Europe: A team without a country but many victories in the Ryder Cup
A few things have changed since the last time Europe and the United States met in the Ryder Cup.
For one, Europe.
In a post-Brexit world, seven of Europe’s 12 players are technically no longer part of that continent – at least not in terms of the EU. But over the decades now, this group of brothers has figured out how to put politics aside, overcome their differences, break down barriers and, for the most part, come together to win one for the home team.
Every two years — three in this case — citizens of Britain, Spain, Ireland, sometimes France or Germany and, for the first time this year, Austria, leave their homes — often in Florida, sometimes in Arizona — pull EU blue scarves out of their drawers and act like close friends for years. In many ways, they are. They have won the Ryder Cup four of the last five times.
Meanwhile, 12 golfers in the United States, dressed in red, white, and blue uniforms, gathered around stars and stripes, instigated chants of “USA” and tried to win one for America. I have worked a total of three times since 1995.
It’s one of the big puzzles in the Ryder Cup, as Europe begins its title defense on Friday at Whistling Straits. One team plays for its country and does not perform well.
“We play for each other,” explained Northern Ireland producer Rory McIlroy and one of the seven players, the rest from England, who are no longer officially members of the European Union. “I think that’s the best thing you can do.”
This explains some of it
Other reasons are deeper.
The Ryder Cup was a moribund project in the late 1970s, no longer able to compete between the best golfers from Britain and Ireland, which had a quarter of the population to draw and no one close to the caliber of Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson, Hale Irwin or Raymond Floyd.
Several people, including Nicklaus, put forward the idea of extending the opposition to the whole of Europe. She grabbed the sword of Ballesteros from Spain and never let go. It started in 1979. Thus, a new team from the old continent was born.
“Very straightforward. Seve,” said European captain Padraig Harrington when asked who, or what, Europeans had already rallied all these years. “He pushed for this to become Continental, and it was a way for Seve to legitimize the European Tour.”
Sure enough, the European Tour was and continues to feel bad about it, and Ballesteros was on the front lines of the charge of proving that the Euro could stand in full swing with the Americans, whose tour had more money, more exposure and more talent.
made a point. Since the change in 1979, Europe has returned the cup to the continent 12 times 20 times.
But in a sign of how things have changed over the decades, Colin Morikawa (who was at Whistling Straits this week) and Billy Horschel (who wasn’t) occupy the top two places on the European Tour points list today. They’re a pair of Americans, overtaken by the World Championship finalists and, in Horschel’s case, a side trip to the European Tour itself, outpacing the regulars in the standings.
Meanwhile, all but one of the 12 players on the European Ryder Cup (Brand Wiesberger) roster are regular or semi-regular players on the US PGA Tour
However, they come to the Ryder Cup every two years, aggressively absorb the underdog role that Ballesteros has developed so well, produce a few cheeky videos on social media and act as if they’ve been playing together for years.
Just two months ago, five of those same players, including McIlroy and Tommy Fleetwood, were competing for Olympic gold medals in Tokyo and wearing their countries’ colors.
This week, they’ll be wearing brown and white, or maybe green and gold – they’ve donned the colors of the Green Bay Packers to try and get some love from American fans someday in practice – and come together as one.
“I honestly have no idea,” said Shane Lowry of Ireland when asked why the bond between all these players from different countries is still so strong. “But when you get into this team room, there’s almost — something hits you.”
One of Harrington’s themes this week was voiced in a video he posted, confirming that only 164 players have had the honor of competing on the European side in the Ryder Cup. The video indicated that more people climbed Mount Everest and went into space.
Another video shown at the opening ceremony featured the captain of the 2018 European national team Thomas Bjorn of Denmark making the obvious.
“We have different cultures and backgrounds and we believe in different things,” he said.
However, German Bernhard Langer follows, when they meet, magic happens.
Soon, the announcer in the stadium asked everyone to get up for a rarely used tribute – the playing of the anthem of Europe.
What is this, you ask?
“Ode to Joy” by Beethoven.
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