport with war. We won’t even talk about what the world would look like if the greatest generation on the planet hadn’t stepped up on countless occasions to defend the liberty of many of the countries represented in the Ryder Cup.

So, if the Europeans need to hate the Yanks to stir up enough emotion to beat the Americans every two years in the Ryder Cup, then properly have at it. But what would really be nice is if the Europeans, who make a living on these shores, show just a little gratitude for a country that has made them wealthy and famous – and has asked for nothing in return.

Casey, Luke Donald, Ian Poulter, Padraig Harrington, Rory McIlroy and Lee Westwood – the heart of European Ryder Cup – have become millionaires thanks, in large measure, to the biggest, richest golf tour in the world. They are famous for waving the blue and yellow flag of the European Union once every two years, but they are making a boatload of money in this country, and it’s entirely too rare that you ever hear them in public say, “Thank you.”

The casual golf fan would be led to believe that these players are European and therefore support their home European Tour. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Casey, born an Englishman, got an American education at Arizona State – thanks to a scholarship. He married an American woman and lives in Scottsdale, Ariz. He played 16 PGA Tour events and four European Tour events in 2010. That counts all the majors and the World Golf Championship events. All the PGA Tour events except the Open Championship are American creations played on American soil. 

Donald, also an Englishman, was educated at Northwestern University – on a scholarship – married an American woman and still lives in Chicago full-time. And, he plays the PGA Tour full-time. This year, he played in 20 PGA Tour events and only four on the European Tour.

Poulter, another Englishman, lives in Orlando, like a lot of PGA Tour players do. He bleeds blue and yellow through and through but his playing schedule suggests otherwise. He played 15 PGA Tour events this year and only four on the European Tour.

Harrington, an Irishman, played in 18 PGA Tour events and three on the Euro Tour this year. McIlroy, from Northern Ireland, has 16 PGA Tour starts and five on the European Tour in 2010. Even Westwood, whom you just assume is a full-time supporter of the European Tour, played in only four European Tour events in 2010, as opposed to 11 on the U.S. Tour.

European golfers can be as nationalistic and jingoistic as anyone on the planet. Within the confines of the Ryder Cup team, they divide themselves along their country’s borders. In the team matches, the first choice is always that Englishmen play with Englishmen, Italians with Italians, Scotsmen with Scotsmen, Ulstermen with Ulstermen, Spaniards with Spaniards, Swedes with Swedes.

It is, after all, one of the elements of their success in four-balls and foursomes matches. It is the prime reason Edoardo Molinari was a captain’s pick by Colin Montgomerie and Casey wasn’t. Molinari’s brother, Francesco, made the team on points and needed a partner.

Americans welcome the best players in the world to play on the biggest Tour in the world, just as they welcome the best in any other endeavor, no matter what part of the world they come from. This is truly the land of opportunity. Golf watchers tend to think that better competition engenders better players in the long run – on both sides.

It is not a bad thing that Europe won the Ryder Cup again. It is still healthy. But it would be a good thing if certain European players would show a little more gratitude. Just a little.


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