No matter who wins September's Ryder Cup, or how, 1999 will be
remembered as the end of an era in which the matches were
considered the most important event in golf. Ever since Mark
O'Meara had the temerity to suggest that the participants should
be paid, U.S. players have demonstrated less knee-jerk
nationalism and more world-weary ambivalence toward the Ryder
Cup, which has become the game's most sacred cash cow. Players
such as Jim Furyk and Tiger Woods have been openly critical of
the mandatory dog-and-pony shows the PGA of America forced them
to attend during a frustrating blur of a week in Spain two years
ago. Fred Couples has made it clear that he will play at the
Country Club in Brookline, Mass., only if he qualifies on
points, and David Duval recently gave voice to what would have
been lily-livered blasphemy on the eve of 1991's so-called War
by the Shore, saying, "I don't see it as the be-all and
end-all.... If I had to choose between a U.S. Open and a Ryder
Cup, there wouldn't be much of a choice."
U.S. captain Ben Crenshaw counters with fiery rhetoric, saying
things like, "We're playing for our souls," but most of the
Americans aren't buying. They feel they're being forced into a
win-or-else situation against a group of Europeans who have
nothing to lose. In golfspeak, that's called a sucker pin.
The game's fans, ever more sophisticated, are also beginning to
see the Ryder Cup for the entertaining, but inconclusive,
spectacle that it is. Here are five reasons history will show
that the heyday of the Ryder Cup began 15 years ago at the
Belfry and ended in Brookline.
--There are no longer upsets. Close defeats at Oak Hill in '95
and at Valderrama in '97 as well as last December's crushing
loss in the Presidents Cup drove home to U.S. players the hard
fact that no matter how great their 12-man squad may appear on
paper, three days of match play against a team of world-class
opponents is always a crapshoot. Whereas in the old days of
American supremacy a defeat was regarded as an unacceptable
aberration that had to be avenged, the reality now is that a
loss is, more than anything, just golf.
--Making one event all-important has become a poor career
decision. The increasing importance of the majors and the
addition of the World tour events has diluted the Ryder Cup's
cachet. With so many opportunities to gain fame and fortune,
only a reckless player would empty his emotional bank account
for one event and risk the kind of psychological damage suffered
by Mark Calcavecchia at Kiawah Island or Curtis Strange at Oak
Hill. Today's more pragmatic pro finds a balance between playing
hard and keeping enough in reserve to fight another day.
--The Ryder Cup has become less fun and more of a chore. The
easy camaraderie among the players, which used to be the Cup's
chief allure, has been all but eliminated. Due to the large
number of exhausting and annoying functions, the players barely
have time to get to know one another. Call them spoiled, but
U.S. pros are used to convenience, and the Ryder Cup now demands
--The opponents will always want it more. Americans have
accepted the fact that the European and International teams
possess the deep-seated motivation and natural unity of the
overlooked and underestimated. More important, the Americans
know they can't manufacture such resolve and esprit de corps.
While the foreign teams have two years to get psyched for an
assault on the Americans, U.S. golfers have been unable to find
a way to get up for the Ryder Cup in odd years and the
Presidents Cup in even years.
--The Ryder Cup is only an adjunct to a player's record. Other
than providing some nice anecdotes, the matches have next to
nothing to do with how a player is measured. What is the Ryder
Cup record of Seve Ballesteros, the player most identified with
the growth of the matches? How about that of Jack Nicklaus? Case
After hearing 15 years of hype, the U.S. players have wised up
about the Cup. They've come to the conclusion that three days of
team golf, no matter how much others make it out to be the
ultimate test, is great theater but means little. Pro golf
remains an individual sport in which players live with defeat
far more often than they do with victory. The Americans have
learned to live with losing the Ryder Cup.
Does that make them more susceptible to defeat? Probably.
Crenshaw's troops will go to the Country Club and try their best
not to lose the Ryder Cup for a third straight time, but will it
matter if they win or lose? No. Not anymore.
TWO COLOR ILLUSTRATIONS: JEFF WONG
The Americans have wised up: The Cup is great theater but means
little. They have learned to live with losing.