THIS WEEK 12 American golf stars are assembled in Perthshire, Scotland, for the Ryder Cup. Like most golf trips, it will begin with dreams of majestic tee shots and tap-in birdies, then probably end with the realization that golf is hard and the world is a terrible place but at least it has whisky.
Our recent Ryder Cup performance has been embarrassing to any American whose life is going so well that strangers losing a televised golf match actually seems embarrassing. The Europeans have won five of the last six Cups. The low point came two years ago, when Northern Ireland's Rory McIlroy overslept, needed a high-speed police escort to the course and then defeated Keegan Bradley, proof that Europeans can fall out of bed and still beat us.
You could handle losing if you knew, deep down, that the guys who beat you really despise one another. But as they say on the Continent, "Au contraire, amigos!" The Europeans always seem to be the more unified team, which is strange since the U.S. is a single nation and Europe consists of at least four or five.
It's not as if Europeans are Kumbaya-ing their way through the rest of their lives. Last week Scotland considered seceding from the U.K., a bold step not seen in the Western world since the borough of Brooklyn became its own country in 2011. Yet when the Ryder Cup begins, you will see Scots and Englishmen arm-in-arm, cheering on their team, as if to tell Americans: Sure, we don't like one another, but we still don't dislike one another as much as you do.
Europe's dominance may be karmic payback for 1999. That's when Justin Leonard overcame one of the ugliest shirts in golf history to sink a long putt on the 17th hole on Sunday, spurring his U.S. teammates to run onto the green at The Country Club in Brookline, Mass., to celebrate before tipping their caddies or even letting José María Olaàbal hit his potential tying putt. Olaàbal missed. Europe has made us pay for our lack of decorum ever since.
It doesn't seem to matter what we do or who plays; the weekend always ends with Europeans singing, "Olé, Olé, Olé!" In 2004, U.S. captain Hal Sutton decided to build chemistry by pairing rivals Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson together. The thinking seemed to be, "Hey, maybe these guys aren't friends, but they can't hate each other that much, right? Hello? Anybody?" Woods and Mickelson lost both of their matches together, and the Europeans won that Ryder Cup by the score of 18½--9½, which is as unlikely as winning a baseball game 47--9½.
The result seemed impossible, but two years later Europe won 18½--9½ again. The Americans prevailed in 2008, but then Europe won in 2010 and '12.
Like so many American golf fans, I have consoled myself with the knowledge that we are a world power in ice dancing. Also, we have baseball, and we're not going to teach Europeans how to play, no matter how many times they don't ask. Still, what do you do when you know you should beat somebody at golf, but never do?
You call a man who's so intimidating he must scare the life out of the poor sap who bags his groceries. Tom Watson captained the U.S. to victory in the 1993 Ryder Cup, won five British Open Championships and is back as captain again. Jack Nicklaus couldn't make Watson flinch, so why would McIlroy?
Hey, something has to change. The Europeans have been winning for reasons beyond talent. Woods and Mickelson have combined to take 19 major titles, but their Ryder Cup record is 27-35-9. Colin Montgomerie and Sergio García have won zero majors. Their combined Ryder Cup record is 36-17-11.
Woods is injured and not on the team this year, but the Americans still have the talent to bring the Cup back. Europe may have a better team, but only slightly; six Americans have won majors, compared to four Europeans. There really is no excuse for all this losing. Yes, the Scots invented the game, but we were the ones who figured out how to use it to sell incredibly expensive houses. Get it together, fellas. Your nation's Realtors are counting on you.
It doesn't seem to matter what we do or who plays: Ryder Cup weekend always ends with Europeans singing "Olé, Olé, Olé!"
How do you explain the U.S.'s Ryder Cup woes?
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CARLOS M. SAAVEDRA FOR SPORTS ILLUSTRATED