Another Ryder Cup, another American disappointment on European soil. Another American disappointment overall, really. It’s not like they’ve been much better on American soil as they have been overseas over the last 25 years.
What’s most baffling to me is the utter domination of Europeans over the US squad over the course of the careers of Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson. Tiger doesn’t need an introduction; 80 PGA Tour wins, over 100 professional wins world-wide, 14 majors, 18 WGC wins, his resume speaks for itself. Phil is the same way. Had Tiger not been in the picture, likely it would have been Phil that gave Jack a run for his majors’ money. Why is it that the two greatest players of a generation are so often synonymous with Ryder Cup failure? Why is it that Tiger and Phil cannot win as part of a team?
The answer, I think, is simple. They don’t care. Tiger put it plainly years ago, “Noone remembers what Jack Nicklaus’ Ryder Cup record is.” It’s true, we don’t. I wouldn’t have the slightest idea what Jack’s record was in the Ryder Cup, nor do I care. But I do know that the Ryder Cups teams Jack played on won more often than Tiger’s or Phil’s.
I am as big a Tiger fan as you’ll find, and in the grand scheme of things, his personal Ryder Cup record means nothing to me as far as him as a player. When people ask me why I believe Tiger to be the greatest ever has nothing to do with Ryder Cup success or failure. It’s the fact that he’s been the most dominant player in history; factual and stat checked. I don’t see there being an argument. The only argument that gets thrown out is 18 to 14. You’re right, Tiger probably won’t reach 18 majors. Tiger is better and more dominant in just about every other metric you can possibly throw out there, except the Ryder Cup.
That brings me back to my reasoning. He doesn’t care. Sure, he wants to beat Europe. In singles play, he generally does (4-2-2 after losing to Jon Rahm yesterday). In team play, his record is atrocious. It doesn’t mean as much to him because he knows he’s better. He doesn’t need an unpaid exhibition to tell him he’s the best. The fact that he ripped apart the PGA Tour for 15 years and spent 13 years as the #1 golfer in the world tells him he’s the best.
On Saturday’s broadcast, Nick Faldo (one of the greatest European Ryder Cup players ever) said something that was very telling, “In America, players are judged by how many majors they win. In Europe, players are judged by how many Ryder Cup matches they win.” That tells you everything. It’s not that European players disregard major championships. They want to win just as much as anyone else. But, what country does every other country want to beat in anything? The United States. No matter the sport, no matter the prize, no matter what, everyone wants to beat the US.
There is an amount of pride to represent their country in the European players that the American players don’t have. You can see it in their emotion. There is definitely hope in the new American generation of players, but I’ll get to that later. Tiger doesn’t have that. In addition, Tiger wasn’t built to play as part of a team. Golf is an individual sport. In golf, you’re playing against 125 other players each week, but in reality, you’re playing against yourself. The mental aspect to the game of golf is greater than any other sport, in my opinion. Tiger has separated himself from the rest of golf’s history due to his mental domination over every other player that stepped onto the course to oppose him.
He took pride in that. He took pride in knowing that everyone else knew that they were playing for 2nd place. The biggest accomplishment of Tiger’s career, in my opinion again, happened in May of 2001. Tiger won The Players Championship, putting him in possession of all 4 majors (The Masters, U.S. Open, The Open Championship, PGA Championship) as well as The Players (the undisputed 5th major) all at once. This is something that had never been done before and will never be done again. To win all 5 of golf’s biggest tournaments in a row, and when you’re SUPPOSED to win them, is the most impressive accomplishment in sport. After doing that, what does it matter if he loses a fourball match against Sergio Garcia and Lee Westwood?
There’s no desire to win; at least not as much desire as there is to win a PGA Tour event. Ian Poulter lost his swing and was in jeopardy of losing his Tour card in 2017. He worked his ass off to regain his form and win a few Monday qualifiers to earn spots in PGA events eventually winning the Houston Open in 2018. Why did he do that? Winning a PGA tournament is great, but he wanted to earn a Captain’s selection for the 2018 Ryder Cup, which he did (and won a pivotal singles match against the World’s #1 player Dustin Johnson).
The Ryder Cup meant much more to the European players than the American players in Tiger’s generation. Enter the millennials. The emotion you see from every single player on Team Europe is now showing up sparingly with the Americans. Guys like Patrick Reed, Jordan Spieth, and Justin Thomas have to be the stars of the show moving forward. If America wants even the slightest chance to have a Ryder Cup run of dominance of their own, these are the guys that have to lead the way.
These guys have an emotion that rivals that of the Europeans. You can see it when they make a pivotal putt. Not only the long putts to win holes, but that 8-foot par putt to halve a hole. They wear their emotions on their sleeves and that’s what we need. Justin Thomas wanted to play in a Ryder Cup so bad, he went to the last 3 to watch even though he didn’t qualify for the team. He wanted to witness the atmosphere in person because it’s a different level of pressure and excitement that you don’t get at an everyday PGA Tour event, especially when it’s held in Europe.
These are the guys that I want. I don’t think we have 12 of these guys available yet, but Reed, Spieth, and Thomas are young enough that they’ll be around long enough to influence the current generation as well as the next generation of Ryder Cup hopefuls. I mean Francesco Molinari is the dullest player on Tour. It’s been a big reason why he’s been successful, he doesn’t let his emotions get the best of him in PGA events. But, when the Ryder Cup comes around, you see fist pumps like you wouldn’t believe. When he secured the clinching point on Sunday, he was in the crowd getting a champagne shower from the fans like he just won his 19th major to break Jack Nicklaus’ record. He went 5-0-0 in this year’s Ryder Cup; in Europe’s mind, he did.
There is hope. America’s young players have the passion for the event. They also have an incredible amount of talent. That is what America needs to win this event every other year. We have to eliminate the Tiger Woods’ and the Phil Mickelson’s from the team. As great of players they’ve been in their careers, they don’t positively contribute to the play on the course or the morale of the team as players. They garner plenty of respect in order to rally a team together from a leadership standpoint; so when it comes to the Ryder Cup, they need to be captains, that’s it.