What you have here is either an overbearing or strong leader, depending on your perspective, questioned by the multitudes in a time of a war we can't seem to win. Seldom has the U.S. undergone such gut-wrenching, psychological doubt.
No, not George Bush and Iraq. We're talking about Hal Sutton and the U.S. Ryder Cup team.
Tiger Woods may not seem to care about the Ryder Cup, but the U.S. media certainly does. As you might expect after the U.S. suffered its latest loss to the Europeans, this one even more lopsided and embarrassing than the others, the media had quite a bit to say, most of it either of the soul-searching or finger-pointing variety.
Golf Week devoted almost an entire issue to the debacle, and the newspaper headlines were brutal: "Euro grit beats American quit" blared the New York Daily News.
Bob Ryan of the Boston Globe wrote: "Only some combination of American stubbornness and arrogance would prevent someone from conceding innate superiority when someone has beaten your team four out of five times in the supreme team event your sport has to offer."
Ryan went on to say: "Too many Americans offered the lame analysis that the Europeans just 'made more putts than us.' Such a handy rationalization. Such a load of horse manure."
Ole, ole! USA Today continued the theme: "You have to hand it to the rich, pampered individualists who once again were assembled to pretend to be teammates for a week on the US Ryder Cup team. They were very efficient losers."
Mark Cannizarro of the New York Post kept it up: "For the U.S., the culprits and goats were aplenty, but you have to begin with the top four players on the team - Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Davis Love III and Jim Furyk. They finished a combined 5-12-1."
There were the inevitable comparisons to the failed U.S. Olympic basketball team. Steve Campbell of the Houston Chronicle referred to the Ryder Cup's version of the Dream Team as the "Creamed Team."
"Or maybe it is all of us," write Mike Lopresti of USA Today. "Too self-absorbed to notice the rest of the world plays golf...and basketball."
Individuals were singled out, of course, especially Sutton, Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and poor Chris Riley.
Ryan called Mickelson's by now infamous equipment switch before the match a case of "unimaginable greed."
Hank Gola of the New York Daily News wrote: "Guys like David Love III and Phil Mickelson have had careers defined by their failures at key moments."
Amidst all this vitriol, there were few solutions offered. But, there were some. For example, the Americans all said they were unfamiliar with team play formats like foursomes and four-ball play.
"We never play it or practice it," Kenny Perry explained to reporters.
"But, if that truly is the case, there should be a simple solution: practice the format as a team more than just the few days leading up to the opening ceremonies," wrote Todd Behrendt of FoxSports.com.
The usual theories abounded of how the big, bad and wealthy Americans could lose to the pale, blonde Euro-weenies: lack of camaraderie, lack of team spirit, inability to deal with nerves, etc.
But, Ryan wrote: "Isn't it time we admit they're just better?"
The Euro players themselves were hailed as conquering heroes by the European media: one paper called them the "Detroit Lions."
The players were as diplomatic as they could be under the circumstances - sloshed on champagne and the adulation of a continent - although Ian Poulter passed around a package of tees at the American Express Championship that had the Ryder Cup score.
"I'm not using any of those," Thomas Bjorn, a European vice-captain at Oakland Hills told the Associated Press. "I think that would be a just a little bit too much of an insult."
The press on the other side of the ocean had no such sportsmanship in mind. It had a field day, again as you might expect.
One European headline sums it up: "It's Sutton death for gutless Yanks".
Among its favorite targets were the doomed "Dream Team" of Woods-Mickelson.
"I saw the bewilderment on the faces of the American fans clustered around the first green in the light of an early morning watery sun when they realized their heroes had feet of clay," wrote Oliver Holt of The Mirror in the UK. "(American fans) never learn. They never understand until it is too late that sometimes there is something more important than raw talent and world rankings.
"The Dream Team? Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson? What a bad joke that turned out to be. Scream Team maybe. Or how about the Scare Pair?...By the end of the day it had got to the point where they were so bad it was almost funny."
You might say by the end of the day, this guy could have come up with a better nickname.
In any case, Sutton, frequently referred to as the "swaggering Southerner" or "Captain Calamity," was also a lightning rod.
Holt referred to him earlier as "J.R. Ewing without the brains and the 10-gallon hat."
After the U.S. lost, Holt wrote: "But this weekend, as he steered his team to a stunning defeat, he confounded that criticism. He wore the hat."
The European press also had little advice for the Americans, one of the exceptions being David McCarthy of the Glasgow Daily Record.
"Here's a little bit of advice for America," McCarthy wrote. "Invade Fiji and get Vijay Singh on your team."
Can't wait for 2006.
October 12, 2004
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