I’m a little surprised at how excited I am to watch the Ryder Cup this year. I shouldn’t be surprised, I get this same feeling every two years.
Sure, I’m a golf nut and watch more professional golf than the average American. However, I get genuinely and uniquely excited to watch the Ryder Cup matches, even more so than for the majors.
Aside from my ardent patriotism, I think it’s the unique intensity inherent to match play that makes for such compelling competition and viewing.
I haven’t paid attention to much of the over-the-top media hype leading up to the event. Even before the FedEx Cup Playoffs wrapped up, an inordinate amount of airtime on The Golf Channel was devoted to “lost-in-the-weeds” level analysis of minutia and speculation.
For instance, I loved the decision to name Tom Watson as the U.S.A. captain, but the Captain’s Selections TV Special was completely superfluous, boring overkill (Surprise, Surprise…I didn’t tune in for LeBron’s “The Decision” either).
But the tension and drama of the actual matches is undeniably compelling television.
So, for the record, here’s what I expect to see this weekend at Gleneagles in Scotland:
- I think Europe will be as confident as they have ever been heading into this year’s competition. They are the two-time defending champions playing on their home turf under uniquely Scottish conditions.
The European Team is chock full of playing experience, holding a 129 to 113 cumulative Ryder Cup matches played advantage over the Americans.
The experience gap is even larger than those numbers would indicate if you consider that 68 of the 113 matches of American Ryder Cup experience are accounted for by Jim Furyk and Phil Mickelson.
I expect the American team to come out full of nervous energy on Friday, so I won’t be surprised if Team USA jumps out to early leads in the Four Ball morning session.
However, this adrenaline will only get the Americans so far, and it will only pay off if they can sustain a high level of play after the anxiety subsides as the matches grind on past the first few holes.
When asked about momentum in a baseball series, Earl Weaver was quoted as stating, “Momentum? Momentum is tomorrow’s starting pitcher.” I think in golf, momentum is just as precious and precarious, as a single swing can wreck a round or bring a golfer back from the brink.
- I think the golf course at Gleneagles will largely be simply a footnote, or background, rather than a star of the show. This is one of the wonderfully unique aspects of Ryder Cup matches.
The venue matters in the Ryder Cup, don’t get me wrong. However, while the course itself can be the main talking point of a major tournament, as the professionals are battling against the course, in Ryder Cup competition, the players really are competing against the man much more so than the course.
- Finally, I think that if the Europeans are leading or tied at the end of Day 1, they will cruise to victory. There are too many factors in their favor: better cumulative world ranking for Team Europe, home field advantage, experience, etc.
Conservatively, I think it would be a monumental upset if Team USA emerges victorious Sunday, at least on paper.
However, it doesn’t matter much how the teams stack up on paper, because, inevitably, sports are unpredictable, and, as a certain husky ESPN anchor is fond of bellowing, “That’s why they play the games.”
In my heart-of-hearts, I know the Americans have an uphill climb, but I’ll be rooting for the underdog nonetheless.
Maybe Tom Watson can instill some of his steely quiet confidence in this young Team USA. Perhaps the American Ryder Cup rookies won’t know any better than to want to win and won’t be fazed by the enormity of the moment or stage.
Having no Tiger Woods and, seemingly, no counterpart to the force of nature that Rory McIlroy has become, maybe the Americans can rally together and recapture some of that all-for-one and one-for-all magic from Valhalla in 2008.
My hope is that the competition is still close by Saturday afternoon, and maybe, must maybe, the Europeans start to feel the pressure of not blowing out the plucky, seemingly over-matched Americans. I can see the crowds at Gleneagles being anxious if the competition is still in doubt heading into the singles matches.
If I had my choice, the cool resolve of Henrik Stenson and Martin Kaymer wouldn’t be enough to keep Sergio and Poulter from folding on Sunday like a cheap origami swan and the Americans can steal the Ryder Cup on foreign soil for the first time since 1993.
Unlikely as this scenario is, that’s why they play the games, isn’t it?