I'm trying to reconcile Ben Crenshaw's words with his actions. He said over and over Friday night that the guys on his U.S. team played well, that putts that "grazed" the cup and kept rolling were the primary difference in Friday's matches. Crenshaw said, "We just saw some outstanding play from the Europeans," and added that the difference between the two squads on day one of the Ryder Cup was teeny weeny to the point of being "infinitesimal."
Okay, so if we take Crenshaw at his word why is he, in essence, benching David Duval, Davis Love III, Phil Mickelson and Tom Lehman for Saturday's pivotal foursomes?
The answer's fairly easy: Crenshaw may not feel he can verbally take his team to task, with the Europeans already leading, 6-2. But he can shake things up. He can put Duval on the pine. He can send a message that the team can't afford another mess of missed three-foot putts like the ones Mickelson butchered Friday.
Boy, you think the Europeans don't see blood in the water now? While the U.S. team is still searching for combinations to send out, playing musical chairs and fumbling about, Mark James and his European squad are locked in. Europe will send out the same four pairs that played Friday morning. If Team Europe wasn't stoked already, how do you think they feel now that they've chased the world's No. 2 player (Duval), No. 4 (Love III), No. 13 (Mickelson) and No. 23 (Lehman) to the sideline?
Poor Duval. Is this guy teetering or what? He's been in a free-fall the entire summer, and now into fall. He doesn't show up for the majors, and he looked almost paralyzed out there Friday. The second-ranked player in the world looked out of his league. Duval didn't hit any meaningful shots. He was so bad, so far out of it, he wasn't even within choking range. Tiger might as well have played Canadian doubles. Duval played so poorly you have to wonder if something's wrong with his psyche.
Crenshaw had better hope Mickelson hasn't caught whatever's ailing Duval. Those yanks on Nos. 16 and 18 Friday evening were killers. Three-footers. Those are the miscues that stuck in Crenshaw's mind Friday night when he convinced himself play was essentially even everywhere except the scoreboard.
But there was one stretch that should make him reconsider. It came in the afternoon four-ball matches, and it was so telling. If television captured this accurately, the European players put four shots in the cup, consecutively, on different holes.
At the time, the U.S. was 1 up in two matches, all-squared in another and 1 down in the fourth.
Then (in order): Colin Montgomerie sank a birdie putt on 13 to push himself and Paul Lawrie into an all-square match with Love and Justin Leonard.
Darren Clarke sank a birdie putt at 11 to win and push himself and Lee Westwood into an all-square with Woods and Duval.
Sergio Garcia chipped in from the rough on 14 for birdie to put himself and Jesper Parnevik 1 up on Mickelson and Jim Furyk.
Miguel Angel Jimenez sank a birdie at 12 to put himself and Jose Maria Olazabal 2 up on Hall Sutton and Jeff Maggert. Four shots, four balls hitting the bottom of the cup. It was scary, like an edited highlight reel instead of golf being played in real time. I think the whole thing took less than two minutes.
That's not to say the Americans didn't make some shots; there just weren't enough to make up for their mistakes. What was Tiger doing at No. 4 in the morning matches, trying to drive the hole when he and Lehman were already 2 up? With a two-hole lead, why not go for birdie on such an easy par-4 (instead of gambling for eagle) and force the other team to make some shots? Tiger blew the power drive and cost his team the hole. In a flash, Parnevik-Garcia were even and the tone of the whole morning changed.
Woods played okay, but not as well as Parnevik, and no better than Garcia. Montgomerie made more pressure putts. So many people left the grounds marveling at the European team's shot-making, but at the same time wondering if the U.S. team was somehow caught off guard.
All this time spent dealing with the issue of pay-for-play might have distracted us from a real problem with the U.S. team. Greed isn't even close to being the worst trait of America's sporting culture. Arrogance is, by miles. Take Payne Stewart. At 42, he's the oldest player on the U.S. team. If he's not the single most respected player, he's right up there. He's won three majors, he's had some success in Ryder Cup competition. Stewart is one of the guys who is supposed to anchor the American team in this competition. But it was Stewart, in the mid-week hype, who let the cat out of the bag about the way the American players probably felt about this competition. It was Stewart who said the U.S. team was so much more talented than the Europeans that "on paper" it seemed the Europeans should be caddying for them.
Now, the obvious sin here would appear to be that Stewart provided bulletin board material for the opposition, which is a no-no in any sport. But far worse is that such a sentiment even crossed Stewart's mind. In light of the way the U.S. team performed Friday, it's fair to wonder whether the U.S. players knew what they were in for. Yes, they were well aware that Europe had won the last two Ryder Cups. But there was all this talk about the Europeans having the fourth-highest number of rookies ever. And it was impossible to escape the romantic ramblings of how the poor Euros would do without Faldo, Seve and Woosnam.
American Jeff Maggert may have been doing nothing more than expressing confidence when he said Tuesday that he feels the United States has the 12 best players in the world. But the Euros swear it was another case of arrogance. The British tabloids had a field day with the remarks, as did the European players.
If the U.S. players are as good as they think they are, and if the competition was as tight Friday as Crenshaw insisted, the American team had better get busy with the business of getting even, because the European players seem mighty certain of what they're doing here, and a captain can only bench so many players.