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Sunday, July 20, 2008

"On Paper" the Americans Are Toast at the Ryder Cup

After Padraig Harrington romped his way to victory Sunday at the Open Championship with a stellar four under par on his final nine, I thought to myself, "Other than Tiger and Phil, hasn't it been a while since an American won a major?"

Of course I turned to trusty Wikipedia to find the answer. I initially thought it was Todd Hamilton at the 2004 Open, but then Wikipedia reminded me of Zach Johnson's win at the Masters last year (how soon one forgets).

Johnson's victory aside, it's been a long time since someone from the United States not named Woods or Mickelson has won anything of substance. So this begs the question: How come every time the Ryder Cup arrives, the experts say that the Americans look better "on paper"?

Maybe it's the Tiger-Phil Factor, but I would posit that it's likely because golf writers place too much of a premium on victories at regular PGA Tour stops and are too narrow-minded in the way they view "the rest of the world". Sure, the PGA Tour has the deepest fields from week to week, but by placing so much value on the quality of its fields, pundits are indirectly devaluing the quality of the fields in Europe. It's a very Ameri-centric (is that a word?) mindset, and it borders on absurd. Non-American golfers are described as being somewhat exotic by the broadcasters and writers; one might think Sweden is on another planet.

It'll be interesting to see if we'll be reading the "on paper" argument this year. By looking at the top fifty-one cumulative finishers at this year's first three major championships, we see that fully thirty-two of the players are foreigners. That's 63%. Of course, not all of them are European (the other side of the Ryder Cup coin), but it's still a big number. On paper in the major championships, the Americans don't look very dominant.

Let's now look at the Official World Golf Rankings. There are only seven Americans in the top twenty-five after the Open Championship (28%). Again, the U.S. appears pretty weak using this metric.

Will writers change their tune and start giving the Euros more credit -- credit that they should be due after thumping the Americans in each of the last three contests? How about five out or the last six? They might if the Europeans win again this year at Valhalla, but I wouldn't be so sure of that. Old habits die hard, especially when the habit is defending athletes from one's home country.

I'm fairly certain the U.S. will lose again in September. And I don't think Woods would have made a huge difference in the outcome. Unless something changes drastically on the American side, we're toast.

Then again, as underdogs on paper, the Americans might just pull it off!


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