The sheer arrogance of it all. Does the Professional Golfers’ Association of America (PGA of America) really think the United States can compete consistently in golf against the whole of Europe?
True, the latest Ryder Cup was a close and thrilling 14.5-13.5 victory for the Europeans. But the fact is the Euros have won four of the last five competitions, and six of the last eight, including winning twice by lopsided 18.5-9.5 scores. And one of the PGA of America victories, in 1999, was a near miracle comeback win.
The U.S. squad used to routinely beat up on the British side. After the U.S. had beaten Great Britain in 19 of 22 contests, including ten in a row (and usually by large margins), Jack Nicklaus suggested that starting in 1979 all of Europe should be allowed to play for the former British-Ireland side, which would make the contest more competitive.
This concept worked well for a while. But as Europe has completely rebuilt from World War II and developed a leisure class, many more Europeans are turning to golf and the game has spread in popularity. The result is that the Europeans can tap into players from several countries and can produce a Ryder Cup team that is demonstrably better than the U.S. team.
In 2010, prominent European players like Paul Casey, Justin Rose, Henrik Stenson and Robert Karlsson failed to make the European Ryder Cup squad, and all of these players are arguably better than at least four of the American squad members. Casey, for example, was the 7th ranked player in the world at the time of the Ryder Cup, according to officialworldgolfranking.com. In addition, Americans have won only four of the last 12 major tournaments (Masters, U.S. Open, The Open, PGA), even though three of the four majors are played on U.S. soil.
If you can grab a handful of players from Britain and complement them with players from Spain, Sweden, Germany, Italy and other European powerhouses, you are bound to end up with a stronger squad than what the U.S. can present. And what will happen when nations in Eastern Europe, with its great Slavic population, join the PGA European Tour and start contributing members to the European squad?
In other sports the U.S. does not presume to be able to compete against a whole continent or the whole world. In the Davis Cup in tennis, the Olympics, the World Cup football tournament, the World Baseball Classic, and other competitions, the U.S. sends a team to compete against other individual nations, not against an entire continent.
The idea Nicklaus presented was fine for its time. But Europe has developed to the point where the idea has exhausted its usefulness. Ironically, Nicklaus made his suggestion because the British and Ireland alone were not competitive with the U.S. team, but now Great Britain and Ireland alone could mount a very competitive team. Try a British-Ireland squad with the likes of Casey, Rose, Ian Poulter, Ross Fisher, Luke Donald, Lee Westwood, Padraig Harrington, Graeme McDowell, Rory McIlRoy, Martin Laird, Oliver Wilson and Simon Dyson. Does anyone think that team could not pose a serious challenge to the American team? They don’t need the other great players from continental Europe anymore.
So what is to be done? There are two good possibilities. Make the contest a continent against continent competition of North America versus Europe. This would allow the U.S. to bring along players like Mike Weir and Stephen Ames of Canada. It would also allow the Americans to field the future male versions of Lorena Ochoa from Mexico, a rising golf power. Or failing that a new Ryder Cup system should be devised where maybe the eight strongest golf squads in the world would assemble every two years and play an elimination tournament to see who would win the Ryder Cup. Teams from nations like Britain, the U.S., South Africa, South Korea, Japan, Germany, Spain, and Sweden would participate. The top-ranked team would play number eight, 2 vs. 7, 3 vs. 6 and 4 vs. 5. The winners would meet in the semi-finals, and then the finalists would square off. Each round would follow the present Ryder Cup format of foursomes, fourball and singles.
As the rest of the world catches up to the U.S. in golf, the Ryder Cup and President’s Cup (the U.S. against all the other golf playing nations outside of Europe) will become increasingly a farce and an unfair competition. Occasionally the U.S. will win, but the fair fight at this juncture is nation against nation, just as in other team sport competitions.