Maybe it’s some variant of American exceptionalism, where we in the land of apple pie and gridiron football just can’t process any sport we don’t win. That’s changing in some sports such as soccer, where we’ll gladly watch leagues and tournaments in which Americans aren’t even participating.
But it’s not changing in golf. We think we should dominate this event. We’re the country that closes business deals on the golf course. We didn’t invent this sport — the Scots apparently did it either in a fit of boredom or a far-sighted move to boost tourism — but we turned it into a giant business.
Europe also paints itself as the underdogs, with its band of plucky souls facing the big-name Americans like Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson … um … the dude who won The Masters …
So the narrative is always that of a determined group of good friends from around The Continent against a bunch of spoiled superstars, winning through sheer hard word, camaraderie and passion. It’s the kids from Hoosiers against the Miami Heat.
Maybe the Americans are spoiled superstars — if you’ve read John Feinstein’s A Good Walk Spoiled, you’ve met a group of people who relate to the middle class about as well as the Saturday Night Live caricature of Mitt Romney — but there’s a much simpler reason why the Europeans are winning.
See the World Golf Rankings. Four of the top five are from the country sometimes called the United Kingdom. The USA dominates the next tier, but it’s not a steep drop to the lowest-ranked European — #35 Nicolas Colsaerts, who’s also their lone Ryder Cup rookie. The USA has four Ryder Cup rookies.
You can’t look back at Ryder Cup history and say, “Well, we used to dominate.” Sure, back when it was the USA vs. Britain (with or without Ireland). Since the competition expanded to include the rest of Europe, bringing a succession of superb Spaniards into the fray, it’s been nearly even.
And so it can be and should be an engaging competition between two evenly matched sides. With a rooting interest in every pairing, the Ryder Cup draws crowd engagement that you won’t see a typical golf event. Perhaps this sport has an Olympic future after all, depending on the format. (Though, again, it’s ridiculous to add such a costly event to the already expensive summer Olympic program.)
But how much more interesting would it be for Americans if, instead of being the big favorites, we treated this event as Rocky vs. Drago?