U.S. Bottoms Out; for Europeans, It's Bottoms Up

By Thomas Boswell
Monday, September 25, 2006

STRAFFAN, Ireland

Before deciding, on a whim of jet-lagged insanity, to pick America to win the Ryder Cup, I should've remembered Samuel Johnson's quip to James Boswell on his lifelong unwillingness to visit Ireland, even to see Dublin.

"Worth seeing, yes," Johnson said, "but not worth going to see."

Many eyes wished they hadn't seen what they came here to watch. Americans should have been issued a blindfold at the gate Friday and a last cigarette before the lopsided singles matches began Sunday at the K Club. That K now stands for "krushed" in results, image and dignity. The one consensus before this event was that Europe couldn't possibly duplicate the record-setting 18 1/2 -9 1/2 drubbing it laid on the U.S. two years ago at Oakland Hills, a rout that was supposedly a perfect storm of bad American team chemistry, poor U.S. captaincy and brilliant European play.

As it proved, that consensus was, in a sense, correct. Europe would have won this 36th Ryder Cup by an even more insane score -- 19-9 -- except that generous Paul McGinley conceded a putt of 30 feet on the 18th green to J.J. Henry, turning his near-certain European victory into a mere halve. Thanks to his Irish decency, the final score ended 18 1/2 -9 1/2 .

Officially, the final margin was the same. But the humiliation for American golf, and the reevaluations it may force on this event and its format, were far more significant than the embarrassment of '04. One question almost asks itself: Is America slipping back to the second-rank status that Europe held in the 1960s and '70s in international head-to-head play?

"I mean, we've won five of the last six," said Colin Montgomerie, who began Europe's 8 1/2 -3 1/2 best-ever singles performance with a victory over David Toms. "If it hadn't been for a very difficult Sunday in Brookline [in '99], it would be six in a row. That's pretty dominant. We have a superb strength and depth in Europe that we haven't had before."

Piped up Sergio Garcia, "And I hope we won't be asked anymore if the Nationwide Tour [in the U.S.] is the second-best tour in the world."

The American team finds itself fresh out of excuses. Since '04, the United States streamlined its qualifying standards to ensure that more hot players, rather than aging favorites, made the squad. Team captain Tom Lehman made few mistakes in handling a solid U.S. team that included the top three players in the world -- Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Jim Furyk -- a major champion in David Toms and two other players in the world top 24.

The players Lehman sent to the post were a truly representative cross-section of America's best golfers. Even his four little-known rookies played better than expected, especially Zach Johnson (1-2-1) and Henry (0-0-3).

Yet, in a format that seems to put American players extremely ill at ease, the United States was absolutely squashed, becoming the first Ryder Cup team ever to lose all five sessions. Wake up; lose. Have lunch; lose. Then sleep and repeat. A conclusion, which has been building since 1985, has crystallized in the 21st century. In team play, a perfectly valid form of golf, Europe is not just better, but overwhelmingly so. Only that splendid comeback in '99, aided by an unsporting heckling crowd, has obscured it.


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