Personally I find the word “choking” repugnant. It’s usually voiced by those who have never competed, but there is no arguing that athletes succumb to pressure from time to time and anyone who watched the Ryder Cup singles matches last month has to admit that the United States team folded under the European onslaught.
To be fair, the Euros, led by Ian Poulter, staged a fantastic comeback. They played out of their continental minds and deserved to fly back (those few who actually still live in Europe) across the pond in possession of Samuel Ryder’s trinket. It gave us a glimpse of what it must have been like for the Euros in 1999 when the American team pulled off what, to then, was the greatest comeback in Ryder Cup history, at Brookline. I’m sure the “sensitive” British tabloids characterized our comeback as a giant gag by their boys.
Truth be told it’s almost always a combination of factors and good fortune or luck is always part of the recipe. Case in point; Justin Rose’s winning birdie on 17 against Phil Mickelson was not only about 40 feet in length, but somehow defied the laws of physics by diving in the side door despite having a speed that threatened the sound barrier.
But despite the stellar play of the Euros on Sunday, Mr. Ryder would be resting in a glass case at the offices of the PGA of America today had not our guys fallen apart. Yes, Mr. Poulter’s five straight birdies in Saturday’s four ball certainly was spectacular and gave the Euros a good feeling going into Sunday, but it was still just one point.
The United States team, playing on a course specifically set up for their strengths, held a 10-4 lead at one point on Saturday. With 12 matches still left to be played in their entirety and two others still in progress (and the U.S. leading in both) we only had to register another 4.5 points. We managed 3.5. That’s pathetic. And this is nothing new. Over the last 20 years, or 10 Ryder Cups, the USA has never won on foreign soil. The last victory was in 1993 at the Belfry. They head to Glen Eagles in Scotland for the 2014 matches. Our record in last 10 meetings is a dismal three wins. Euros have seven and yet over that time we’ve dominated the world rankings and we have just one win with the alleged greatest player of all time competing for us.
How is that possible? Are the rankings that inaccurate? Certainly European players have come a long way, but this isn’t the LPGA which is top heavy with Korean dominance. If it were just a couple of matches one could say it’s skewered because there just isn’t enough sample size, but the Ryder Cup is not a sprint. There are a total of 28 matches played over a three day period. In 28 matches the better group is more likely to prevail and over the last two decades that’s been Europe. Two of our “legends”, Tiger and Phil have awful records in the Ryder Cup while somebody like Colin Montgomery, who has never won a tournament on U.S. soil and has an abysmal record in majors, hardly ever lost. Poulter or Lee Westwood, who fold under the pressure during majors, flourish during the Ryder Cup matches (Westwood did struggle in these matches, until Sunday). Paul Lowrie, for crying out loud, kicked Brandt Snedeker’s backside.
It defies logic, but it is very real. We are respectable on our own soil and futile over there? I have just one answer. They’re not better than us from a talent perspective. They’re just tougher mentally. Also, it seems to mean more to them.
(Tim Geary is a Rhode Island based freelance writer.
He’s also an expert on choking on the golf course)WHAT'S YOUR REACTION?