U.S. team only has itself to blame

Updated: September 19, 2004, 6:34 PM ET
By Bob Harig | Special to ESPN.com

BLOOMFIELD TOWNSHIP, Mich. -- There's no explaining it, really. No logical reason for a group of American golfers to suffer so much at the hands of a seemingly inferior European team. No excuse for losing four of the past five Ryder Cups.

Oh, there will be all sorts of theories put forth in the coming days after another frustrating loss, one that was inevitable before the first shots were hit Sunday at Oakland Hills Country Club.

U.S. captain Hal Sutton was too stern; the Americans didn't bond well; the Europeans wanted it more. None of it really makes sense.

Ryder Cup
The U.S. team lost for the fourth time in the last five Ryder Cups.

The lads from this side of the Atlantic simply didn't play well enough. The result was an embarrassing 18-9 defeat.

They were tight, instead of loose, feeling the pressure instead of applying it. Did they hit wayward shots and miss way too many putts because they don't hang out together at the local tavern?

Does it matter in an individual sport such as golf if players get along? They don't pass a ball or have to turn a double play. They hit their own shots and deal with the consequences.

Does anyone believe the Americans don't want to win as badly? It's hard to consider Tiger Woods ever wanting to lose at anything. It's hard to swallow that the Ryder Cup means so little when players such as Fred Funk, Jay Haas, Chris DiMarco and Chris Riley wanted nothing more than to make the team.

Did Sutton act too much like a football coach? Well, there's only so much a captain can do. Yes, his experiment of putting Woods and Phil Mickelson together didn't work. His tough love approach wasn't going to fly with several single-minded players, including Woods. But at some point, it comes down to the players, and they must play well. Woods, Mickelson, Davis Love and Jim Furyk went 3-11 the first two days. That's not going to get it done no matter who is making the speeches or setting the pairings.

Perhaps the Americans simply need to accept the fact they are no longer the dominant force in golf.

Maybe they need to realize they are not the favorites, that they have to get their heads in the game before Sunday singles, when it is too late.

The evidence suggests it should not be so hard, that the U.S. should win, certainly when the Ryder Cup is played on home soil.

Consider the apparent strength heading into the 35th Ryder Cup.

The U.S. had four players ranked in the world's top-10 and eight in the top-20, while the Europeans had just one player in the top-10 and four in the top-20. Europe had four players ranked 60th and below.

The U.S. had four players who have won major championships, while nobody on the European team has captured a major. In fact, there were four Europeans who didn't even qualify for all four of the grand slam events this year.

All of that suggested an easy U.S. victory.

But as we know, the Ryder Cup is never easy. It has never been easy since all of continental Europe was included and the European team began to take shape in the early 1980s.

The competition has usually been a compelling, back-and-forth affair, with the matches often hinging on a key putt or shot. So does the fact that the European players seem to get along better really matter all that much? Maybe it does to them.

"I think there is more camaraderie on the European side than the American side, without any question," said Tony Jacklin, the two-time major championship winner who captained the European side four times in the 1980s, going 2-1-1. "That has certainly been there for all to see in the matches of the last 20 years.

"I think the American guys all want to do well. But they are all these individuals who do their own thing all the time. They fly around in their own bloody planes doing their own thing. The Europeans get together. If you're off in Switzerland you're looking for somebody to eat dinner with. That was the way. In Germany, Paris, European countries, you hung out with the guys.

"The other thing, to some degree, there was a mental mindset among Europeans that there were haves and have-nots. The Americans had it all. Great weather, great conditions, great courses, lots of money to play for, and they just didn't quite have it that level. And they wanted to prove they were no worse for that."

With all due respect to Jacklin, who came along at a time when the Europeans had little success in the Ryder Cup and needed to seize upon something, his theory seems to have little weight today.

Europeans such as Sergio Garcia, Darren Clarke, Lee Westwood, Colin Montgomerie, Padraig Harrington and Miguel Angel Jimenez are well-known on the world golf stage. Some of them play in the U.S., all of them have interests worldwide. They're not necessarily sharing a beer in Amsterdam.

When it comes to the Ryder Cup, they simply play better.

There's no other explanation. Is there?

Bob Harig covers golf for the St. Petersburg Times and is a frequent contributor to ESPN.com. He can be reached at harig@sptimes.com.

Bob Harig | email

Golf Writer, ESPN.com

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