Europe: the Ultimate Team Player

Another oldie.

The Ryder Cup ended on Sunday afternoon with another lopsided US defeat, ending in the exact same deficit (18.5 to 9.5) as two years ago on US soil when the Ryder Cup was last held. It was a clear drubbing, with the Europeans winning every session, including the Sunday singles, which have historically been dominated by the US. That makes Europe the winner of five of the last six Ryder Cups, not to mention the last three. And if it were not for an historic and unprecedented comeback by the US in 1999 in Sunday singles, you would have given Europe the last six Ryder Cups. Even more demoralizing for the team that boasts the top three golfing talents in the world in Woods, Mickelson, and Furyk, Europe has pulled off two thorough thrashings of the US in the last two Ryder Cups, making Sunday singles a mere formality.

As an aside, the US was victorious in the most recent edition. You think Boo Weekley wasn’t pumped up?

Anyway, back to the article…

Rudy Tomjonovich once said of his Houston Rockets: “Never underestimate the heart of a champion”. It was clear from the first tee ball that the Europeans were looser, more relaxed, and more “into it” than the US. The Europeans play the Ryder Cup like the Americans play majors; with passion, focus, and heart. Conversely, the Americans play the Ryder Cup like it’s a two dollar skins game; with disinterest and aloofness. When Greece (absent of any NBA players) beat the likes of Lebron, Wade, Carmelo, and Bosh at the World Basketball Championships this past summer, they displayed a much higher level of team chemistry, camaraderie, and once again, heart. They came together as a team in the same fashion as the Europeans come together for the Ryder Cup. It is one of life’s puzzles why the US (with clearly the most raw talent) usually does not fare well in the Ryder Cup as well most international team competitions. Here are a few theories as to why.

The US is grounded in the power of the individual. Their constitution for example makes far more mention of individuality than collective prosperity. They pay less taxes, meaning that less wealth gets re-distributed, which is another sign of their “go it alone” attitude. It is not uncommon in Europe for income tax rates to flirt with the 50% mark, leaving a lot of extra money to be redistributed to those who need it most. It may seem silly to compare tax rates and sporting outcomes, but the analogy is clear. Many countries in Europe enjoy spreading the wealth, believing that an egalitarian society produces the best society. America has always been about the freedom to pursue individual personal wealth, with little or no limits set. Could this “team-first mentality” in European society help to foster a team first mentality on the golf course, the hardcourt, or the soccer pitch? And could this focus on the individual in American society be a hindrance to the performance of American sports teams? Potentially. Just think of American sports coverage.

Baseball coverage often fixates on home run tallies; who’s got the most, when is Bonds going to break Babe Ruth’s record, etc. Golf focuses on the majors and the player of the year race. Basketball focuses on scoring leaders and MVP’s. This is not to say that sports analysts in the US don’t speak of team play, but they do seem to spend a lot of time discussing individual accolades. Conversely, in Europe, when analysts speak of soccer (football to them), it’s often with an emphasis on the team effort. Think of how well the US does in the Olympics, which are mostly individual efforts. Now compare that to American results in international team events such as soccer, golf, and basketball.

Something doesn’t add up.

I also believe that no matter what the Americans say, Europe treasures the Ryder Cup more. I truly believe that the Ryder Cup for the Europeans is right up there, and possibly more important to them than winning majors. For the Americans, it is no contest. I don’t care what the Americans say, they would much rather win a US Open or a Masters than a Ryder Cup.

It is obvious that the US struggles with team sports. On paper, they should win every Ryder Cup, and they should win the gold medal game whenever they hit the hardcourt. Instead, the US has dismal records recently both in the Ryder Cup and in international team competition in general. Chemistry goes a long way. Heart goes a long way. And the passionate will for your team to win is vital. For now, I think it is safe to conclude that team success is not as important to the US as it is to Europe, the ultimate team player.

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