Too Many Cups Runneth Over

A week of wound-licking hasn’t tempered
the sting from the U.S. collapse in
the Ryder Cup. In fact, now that the shock
has worn off, the historic Meltdown at
Medinah has driven golf fans to maddening
and depressing depths.
The reason is simple. Like Charlie
Brown trying to kick the football, American
fans have, once again, seen hope
snatched out from under them. A generation
has grown up watching the U.S. lose
seven of the last nine Ryder Cups going all
the way back to Bill Clinton’s first term.
Mathematicians would call that a pattern.
And U.S. golf fans want to know why.
How can the U.S. field the top players
in the world, reigning major champions,
leading money winners, FedEx Cup
titleholders and leaders in every statistical
category and continue to lose?
Why can players change, captains
change, venues change, qualification procedures
change, captain’s picks change,
the weather, the conditions, and the
uniforms all change, but the one thing that
remains constant is that Europe wins and
the U.S. loses?
The old explanations don’t work. The
Europeans aren’t closer because they ride
trains together from Zurich to Istanbul.
Luke Donald lives 25 minutes from Medinah
and most of his teammates spend a
good chunk of the year in Florida.
Captain Davis Love III offered a standard
line. “In the end, I think Dustin Johnson
said it best,” Love said in Las Vegas. “Everybody
is feeling sorry for themselves and
he says, ‘Man, it’s just golf. They knocked
in a bunch of putts and ours lipped out.
There’s nothing we can do about it.’ You
know, that really did sum it up.”
But that doesn’t get to the heart of
the problem. Saying the Europeans holed
more putts is like saying the Washington
Nationals won baseball games because
they scored more runs. Stating the obvious
does not pass as an explanation.
It is statistically impossible that different
players from one side would consistently
hole putts on different courses in
different conditions during one week every
other year for two decades while players
from the other team had putts “lip out.”
No, to find the real reason for the U.S.
failures requires discarding old clichés
and examining history with an unflinching
eye. Because history does offer an explanation,
an uncomfortable and controversial
one, but one that should be explored
From 1979, the first year players from
Continental Europe were included in the
Ryder Cup, through 1994, the matches
were pretty evenly split. The U.S. won five
Ryder Cups, three at home and two on the
road. Europe won three, once at home at
The Belfry, once in the U.S., at Muirfield
Village, and they retained the Cup with a
tie at home in 1989. Some of the matches
were close, some were blowouts, but all
were dramatic and competitive.
Since 1994, Europe has browbeaten
the United States at home and abroad. In
almost all of those matches, Team USA
entered as the favorite, and in all but two
instances – once when they mounted a
record-setting final-day comeback, and
once when they were considered underdogs
because of the absence of Tiger
Woods – they lost.
So what changed after 1994? What one
variable has remained constant since that
time that could possibly affect the U.S, but
not the Europeans?
Simple: the PGA Tour added The
Presidents Cup to the schedule. Every year
since 1994 American players have put on
uniforms, marched through an opening
ceremony, played with a partner in fourball
and foursomes, and shared a team
room and a captain. Every year they have
put their hands over their hearts and sang
the National Anthem, and every year they
have heard their names announced on
the first tee as “Representing the United
States of America.”
Frequency dilutes value. It always has.
Coors beer was only special in Virginia
and Florida and the Carolinas back when
you couldn’t buy it east of the Mississippi.
Air travel was only sexy when a select
few could do it. The Olympics carry more
weight than the championships because
the Games come once every four years,
just as the World Cup is far more precious
to soccer fans than year-in-and-year-out
For Europeans, the Ryder Cup is a
once-in-a-lifetime chance to play for a
team in front of a raucous crowd. For
Americans, it’s another week of golf. The
players who lost this year for Captain Love
will get another shot for flag and country
next year for Captain Couples. No big deal.
It’s just golf.
Players will deny it. Those who have
played both will tell you that winning the
Ryder Cup is just as important to them as
it is to the Europeans.
They will insist that their focus is not
divided and that they can certainly play
matches every year without it diluting
their desire.
But as Arthur Conan Doyle wrote,
“Once you eliminate the impossible, whatever
remains, no matter how improbable,
must be the truth.”
And the truth is, since 1994 the Ryder
Cup has been a one-sided show. The Presidents
Cup might not be the sole cause.
But the data would suggest it is certainly a
contributing factor.


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