Misplaced Focus

I'm beginning to think there's something wrong with us Americans. I watched as much of the (2002) Ryder Cup coverage as possible; ceremonies, press conferences, and play. My overall impression is, “what a great golf show we were able to witness.”

I know there is a hard edge to some of the British/European press, such as the pseudo issue of Tiger's early morning practice round, but what I'm hearing here is nonsense. It's as if “Life by Vince Lombardi” has colored every endeavor in which we partake.

“Winning isn't everything; it's the only thing.”

“Show me a good loser and I'll show you a loser.”

Win=good, lose=bad.

Alright, only one of those is Lombardi's (I think), but you should get the point. As George C. Scott, playing General Patton said, “American won't tolerate a loser,” instantly consigning half the Little League players, half the AYSO soccer players, half the Pop Warner Leaguers to the Purgatory of Loser. Sheesh. It's a game. Get over it.

Can't we enjoy the pitcher's nasty inside curveball freezing the hitter on 3 & 2 even though the next batter takes him downtown with a game winning home run? Was Walter Payton any less exciting to watch in all those losing Bear seasons than he was in 1985?

What ever happened to putting on a good show? Do we have to label half the participants as losers? I think DL3 (Davis Love III) captured the spirit of the event best when he said that without the Ryder Cup competition, he wouldn't have made a friend like Darren Clarke.

Aside from that let's talk golf. Listen, I've actually done some analysis on this for the people who don't understand the vagaries of match play (and high level sports in general) and I think most analysts, even those who are pretty knowledgeable about golf, just don't seem to be covering this aspect.

Take a look at the scoring averages of the Ryder Cup participants. They range from 68.49 for Tiger to 72 and change for Lee Westwood. Let's throw out the best and worst, because each is statistically misleading, and we're left with a scoring range of about 2½ strokes for the players.

It doesn't take a rocket scientist to deduce that over the course of the year or even a handful of tournaments, the guy that averages 69 is likely to take home more money than the guy that averages 71. But let's bring Tiger back into the mix, just for an example. He has a scoring range on any given day of 62-81 (remember the Open?). A similar range can be expected for any of those players.

So any one player beating any other 3&2 or 2 up just doesn't surprise me all that much. If you were getting a stroke a side from your regular playing partner whose handicap is two better than yours, do you think he'd beat you every week or vice versa? Of course not. We have good days and we have bad days.

Frankly the level of play at the PGA Tour level (or the professional level of any sport) is so close among the competitors that the “any given Sunday” maxim of professional football isn't just wishful thinking; it's reality. David Duval has been saying he's just a couple of strokes per round from being back on form. How would you like to be “off” enough to only be averaging 72? A stroke a side from a banner season is all he is.

A stroke a side in match play could be the difference between winning 1 up and losing 1 up. Of course in match play, you could be just two strokes off your opponent and lose 7 & 6, depending on where the strokes fell; which is really the point of this discussion. It would be an ugly match, granted. Think of that for a minute. Of the 28 matches played, did you notice as play progressed how close the matches generally were? 1 Up and All Square were on the board for most of the matches. Talk about a show. These guys are good.

I also don't buy the so called “lack of team spirit” nonsense, either. On Saturday evening the U.S. and Europe were tied, 8-8. The U.S., the underdog in the team competition, tied the favored Euros. So, let me get this straight; in the team competition, the team without the team spirit, tied the team with the team spirit. Right? Then, when they played individually, when presumably the "team spirit" meant little, and where the Americans were favored, the Euros somehow out-teamed them? I don't get that.

Oh, well. I agree that there is a difference in the camaraderie developed and displayed amongst the Euros compared to the Americans, but I don't see it translating to losing the Ryder Cup. I saw plenty of American players following other matches when they were done. I saw plenty of rah-rah. But I think when the day was done, one group of guys played a stroke or two better than they usually do, and another group of guys were off their game a stroke or two.

Unfortunately for the U.S., more of the Euros played better and fewer of the Americans. The vagaries of golf. If you've never had your pocket emptied on Sunday when you had gotten plenty of strokes, you haven't experienced it, and you won't understand the Ryder (or Walker, or Solheim) Cup.

And it isn't about winning; it's about playing. Winning just means bigger hangovers.

Added 19 August 2009—Curtis Strange took a lot of heat for positioning his top ranked players—Woods and Mickelson—last in the Sunday pairings. The rap was that the Cup had been decided before those groups even teed off. Lots of silly sports analogies were cited supporting the criticism, such as best hitters batting ninth, etc. Hey guys—who runs the anchor leg in the relay races? Hint—it's not the slowest guy on the team.

Last updated: 20 August 2009

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