New U.S. motto: If you can't beat 'em, join 'em

Updated: September 22, 2006, 1:47 AM ET
By Jason Sobel | ESPN.com

STRAFFAN, Ireland -- Tiger Woods reached a poignant moment in his professional career Monday night. It had nothing to do with a swing-tweaking epiphany or a short-game mystery solved on the practice green. It had everything to do with embarrassing himself, all in the name of the U.S. Ryder Cup team.

During what captain Tom Lehman referred to as an "Irish barbecue," the U.S. team members, one by one, belted out lyrics to their college fight songs, with varying degrees of diffidence.

And then it was Tiger's turn. He strode to the front of the room and, like the team leader he has purportedly become, warbled his way through a ditty indiscernible even to Lehman. "I've never heard it before," the captain said of the Stanford University tune, "and I couldn't recognize it when he was singing it, either, so I'm totally lost."

U.S. Ryder Cup team
AP Photo/Peter MorrisonMusic to Lehman's ears? The U.S. team is working to form better relationships throughout.

He might be an American idol, but the truth has been revealed: Tiger Woods is no American Idol. You can be sure he was chided and derided by the peanut gallery, the other team members ribbing one of golf's all-time greatest ribbers.

If it sounds like a good ol' time, a bunch of grown men (and their wives) frolicking buoyantly like young kids, well, it should. That's the whole point. And if such philosophy sounds familiar, again, it should. After all, it's the same theory incorporated by the Americans' opponent every two years.

For so long, the Europeans have served as the life of the party and toast of the town. They're the fun-loving frat boy who stays out all night carousing yet still comes home to Mom with straight A's on the report card.

Individually, they might not all be Guinness-chugging, cigar-chomping party animals, but when roused every other year for this grand international competition, they inherit the traits of their brethren, one heart with 12 heartbeats.

Of course, this could just be one of those chicken-or-the-egg conundrums. Has the European squad won four of the last five Ryder Cups because of its spirited team chemistry or do the players just happen to harmonize better when the team is winning? Any teammate becomes a bosom buddy when he's pulling three or four points for your side each time.

Meanwhile, the Americans have worn the expression of a forlorn wallflower for much of the past two decades. Only an improbable, miraculous comeback at Brookline seven years ago kept the Cup from being a European mainstay since 1995. Unlike their counterparts, the U.S. players are unique talents -- they have accounted for 21 major championship titles since the last European (Paul Lawrie at the 1999 British Open) claimed one -- and singular individuals.

From ultra-peppy Phil Mickelson to much-maligned Chris Riley, U.S. players have been reprimanded for not caring about this event, which offers no monetary value and amounts to little more than a glorious exhibition. It's an image Lehman is trying hard to suppress this time around, and he's taken steps to ensure team members have the proper bonding experiences before the event. If you can't beat 'em, join 'em.

A deeply religious family man, Lehman is hardly the party animal type -- unlike, say, Europe's captain, Ian Woosnam, who admits to enjoying a pint or three after a round of golf. Even so, Lehman understands the value of team camaraderie in an event like this. "There's guys of faith who are in our group, that's just the way it is," Lehman said. "But we're not holding Sunday School. We're not singing, you know, hymns and things like that."

Three weeks ago, the captain chartered a trip to The K Club during which golf was hardly the main event. His players got to know each other off the course, too, telling stories, going fishing and even taking part in some of Dublin's dubious nightlife.

"We had a good time together," said Zach Johnson, one of four rookies on this year's roster. "We certainly took part in the Irish tradition of Guinness beer -- and some others, for that matter."

Call it a copycat method, but if the U.S. wins the Ryder Cup this week, we'll be able to point to Lehman's ability to adopt some European team concepts, whether that means drinking beer, fishing or even singing, as part of the secret to their success. And it just might be the key ingredient to Tiger and his buddies whistling a different tune come Sunday evening.

Jason Sobel is ESPN.com's golf editor. He can be reached at Jason.Sobel@espn3.com

Jason Sobel | email

Golf Editor, ESPN.com
Jason Sobel, who joined ESPN in 1997, earned four Sports Emmy awards as a member of ESPN's Studio Production department. He became ESPN.com's golf editor in July 2004.