No grit. No toughness. That's why the U.S. will lose
Posted: Tuesday September 19, 2006 2:34PM; Updated: Tuesday September 19, 2006 3:10PM
Tom Lehman hopes his relaxed approach will create steely resolve when the pressure's on.
I recently read that U.S. captain Tom Lehman's strategy for ending Europe's domination of the Ryder Cup is to create a more fun and relaxed atmosphere for the Americans, who've lost four of the last five and are 3-6-1 in the last 20 years. This from a man who was among the over-the-top celebrators at the Country Club in Brookline in 1999, the last time the U.S. won, when wives and players raced across the 17th green to embrace Justin Leonard while his opponent, José María Olazábal, was waiting to putt. Well, good luck to him.
Lehman can preach fun and relaxation all he wants. Ryder Cup pressure will make all but the best of men squeeze sulphur from the grips of their putters. That's why, once again, the Europeans will win.
I covered the 1989 Ryder Cup at the Belfry, in Sutton Coldfield, England, and in 28 years of sportswriting, I've never seen professional athletes choke more convincingly than I did then.
In a tied match on Sunday, I watched Paul Azinger yank a ball 50 yards left off the tee into the 18th pond, and, moments later, Seve Ballesteros top his second from the 18th fairway into the drink. They halved their match with one-putt bogeys. Ultimately the competition ended in a 14-14 tie, which meant Europe retained control of the Cup.
But four of America's best professionals gagged on the 18th hole, preventing the U.S. from taking home the prize. Mark Calcavecchia, Payne Stewart, Fred Couples and Ken Green all went to the 18th tee on Sunday even. When a halve would have meant an outright U.S. win, all lost the hole and the match.
Calcavecchia and Stewart drove into the water. Green three-putted. And Couples bogeyed from the middle of the fairway with a nine-iron in his hand. Afterward he sobbed like a schoolboy.
Soft as grapes. That's what I thought about the American team then, and that's pretty much what I've thought about American Ryder Cup teams ever since. Maybe it's because, as golfers, they never played team sports like football or hockey, but the idea of having teammates who depend upon them seems to be more than they can bear.