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Why Europe Will Win The Ryder Cup

September 14, 2008

All right boys and girls, pop open a cold one, crank up the TV, settle into a comfy chair and get ready for that biennial ritual that transitions us from summer to fall. It's time to watch Europe wax the United States in the Ryder Cup. To use the language of the political season in which we are immersed: We are projecting a winner here, and it's the same guys who have won three in a row and five of the last six.

Consider this: If Justin Leonard doesn't make an improbable 40-footer on the 17th hole of his singles match against José Maria Olazábal at The Country Club in Brookline, Mass., in 1999, Europe would have six wins in a row.

Consider this: Since 1985, Europe has seven victories, just three defeats and one tie against the Americans.

Consider this: Europe has won the last two Ryder Cups by a combined score of 37-19.

And consider this: The last time the United States won the Ryder Cup, Anthony Kim, one of the top players for the 2008 U.S. team, was 14 years old, Tiger Woods had won only two of this 14 major championships and George Bush was yet to be elected President.

So what are we to make of this domination? Here are the five reasons Europe has been winning the Ryder Cup, and why it will once again be celebrating when play ends Sunday at Valhalla GC in Louisville.

1) DESIRE: For a variety of reasons, the European team simply wants it more. While the professionals on this side of the Atlantic ponder whether or not The Players is the fifth major the Europeans have no such dilemma. For them -- unanimously -- the fifth major is the Ryder Cup.

And there is another reasons the Europe squad wants it so much, no matter who is on the team: Pride. The Euros play with a healthy chip on their shoulder. They feel Americans -- not necessarily the players but perhaps the fans and the media -- do not give them enough credit, especially those players who don't compete in the United States a lot. The Ryder Cup is their chance to show the world they have to take a backseat to no one on the golf course.

2) FORMAT: Two things about the rules of the Ryder Cup play into the European mindset more than it does to the American way of thinking. The first is the team situation. They play much more team golf in Europe, not just in terms of alternate-shot and better-ball competition but international matches where nations square off against nations. A lot of these guys have been brought up competing in the "I've got your back" attitude of team play and it does not intimidate them.

The second aspect of the format that benefits the Europeans is match play. Match play -- where score is recorded by holes won and not total strokes -- is a great equalizer. Bad shots are not penalized as heavily in match play where a triple bogey is not three shots lost to par but rather only one hole lost. Also in match play you can putt aggressively. Why does Sergio Garcia make all the putts in the Ryder Cup he does not make in the major championships? Because he does not have to worry about the four-footer coming back if he misses. Just bang it for the hole and if you miss walk onto the text tee.

3) CHEMISTRY: This may be the most overrated advantage the European team has. Conventional wisdom is that the European players like each other more than the American players like each other. That's probably not true. Any group of 12 people is going to have personality conflicts. But what is probably true is that the Euro players are closer to each other than the Americans. Travel on the European Tour is much more intimate than on the PGA Tour: Fewer private jets, fewer private houses rented instead of hotel rooms.

The result of this intimacy is that the Euro players know each other really well. Tensions that may exists can he dissipated Ryder Cup week by busting on each other and good-natured bench jockeying of each other. I mean, do you think most European players really like Garcia? What they are able to do is like each other for that one week when they pull together as a team.

4) ATTITUDE: The Europeans and the Americans go into Ryder Cup week with very different attitudes. While the Euros view the venture as similar to a week-long college fraternity party, the Americans wade in much more tentatively, as if they are entering a dentist's waiting room to undergo root canal. The Euros embrace the scene -- the rowdy crowds, the social demands to entertain sponsors -- while the Americans resent it.

The difference in attitude is in part a reflection of ht cultural difference between the United States and Europe, but it also reflects a factor that may be ready to shift from a plus for Europe to a plus for the United States. The Americans usually go into the Ryder Cup with the burden of expectation. It is always assumed the U.S. team has the better players. That perception is fading away. But, especially with this competition being played on American soil, there is still more pressure on the U.S. team to win than there is on Europe. It's sort of like being the U.S. basketball team in the Olympics. No matter recent results there is still the expectation of success.

5) TALENT: This European team is really, really good. While the case in most Ryder Cups is that the Americans are better on paper that is not so much the case this year. Several Europeans are playing really well right now, including Garcia, Padraig Harrington and Robert Karlsson. The only American to win a major this year (Tiger Woods) is unable to play. Half of the U.S. team has never played in a Ryder Cup while Europe has only four rookies. At the very least, the two teams are even talent-wise this year, and on current form a strong case can be made that the Europeans are better.

So there you have it, five reasons Europe will extend its domination in the Ryder Cup. And, oh yeah, there is one more reason: Team leaders. Europe is packed with aggressive personalities who inspire and cajole each other to success. Who is the emotional leader of the American team? Really. Name someone.

The closest the Americans have is captain Paul Azinger, and if the U.S. is to win it will take a masterful job of motivation on his part -- and this column might help him do that. But the feeling here is that come Sunday night the Americans will be saying: Wait until next year -- or more accurately, the year after next.