One of the most heartbreaking moments I’ve ever witnessed live at a sporting event was two years ago at Medinah Country Club in west suburban Chicago, surrounded by golf fans adorned in red, white and blue.
As each hole of the Ryder Cup passed on that final Sunday, and the European team slowly chipped away at a seemingly insurmountable American lead on foreign soil, it became clear that not only does "team" momentum exist in golf, but if it goes the wrong way it can suck the energy right out of a raucous home crowd.
There were plenty of European fans sprinkled among the U.S. supporters to give Martin Kaymer a roar when he beat Madison’s Steve Stricker to clinch the Cup, but if you can suck oxygen out of an open-air venue lined with trees, that moment did it.
That memory trails the U.S. team as it heads to Scotland to try and win back the Cup on European soil.
It’s a daunting task, for several reasons.
The U.S., frankly, isn’t as good as Europe. In nine competitions since 1995, Europe has claimed the Cup seven times.
- The Americans haven’t won abroad since 1993.
- Europe just flat-out destroys Americans one-on-one. The nine U.S. players with Ryder Cup experience are 11-16-3 in singles competition (Eight of those wins coming from Jim Furyk and Phil Mickelson, which really isn’t impressive because those guys have played in a combined 18 Ryder Cups).
Honestly, the American golfers are losers in this setting.
I like the fact that there is a points system for the captains – golf is a cumulative sport, and players who perform well over two years should be rewarded with a spot on the team. But that keeps new blood from being infused into the team.
Jim Furyk has a major championship, but he’s become more well-known now for his late tournament collapses.
Phil Mickelson and Bubba Watson have majors, too – but would you trust either with a "hole for your life" moment? They’re simply too erratic.
Webb Simpson and Keegan Bradley have majors, too – but they’re 0-2 in singles (5-3-0 in partners). I give them credit for those titles, but I remember Jason Dufner and Furyk throwing up on themselves down the stretch of those tournaments more than those guys winning it. They just happened to be there, with their anchored putters.
Matt Kuchar and Hunter Mahan are firmly in the category of "best to never win a major."
And the problem with that designation is that while Euro’s Sergio Garcia and Ian Poulter share the same status – those guys are cold-blooded killers in the Ryder Cup at a combined 28-11-4 overall.
So where does that leave the U.S. team?
Rickie Fowler’s in. So are rookies Patrick Reed, Jordan Spieth and Jimmy Walker. I wouldn’t be surprised if those four end up being the best performers overseas. I can’t make a firm prediction for Walker, who at this point is just another non-descript touring pro – but Fowler, Spieth and Reed are the closest thing Team USA has to a "killer" in this setting.
Those guys play fearlessly, and aren’t rattled by pressure. Their confidence is through the roof.
Furyk and Mickelson may be vets, but they’re veterans of a lot of beatdowns. That wears on you. "Here we go again" will undoubtedly creep in. How can it not?
The PGA of America tried to help this along by naming Tom Watson captain, but the problem is he’s not playing overseas. He can’t heal the scars too many of these Americans have faced.
To me, experience is the problem here.
In 2008, you had a young Anthony Kim, J.B. Holmes, Ben Curtis, Boo Weekley and Chad Champbell. Mahan, too. Kenny Perry made it his singular purpose to make the team and win in his home state, eschewing the majors to do so.
Yes, I know, some vets were on the team – but on Sunday, the day to win it – Stewart Cink, Justin Leonard, Mickelson and Stricker all lost. Mahan halved with Paul Casey.
Honestly, the self-destruction of Kim has set the U.S. team back for years. I watched him as a collegian in the 2005 Walker Cup, leading the U.S. team to victory. He was dynamic. A guy no one on the European team wanted to draw.
Then, as a pro, he was not only a key cog in that 2008 Ryder Cup victory, but went 3-1 in the 2009 President’s Cup.
Unfortunately, injury and off-course issues have derailed his career since then.
I’d feel a lot better for the U.S. chances in these competitions if a guy like Kim was still around. Or if the captains would just break themselves away from "experience" and even major championship pedigree and world ranking.
After every U.S. loss over the last 20 years, people wonder how the Europeans do it. What makes them so good at these team competitions?
Honestly, as a whole, they’re just flat better. And when it comes to the one-on-competition on Sunday afternoon, the Europeans treat it as such, embrace it and want to prove they are better – and too many of these Americans players know it.
Jim Owczarski is an award-winning sports journalist and comes to Milwaukee by way of the Chicago Sun-Times Media Network.
A three-year Wisconsin resident who has considered Milwaukee a second home for the better part of seven years, he brings to the market experience covering nearly all major and college sports.
To this point in his career, he has been awarded six national Associated Press Sports Editors awards for investigative reporting, feature writing, breaking news and projects. He is also a four-time nominee for the prestigious Peter J. Lisagor Awards for Exemplary Journalism, presented by the Chicago Headline Club, and is a two-time winner for Best Sports Story. He has also won numerous other Illinois Press Association, Illinois Associated Press and Northern Illinois Newspaper Association awards.
Jim's career started in earnest as a North Central College (Naperville, Ill.) senior in 2002 when he received a Richter Fellowship to cover the Chicago White Sox in spring training. He was hired by the Naperville Sun in 2003 and moved on to the Aurora Beacon News in 2007 before joining OnMilwaukee.com.
In that time, he has covered the events, news and personalities that make up the PGA Tour, LPGA Tour, Major League Baseball, the National Football League, the National Hockey League, NCAA football, baseball and men's and women's basketball as well as boxing, mixed martial arts and various U.S. Olympic teams.
Golf aficionados who venture into Illinois have also read Jim in GOLF Chicago Magazine as well as the Chicago District Golfer and Illinois Golfer magazines.