To say U.S. ‘choked’ at Ryder Cup isn’t fair to them or to Europe

October 1, 2012

The Ryder Cup hadn’t even ended when the vultures started circling the U.S. Ryder Cup team and captain Davis Love. The captain sent out the wrong players, he made the wrong picks, and, most of all, the American team choked.
“Choke” is a loaded and misunderstood word in golf, and it’s out of order in discussions of the 2012 Ryder Cup. Team USA didn’t choke away the Ryder Cup, and to say they did isn’t fair to how well the Americans played. It also takes away from the incredible comeback the European team pulled off Sunday.
I covered every Ryder Cup between 1989 and 2004. Ultimately, when you put it all in the blender, the team that putts the best wins. On Friday and Saturday, the Americans putted better. On Sunday, the Europeans did. The question is, why did they putt better?
Everything in golf revolves around your energy level, and that level is hard to maintain. That’s why a guy who shoots 62 rarely follows it with a 65 the next day. On Friday and Saturday, the Americans had great energy. That’s a credit to Love and the team environment he created around his players. For years, the knock on the Americans was that they were great at singles but didn’t play well together. The 2012 Ryder Cup proved that wrong.
Playing together, the Americans were committed to making putts, and they did. By contrast, the Europeans were just trying to make putts — they weren’t committed — and they didn’t make them.
What I mean by "committed" is the feeling that you won't be denied. On Friday and Saturday, the Americans were so emotionally invested that they weren't going to be denied. They made putts without regard for the consequences of not making them. On Sunday, the roles were reversed. The Europeans put it all on the line and didn't think about the consequences of missing putts. They couldn't afford to. Playing with a lead, the Americans were more aware of those consequences. That's the difference between commitment and trying.
The Americans  expended so much energy those first two days that they didn’t have anything left to rally around on Sunday. Meanwhile, the Europeans felt like nothing went their way until  Saturday afternoon, when they gained a little momentum with those last two matches.
On Sunday, playing for the memory of Seve Ballesteros, they had extra emotion. They played like they had nothing to lose, which is the best way to play.
You could almost see this one coming. On Saturday night, I tweeted that Europe had won five of the seven matches that ended 1-up. Facing a 10-6 deficit, European captain Jose Maria Olazabal did what he needed to do: he sent his best players out first to silence the crowd. It’s no different from a Game 7 in the World Series.
The U.S. team made a similar comeback in Brookline in 1999, but that was a home game. The Europeans faced a more difficult challenge. The road team has to get a lead to take the crowd out of the game. After Europe won the early matches, the Americans weren’t able to draw the emotional energy from the crowd that they desperately needed. And once the Europeans got the score to 10-10, it was a whole different ball game.
One thing I hope this Ryder Cup puts to rest is the idea that the Americans somehow don’t want to win as badly as the Europeans. You can’t tell me Tiger Woods doesn’t care about the Ryder Cup. The U.S. team wanted this Cup badly; they just couldn’t find the energy when they needed it on Sunday.
It happens. It happened to the Red Sox against the Yankees in 2003, and it happened to the Yankees against the Red Sox in 2004. And it will happen again to the Europeans and the Americans in the Ryder Cup.
I love this event, but I wish there wasn’t so much vitriol around it. These are two likable teams, and most of the players on both sides earn their livings on the PGA Tour. There’s no reason for nastiness. I’m not blaming the American fans or Chicago fans; it happens everywhere they bring the Cup. Let’s just enjoy the best golf the United States and Europe have to offer.
And that choking talk? Put a sock in it.