Still excited about an emotional issue
BLOOMFIELD TOWNSHIP, Mich. -- I'm with Hal Sutton. Eurofolk, stop whining about Brookline.
"We've apologized for five years," says the US Ryder Cup captain. "So y'all need to forget about that. The American players, if we had to do it all over again, would not have run out on the green. We are going out there, and we are going to be ourselves. No more apologies."
You listen to these Eurofolk, and you'd think Jose Maria Olazabal had a gimme putt on the 17th at The Country Club. Yeah, well, sure, he could have sunk the 20-footer he was staring at after Justin Leonard rammed home his memorable 40-footer on that glorious September Sunday afternoon. And a fine piece of one-upmanship that would have been. But, really . . . such a fuss about a little celebration.
It does encapsulate the perennial American quandry, doesn't it? Show too little emotion and you get blasted for being uncaring and terminally blase. Ah, but when you show some honest emotion, you get slammed by the Golf Etiquette Police for being rude and boorish and down right unRydery.
The subject of emotion is once again front and center as we prepare for the 35th renewal of an event that has evolved from an uncompetitive contest of interest solely to that sport's aficionados into one of the great staples of the international sports calendar. Since the format was broadened in 1979 to include all European players, and not solely those from the British Isles, the tally is US 6, Europe 5, and one tie. More to the point, the Euros have won three of the last four.
Given the supposed superiority of Americans in general (no European has won the US Open, for example, since Tony Jacklin in 1970), people are searching for reasons to explain this ongoing parity. And what they generally come up with is emotion. Simply, the Europeans are supposed to have more good old-fashioned team spirit, and this somehow is supposed to translate into better golf shots.
"I'm not sure if there's any truth to it, whether it's just a perception or whether it's really the case," says European captain Bernhard Langer, a German whose wife of 20 years is American and who is a green card resident of Florida. "I know the Ryder Cup means a great deal to us. I'd like to think it means a great deal to the Americans, as well."
Really, now. What would account for this superior spirit, if indeed it exists? Since when are all these Brits and Irishmen (North and South) and Spaniards and Frenchmen so chummy? Don't they know their history? The Armada? The Franco-Prussian War? Easter Sunday, 1916? The WWs, plural? All this has been erased now that so much of Old Europe swears ecomonic allegiance to a blue flag with gold stars? Now it's the haughty US against the EEU All-Stars?
There is a distinct Have-vs.-Have Not relationship between the PGA Tour and the European Tour. Purses are not remotely comparable. Amenities are nowhere near the same. This sense of American privilege and entitlement vs. European, for lack of a better word, deprivation, is quite real. This is the Euros's chance to show that the less pampered team can defeat the international royalty, head to head. I mean, none of these Euros fly on private planes, and that's a fact.
Anyway, the Euros can't help thinking they really do want it more.
"I don't know why it is," says Darren Clarke, a.k.a. The Incredibly Shrinking Ulsterman (he's lost upward of 50 pounds. on a no-beer/fitness regimen). "I think possibly on the PGA Tour the guys tend to travel independently, whereas in Europe we travel together in groups. We tend to dine with each other every week. Because of that, I think we just know each other possibly a little bit better than what most of the American guys do. But it's always because we are the perennial underdogs that it's always easy for us to pull together and get rid of that over the week, and we've been able to do that three of the last four times."
Fiction? Englishman Paul Casey, another Euro who is pretty much a split resident (England and Florida), agrees with Clarke. "I think there is [more camaraderie]," he maintains. "How much more than the US, I don't know. It's natural that we probably get along better because of where we play. When we play out in other countries we are forced to interact with each other. It doesn't mean the Americans -- if they were in that situation and they played in Europe and were forced to stay at the same hotels and share courtesy cars, they would probably get along very well and have the same team spirit we do. Do I think the American team spirit is bad? No, not at all. I just think the European team sprit is exceptional."
Wait a minute. Did he say share courtesy cars? Don't these people have any pride at all?
Americans do not like the topic. "I think that's the big misconception, the biggest misconception about the Ryder Cup," says Tiger (You can call me "Avis") Woods. "I'm told that on the teams I've been on we don't care. That's not the case at all. We're out there fighting for every point. We are trying to get this thing done as a unit and are pulling for each other. Walking holes when you're not playing, supporting, tapping them on the butt with `Come on, keep going.' That's what it's all about."
Back to Brookline and the 17th for a moment. Irishman Padraig Harrington chose to interpret the American reaction as a very positive statement for his side. "You know, if you reflect on that," he says, "It's a sign of respect for us -- that they thought we were worthy opposition, whereas in past years, it was hard for them to motivate themselves. Isn't it great to say the US team got very excited because coming into that Ryder Cup and previous Ryder Cups, that's exactly what they would have not been doing -- getting excited about the Ryder Cup?"
OK, OK, everybody cares. We'll see if caring can help you sink a clutch putt.
Bob Ryan is a Globe columnist. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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