The Euros are coming!
In the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics, the United States had the ‘Redeem Team,’ a collection of superstar basketball players who recaptured gold and restored the reputation as the world’s best. On Friday, the United States will field a team with a similar goal, minus the superstars.
The 37th Ryder Cup will get under way at Valhalla Golf Club in Louisville tomorrow (Thursday) with opening ceremonies and practice. Despite not having won the event since 1999, most golf enthusiasts would have considered the Americans the favorite to win the cup in the three events leading up to 2008.
Not so this time around.
Team Europe will field their strongest team in recent memory, and the 2008 edition of Team USA is arguably the weakest we’ve seen in a long time. The U.S. will not have the services of the world’s best golfer, Tiger Woods. Even with Woods’ Steve Kragthorpe-esque cup record of 10-13-2, captain Paul Azinger would love to have his services this weekend.
Team USA has only one player, Phil Mickelson, in the world’s top seven. Mickelson hasn’t faired any better than Woods in cup competition with a 9-12-4 record.
The Euros have three players in the top six of the world rankings, including Ireland’s version of Tiger Woods, Padraig Harrington. The American team of 12 includes six rookies to the cup matches, which Azinger says is a good thing, since all the experience has been bad in recent matches. And that’s a fact, with the U.S. losing 18-1/2 to 9-1/2 in their last two attempts.
The Ryder Cup used to pit the United States against the best from Great Britain. But, after absorbing defeats in all but one match from 1959 to 1977, all Europeans became eligible for the prestigious competition at the urging of legendary American Jack Nicklaus. Speaking of Nicklaus, the United States never relinquished the cup in Jack’s six appearances. Since 1979, the Europeans hold a 7-6-1 advantage, winning the last three and seven of the last 11. If this trend continues, the Europeans are going to ask the Americans to get some help to keep the cup competitive.
Needless to say, the Americans need to win the cup back now more than ever.
The Ryder Cup is one of the few remaining traditional events in sports played for pride of country and international gamesmanship, not a check. As American Tom Kite said after his team lost the cup in 1987, ‘This has nothing to do with money. It’s bigger than that. This is playing for Uncle Sam, and Sam expects a lot.’
Yes, Tom, he does.