Minus U.S. Open Champ, Americans
Labeled The UnderdogSeptember 18, 2008
By Alex Davidson
Louisville, Ky. - Steve Stricker has followed the Ryder Cup
Matches with great interest and with a sense of unmitigated
patriotism for many years, even before he became a professional
golfer and successful PGA Tour pro. So the results of the last
two meetings between the United States and Europe have left him
with a sense of distinct unease - and he was simply on the
Now the Wisconsin native and the Tour's two-time Comeback Player of
the Year is a member of the 12-man American contingent on the
frontlines that is feeling ever-increasing pressure to initiate a
U.S. resurgence when the 37th Ryder Cup begins Friday at Valhalla
"It was painful to watch, to tell you the truth, to watch fellow
Tour players and friends go through that," said Stricker, a veteran
PGA Tour player but a rookie member of an American team, of the
last two matches that resulted in record nine-point romps for the
Europeans. "It didn't look like they were having any fun, and
rightly so. Anybody who is losing this competition isn't going
to have any fun. The Europeans looked like they were having all the
fun in the world, and again, rightly so, because they were drumming
us. Again, we hope to do the old role reversal this year and make
the putts and have the fun and be the team on top."
The United States still retains a significant advantage in the
overall Ryder Cup ledger, having won 24 of 36 with two ties against
opponents from Great Britain and Europe. But since continental
Europe joined the fray in 1979, the balance of power has taken a
noticeable shift to the east.
Europe not only has won the last two by landslides, but five of the
last six - the exception being the remarkable U.S. victory in 1999
at The Country Club in Brookline, Mass., when the Americans rallied
from a 10-6 deficit in Sunday singles.
Mind you, Europe has accomplished this in the era of Tiger Woods,
who will not be in uniform for the U.S. for the first time since
1997. The No. 1 player in the world remains on the sidelines
recovering from reconstructive knee surgery following his third
U.S. Open title, which he claimed with a dramatic playoff victory
over Rocco Mediate at Torrey Pines Golf Course in San Diego.
|Chad Campbell was a member of the 2004 U.S.
team that lost. (Steven Gibbons/USGA)|
America, fielding a team of six rookies, is hardly lacking for
talent - even with Woods absent - or intensity, but the Yanks
clearly have been missing a necessary ingredient of late. Thus,
U.S. captain Paul Azinger decided to shake up the selection process
by placing nearly all the emphasis on player performance this year
for automatic selections while reserving four wild-card picks -
double that were available to previous captains. He also changed
the order of competitive formats, leading off with foursomes
(alternate shot), which has proven to be the Americans' strength,
instead of four-ball, at which the Europeans have flourished.
Veteran Jim Furyk has noticed other subtle alterations to stir the
Americans from their doldrums.
"I think Paul has done a good job in changing a lot of approaches,
and you all are aware of them - the way we accumulated points,
which I think was a great change," said Furyk, playing in his sixth
Ryder Cup. "He added a little bit more pressure upon himself with
four picks rather than two. He's doing a few things differently
from a team perspective, the way that he's organizing us in our
team room, a little bit different. Nothing drastic, but it's
different, it's a change."
A bigger change, one all 12 Americans must embrace, is not to try
and party like it's 1999, but to forget what has occurred leading
up to this year. They can't undo the embarrassing setbacks of the
last two matches, which actually had European writers offering up
the suggestion of adding Canada and Mexico to the U.S. roster or
the fact that the Americans are underdogs on home soil for the
first time in history.
And they are underdogs.
"I don't feel there's a question about that," said 1990
U.S. Amateur champion and two-time USA Walker Cupper Phil
Mickelson, one of the American team's veterans. "Given our play,
given the fact that we've lost our top player, that's the
case. But it doesn't mean that we can't come out and play
well, and with the help of the crowd, and with a golf course
that's very well suited for many of our players. It will be a
great challenge that we have to face, but it's no question, the
favorite is the European Team given that they have won quite
handily the last few times."
Even Sergio Garcia had to acknowledge that he and his cohorts are
in uncharted territory when it comes to pre-tournament
expectations. But he didn't think the European squad, which is
captained by 11-time Ryder Cup player and six-time major champion
Nick Faldo, was going to get complacent.
"We know it's not going to be easy at all. The U.S. team,
obviously they are missing Tiger, but we are missing Monty (Colin
Montgomerie), we are missing (Darren) Clarke and we are missing
[two-time Great Britain & Ireland Walker Cupper] Luke Donald. I
think it's going to be tough, and we have to realize that and
we have to play as hard as we can. The first moment we think
we're favorites and we're going to win easily, that's
when we are going to feel it and we are going to struggle. Being
favorite, it's great, but it doesn't mean that you've
The Americans are simply trying to not assume that their recent
adversity is going to continue. To do so would be to wallow in
doubt and self-pity, and that is not conducive to accomplishing
their goal of putting the cup back in U.S. hands for the next two
"We can't do anything about the past," said Chad Campbell, a
member of the 2004 team that was rocked at Oakland Hills Country
Club in Birmingham, Mich. "All we can do is focus on this week and
the future and take care of one shot at a time. I know it's
kind of clichÃ© or whatever, but that's really all you can do.
He (Azinger) has said it a few times. I think it's a good point
to be made."
Azinger, the 1993 PGA champion, wasn't afraid to make it again. He
has passion for the Ryder Cup and patriotism to spare, and he won't
allow his team to dwell on the negative when there is something to
be gained in the coming days.
"You know what? The past is the past," Azinger said. "What
difference does the past make to us? Those are different teams,
different players, different course, different years, different
times. We're looking now to the future. I don't care about
the past. We know what the past is. We've done a lot of things
to try to correct in the selection process what's been going on
here, and if we've done it right, then we'll be
competitive. We'll just have to see."
Alex Davidson is a freelance writer whose work has previously
appeared on www.usga.org.
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