Since 1985 the hallmark of the Ryder Cup has been cutthroat competitiveness and cuticle-chewing finishes, so imagine what a relief it must be for this year's U.S. team to have already been declared the victor. As everyone knows by now, those plucky underdogs from Europe haven't been this hopelessly overmatched since, well, since 1995, but never mind Choke Hill. Let's talk about this American team's overwhelming superiority. "Fifty years, from now, we may look back and decide the 1997 Ryder Cup team was our best ever," one golf publication has breathlessly prophesied.
"This team looks like the future of golf," Tom Lehman was moved to say following last month's PGA Championship.
Tapping (or should we say typing) into the Zeitgeist, a golf Web site posed the following question: Which side has more talent? A whopping 91% of the respondents keyed in "the Americans." Asked which side "has more guts under pressure," 65% voted for the Stars and Stripes.
When normally tight-lipped U.S. captain Tim Kite declared, "This could be the strongest team ever," critical mass was achieved. Who can argue? I mean, look at this team. We've got Tiger Woods! Granted, he hasn't done squat since July, missed the first cut of his pro career in his final tune-up for Valderrama and is a Ryder Cup rookie, but how many players on the European team have won the Triple Crown—guest slots on Leno, Oprah and Barbara Walters?
Even if Tiger flops, the U.S. team can lean on that solid Midwestern oak, Lehman. O.K., so Lehman hasn't won in almost a year and his most memorable swings this season were two ugly hooks into the water. At least he tries hard.
Not that he'll have to, though, because Phil Mickelson's on our side. Yes, it does seem like he enters a witness protection program before every major, his putting is in and out, and under pressure his swing is looser than Fuzzy's lips, but no one can deny that he leads both teams in victories in the Nortel Open.
Jim Furyk? Here's a guy who ran off eight straight top 10s this summer, which is another way of saying that he has perfected the art of coming close. Furyk hasn't won since February 1996. We won't mention the 80 he shot in the Canadian Open.
Jeff Maggert has been runner-up almost as often as Susan Lucci, and his 10 seconds since his last win, in 1993, don't even include his most memorable self-immolation, at this year's U.S. Open. If Mark O'Meara is immune to Ryder Cup pressure, it's only because he's so apathetic. Of course, with a 2-5-1 record in three appearances, who wouldn't be? Fred Couples has been on autopilot all year as he deals with an ill father and girlfriend. Equally distracted is Brad Faxon, who's in the middle of a divorce and an even uglier estrangement from teammate Scott Hoch. Getting his mind off golf may be helpful to Faxon, who has won only once since '92 and is 0-3 in playoffs the past two seasons. Then there's Lee Janzen, who should've been picked in '95 but wasn't, and who got picked this year and shouldn't have been. Janzen, at 33 the youngest U.S. captain's pick ever, hasn't won in more than two years.
Only three players on the mighty U.S. team are on their games—Hoch, Justin Leonard and Davis Love III. Leonard and Love have been playing out of their minds all summer, which makes you wonder when the law of averages is going to kick in. Hoch, meanwhile, has a chance to make Ryder Cup history by becoming the first man to play in the foursomes without a partner, owing to the fact that his teammates treat him like poison ivy.
American honks have been trumpeting the fact that it took about 200 more points to qualify for this team than for the '95 squad. Ostensibly a sign of strength, this two-year grind also helps explain the lackluster play of many U.S. team member—the thrill was in the chase and left them burned out.