DUBLIN, OHIO -- If the Ryder Cup really were the America's Cup, then Jack Nicklaus and his U.S. golf team would be treading water now, 'cause the boat sank.

U.S. golf will need years to regain the prestige it fumbled away on a glorious autumn afternoon. What happened at The Belfry in England in 1985 might have been a mistake; but this defeat was an exclamation point. The European team won because it was tougher, hungrier, smarter, more poised -- qualities Americans like to claim for themselves and their athletes.

Unfortunately, this day will have its symbolic man -- Ben Crenshaw. He will spend the next two years, at least, explaining a thousand times how he broke his putter in anger on the sixth hole and eventually lost to Eamonn Darcy of Ireland, 1-up. Darcy, for those unfamiliar with the European Order of Merit, is approximately the 1,895,593rd best golfer on earth. He had not won a Ryder Cup point, or half-point, in 10 matches. And he tried to hand back this match to Crenshaw. But Gentle Ben, like most of the U.S. team, was too shaken to take it.

Europe won this match, 15-13, over three days and, as Mark Calcavecchia said, "That means any one match cost us a tie. So we're all to blame." Maybe Lanny Wadkins and Larry Mize, who were 4-up at the turn on Friday, then lost, 2-up, should get the booby prize. Maybe Calcavecchia and Andy Bean, who were 2-up with two holes to play that same day, then lost the last three holes, should get historic mention. But Crenshaw's indignity was truly special.

"I three-putted the sixth hole," said Crenshaw, his eyes still vacant as he sat among his teammates during a presentation ceremony. "As I was walking off the green, I saw a walnut on the ground and jabbed at it with the {tip end of the} putter. I told Jack, 'I've done that a million times in my life.' I wasn't mad. The shaft is thin anyway and the putter is old. I've had it since I was 15. It's been reshafted. Well, the thing just broke in half. Psychologically, I was just shot. I felt like somebody had taken a gun and shot me. It took me four holes to get over it."

By that time, Crenshaw had made three bogeys and missed two short putts. Crenshaw rallied and Darcy wobbled, but, when it counted most, with the U.S. player 1-up with two holes to go, Crenshaw cranked two 3-wood tee shots into the wilderness and Darcy needed only pars to be a continent's hero. Asked about Crenshaw's adventures after the match, Darcy said, "What broken putter? I never noticed."

In the long run, this Ryder Cup may be an enormous boon to both U.S. and world golf. Come 1991, the next time the Ryder Cup returns to the United States, you can bet that the crowds won't be as polite as the ones here that cheered Ian Woosnam as though he were from Kansas City and Jose-Maria Olazabal as if he'd gone to Ohio State. Next time, plenty of change in the pockets and a few bullhorns, too.

"We've done everything to give them an advantage," said Tom Kite. "We should choose our team the way they choose theirs, with the captain able to make three wild-card picks {out of 12} so you get your best team."

Even the gracious Nicklaus admitted that he "would have loved to have had a Lee Trevino or a Tom Watson or a Ray Floyd. Guys who have the chance to be a shot or two ahead on the first tee just because of who they are." Or, of course, a Jack Nicklaus. After all, six of the U.S. players have never won a major title and four have won only one. That means Seve Ballesteros has as many majors as 10 members of the U.S. team. That's a serious charisma gap.

Much is out of balance in pro golf and Europe's back-to-back Ryder Cup wins should set some of it right. "There'll be significant things happen because of this week," said European nonplaying captain Tony Jacklin. "Like a more generous invitation list for foreign players at the Masters."

Another obvious injustice: the U.S. Open gives only one automatic exemption to a European player -- to that tour's top money winner. The British Open offers free spots to the top 25 on the U.S. tour.

"I hope this wakes up our tour to our archaic rules," said Nicklaus. "I can't understand why players like Seve Ballesteros would not be welcome at any U.S. tournament. We're hurting our own sponsors by trying to protect the 30th through 200th players on the PGA Tour {from foreign competition}. A sport is built on stars, winners, heroes."

Nicklaus also would like to see the European and Far Eastern tours played more often by American golfers. He believes a young American in Europe has a far greater chance of winning than he does at home. "Winning breeds winning. The more you experience that pressure, the better you cope with it," said Nicklaus. "So many of our players only win {on the PGA Tour} once every two years. They're great players, but they don't get that winning experience {because they get in each other's way}. So, when they come to the 18th hole, like some matches we had today, they aren't as prepared to win {as the European players}."

All this is true. But it also is true that too many U.S. players of the '80s tend to be bloodless and chilly in their style. Match play is foreign to them. If you win once a year on the American tour, that's enough to stay rich.

Too many top U.S. players don't have the caddyshack, hustler, hard-scrabble backgrounds that define Bernhard Langer, Ballesteros and Woosnam. It's the foreign players who now have that Trevino swagger.

By the time the next Ryder Cup rolls around, the all-exempt PGA Tour should be history. Let the exempt list dwindle from 125 to 90, or even 75. Make the competition tougher and the players will get tougher. Also, open the PGA Tour to far more top foreign players. If that drives Americans to the Spanish Open, okay. Maybe they'll learn to travel, putt on lousy greens, ignore a high wind and win.

Finally, let the next U.S. team captain use the same selection system as the Europeans: three wild cards at least. Even when they're long of tooth, the Immortals tend to love match play and team play. The one yip, the one bad swing that ruins a medal round no longer unnerves them. They can let their decades of knowledge come to the fore.

The national mania that surrounded the America's Cup in 1987 was not present at this Ryder Cup. But, given two years for U.S. hackles to rise, it may be present in 1989. On to Birmingham, England. The Ryder Cup: Don't come home without it.