MEDINAH, Ill. — It's not us, it's them.
All the angst over the lack of American team chemistry at the Ryder Cup over the last 15 years and the second guessing of the captains' decisions ("he shouldn't have put Tiger and Phil together," "he shouldn't have had logos sewn on the rain suits") ignores the obvious: the Europeans have been better, much better.
In the last 17 years, the Americans have won two Ryder Cups (1999 and 2008). Tiger Woods, who ruled the game for almost this entire period, has played on just one winning team. Team Europe isn't just on a hot streak or a good run. In any other sport, we'd call them a dynasty.
The true mark of a sports dynasty — like the Babe Ruth-era Yankees and the Bill Russell-led Celtics — is that its success is generational. That's what we're seeing from Team Europe in the Ryder Cup. From Seve Ballesteros and Jose Maria Olazabal to Graeme McDowell and Rory McIlroy, the European Ryder Cup team has maintained a shared passion for the event and a brio that's made them a team for the ages. We've just been slow to appreciate their greatness because of where they play, kind of like the San Antonio Spurs.
McDowell has said that history doesn't count for much this week because "our team certainly has quite a different look to it than it did five to 10 years ago." Don't believe him. McDowell also claimed that Europe, with four of the world's top five players and winners of six of the last eight Cups, were "slight underdogs on paper" this year.
He'd probably tell you he thinks Guinness tastes better in Florida if he thought that's what you wanted to hear.
There are a lot of familiar faces on the European team: Lee Westwood (Ryder Cup record: 16-11-6) and Sergio Garcia (Ryder Cup record: 14-6-4, and 8-0-1 in alternate shot) have been thrashing their American counterparts for more than a decade, and Luke Donald (8-2-1, and 6-0-0 in alternate shot) and Ian Poulter (8-3-0, and 3-0-0 in singles) are building impressive Ryder Cup resumes. The only Ryder Cup rookie on the European side is the long-hitting Nicolas Colsaerts.
And the new faces are quickly brought into Europe's winning fold. No one more so than McDowell (Ryder Cup record: 4-2-2). McDowell made his Ryder Cup debut in 2008, a rare Euro loss, and then clinched the Cup for Europe in 2010 with a victory over Hunter Mahan in the final match.
"We have got Westwoods and Garcias and Luke Donalds in the room and unbelievably experienced vice captains and a very experienced captain," McDowell said. "So we have a great mix on our team of inspirers and motivators and emotional guys and rocks and experienced guys. So I'm looking forward to seeing where I fit into the whole deal."
McDowell's Ryder Cup partner Rory McIlroy raised some hackles as a rookie in 2010 when he said that majors were more important than the Ryder Cup, but he got the European team's message quickly.
"To me, the majors are still the biggest tournaments in golf and the tournaments that I want to win, but yeah, I got here and my perception did change," McIlroy said. "Until you actually are involved and you play and you stand on that first tee on Friday morning, everyone screaming your name, and you see how important it is to everyone else. As I said before, you're not just playing for yourself, you're playing for a lot of other people. And I think that makes it so special and so important."
That continuity — symbolized by the silhouette of Ballesteros on every European player's bag this week — is why Team Europe should be admired and, despite what McDowell says, favored this week. It's also why American fans should have so much fun cheering against Europe. Think about it. The Ryder Cup is one of the few times you get to root for America as an underdog in international competition, except for maybe high school math and science test scores. (The World Cup doesn't count because everyone knows we'd have one of the best teams if our best athletes played soccer.)
What made those two American Ryder Cup victories at Brookline and Valhalla so magical was that they came against this seemingly unbeatable team. You could make movies about the 1999 and 2008 Ryder Cups. Team USA's comeback at the Country Club in 1999 was like "Hoosiers." And the rough-and-tumble American team of Valhalla — the fiery captaincy of Paul Azinger, Anthony Kim's raucous celebrations and Boo Weekley riding his driver down the fairway like a cowboy — that was all "Bad News Bears."
So root for the home team this weekend, but don't forget to respect the historic accomplishments of the visiting side. It will make any victory so much sweeter.