Whether it was sport or something really important (like war), it's been a tough year to be an American playing abroad. The U.S. hockey team fell into a burning rink of fire at the Olympics, and the basketball team lost to Greece at the World Championships. Yes, the same Greece where just last year they discovered the object was to put the ball through the hoop, not throw it at the other team like dodgeball. Banana republicans won the World Baseball Classic, and the U.S. soccer team left the World Cup early with a massive wedgie. The only real success story was the tender sprouts from Columbus, Ga., who won the Little League World Series. What do you suppose their coach told them before the big game? I'll give you two choices:
A. "If you lose, you'll be letting the entire country down and you won't be allowed to play on this team ever again."
B. "Winning isn't everything, and as long as you give 100 percent, play by the rules and carry yourselves with dignity, you'll be a winner."
My money is on the latter. The problem is that by the time we don't need a hug from our mommies anymore, we're being judged by different standards. Players who make it to the World Series or the Super Bowl are heroes for a week, but if they don't win they get branded on the ass like steers from the Big L Ranch. Somewhere between pubic hair and a legal margarita (which for me, arrived in the wrong order), our kids figure out that if they give 100 percent, play by the rules and carry themselves with dignity, they'll end up getting their asses kicked while the "winner" whines about how he's underappreciated.
The case of the U.S. Ryder Cup team is interesting. They've lost five of the last six Cups, against ever-increasing background noise that now includes moral indignation over the amount of money they play for! Excuse me? You think golfers are paid too much? Last time I checked, it was close to impossible to get one of only 50 PGA Tour cards that entitle a player to take his own money and attempt to turn it into more by beating the same 125 guys who are waaay better than thousands of other guys who made it close to impossible for him to get the damn card. And if he's really good then he might get the chance to be paid absolutely nothing to play in an event in which there's a better-than-average chance he is going to get his ass handed to him by a guy who most American golf fans wouldn't know from the tight end on the French chess team. And because of all this good fortune he'll be called a LOSER! Holy crap, does that sound like a good deal, or what?
The wee man on the lid of the Ryder Cup, Abe Mitchell, was Sam Ryder's golf coach. Mitchell competed in the Ryder Cup for the British side in 1929, '31 and '33, and he's bent over like he's about to hold his ankles for a reason. It took almost six decades for the British and Irish to get their hands on the cup with any regularity, and then it only happened because of the reluctant inclusion of a bunch of fuzzy foreigners.
The reason the U.S. has lost so many recent Cups is not because they don't care or their lives are too cushy, it's because the Europeans are a whole lot better than Americans think they are, and they have a fan-based support system that has instilled a sense of self-worth even when they have lost. Ironically, they have been helped enormously by American fans who enjoy seeing Europe win because they feel its players are less-coddled regular guys. That may be true, but when will Americans start wondering why these European guys don't win more majors, instead of why Americans don't win the Ryder Cup?