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Europeans have the edge with Ryder Cup on the line

Rochester Business Journal
September 21, 2012

Ever since I had black hair-yes, I once did-I have never forgotten what a veteran reporter told me. I have quoted him several times, as you know: "Money. Why does anybody do anything?"
Nothing could be truer of professional athletes, especially the stupid Latrell Sprewell, who once said he couldn't live on $9 million a year because he had a family to feed.
But like almost everything we say, hear and read, the observation does not hold true 100 percent of the time. There are exceptions, times when the letter P stands for pride, not pay. And in the sports world, there isn't a better example than the Ryder Cup competition, which will be held next week at Medinah Country Club in Illinois.
Oh, I'm sure the players will eat well and sleep well, thanks to the PGA of America, but that's about it. The Ryder Cup is all about pride, national pride. It's a golf battle every two years between Europe and the United States, and it has absolutely nothing to do with prize money.
That is why players, especially the Americans, always seem to be much more nervous about playing for their Ryder Cup team than when they're trying to win a million bucks in four days. Of course, on the PGA Tour, finishing second in a tournament means a player can walk away with several hundred thousand dollars. In Ryder Cup competition, as some coach once said about playing a football game, "All finishing second means is that somebody beat you."
In fact, in the Ryder Cup it's even worse: Finishing second means you were last.
The Ryder Cup changed dramatically in 1979, when the Americans' opponents came from all over Europe instead of just Great Britain. Before that, from 1927 through 1977, the British defeated the U.S. only three times, in 1929, 1933 and 1957. Because of World War II, there was no Ryder Cup competition between 1937 and 1947.
Bringing all of Europe into the Ryder Cup was a brilliant move, because the U.S. vs. Great Britain was comparable to one U.S. state's golfers teeing it up against golfers chosen from the other 49.
In 1979, the Ryder Cup became a whole new golf ball game. The teams are 8-8 since then, but the calm, cool European players have defeated the sweaty-palms U.S. team in four of the past five Ryder Cups. And those include back-to-back 181/2-91/2 blowouts in 2004 and 2006. Our win during that five-cup stretch was 161/2-111/2 in 2008 at Valhalla Golf Club in Louisville, Ky.
That's where the Ryder Cup has been, and now the big question is where it's going this year. Assuming it doesn't end in a tie, which team will take a 9-8 lead? If you look closely at each 12-man team, you might bet your next mortgage payment on the Europeans. Their combined individual Ryder Cup won-loss record is 60-32, with 18 ties; the U.S. players' combined record is a scary 41-59-16.
Not one American Ryder Cup player has a winning record. Zach Johnson and Steve Stricker are both 3-3-1, and Matt Kuchar is 1-1-2. Not even Tiger Woods has won more matches than he's lost. He's 13-14-2.
What happened or didn't happen in past Ryder Cups doesn't mean a thing, but I can't help but wonder what will be bouncing around in the U.S. players' heads when the Europeans turn up the heat next week. How will U.S. team rookies Keegan Bradley, Jason Dufner, Webb Simpson and Brandt Snedeker react to the pressure? Will they be thinking, "Bring it on, baby," or gulping and mumbling to themselves, "Wow, I can't believe I'm on the Ryder Cup team"?
How about Woods? There was a time when he wouldn't blink if he had to go head-to-head with an alligator on the golf course, and maybe he's back there. You have to like Phil Mickelson's chances because he's 42 and will be calm, cool and collected despite his 11-17-6 Ryder record.
Speaking of age and experience, no one on the planet thinks No. 1-ranked Rory McIlroy, a four-time winner this year, will be a nervous wreck next week when he's playing for Europe. He will be far more intimidating than intimidated. Throw in No. 3 Luke Donald, Graeme McDowell, Lee Westwood, Sergio Garcia, etc., and there is no doubt the Americans will have their hands full.
The Medinah course reportedly has been set up more American than European, with fast greens and clipped rough. That may be a good idea, but probably it will be no big deal for the Europeans because they all play over here a lot-eight of the 12 more than a lot. The good news for the Americans is that the only thing that matters is how they play when it counts, not how they played two years ago or two weeks ago.
Still-sorry, my dear Uncle Sam-I'm going with the Europeans to win the Ryder Cup. I hope I'm wrong.

Rick Woodson's column appears each Thursday on the Rochester Business Journal website at His book, "Words of Woodson," is available at Listen to his weekly program, "The Golf Tee," at 9 a.m. Sunday on WHTK-AM 1280 and FM 107.

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