Posted by: Mike Cornelius | September 5, 2013

On The Links, An Unhappy Trend For Team U.S.A.

With the announcement earlier this week of the final members of the U.S. and International teams for the upcoming Presidents Cup matches, and the two-day Walker Cup matches pitting amateurs from the U.S. against a team from Great Britain & Ireland scheduled to take place at the National Golf Links of America in Southampton, New York this weekend, it seems like an appropriate time to take a look at the recent record of American golfers in the major team competitions. Fair warning to the faint of heart; this is not going to be pretty.

Two years ago at Royal Melbourne Golf Club in Australia, American PGA Tour players triumphed over their International opponents 19-15. Led by Jim Furyk who went a perfect 5-0, and the combination of Bubba Watson and Webb Simpson who took 3 of a possible 4 points in the four-ball and foursomes matches, Team U.S.A. won for the eighth time in nine editions of the Presidents Cup. These matches are a clone of the venerable Ryder Cup competition between teams from the U.S. and Europe, designed to give professional golfers from the rest of the world a chance to star in a biennial exhibition while raising money for charity.

But while the U.S. has dominated the Presidents Cup, much as it did the Ryder Cup until the opposing team was expanded beyond Great Britain to include all of Europe, the 2011 matches down under were no walk in the park for the Americans. Team U.S.A. led from the start and began the twelve singles matches on Sunday with a seemingly safe four point lead, 13-9. But the International squad wiped out their deficit by winning each of the first four singles, and the score remained tied after eight of the twelve matches had been completed. The U.S. was able to restore its earlier margin only when the veterans Furyk, David Toms, Tiger Woods, and Steve Stricker, sent out last by captain Fred Couples, each won their individual match.

Two months before the U.S. win in Melbourne, the most recent edition of the Walker Cup was played at another golf club given “royal” designation by a British monarch, Royal Aberdeen on the northeast coast of Scotland. Among the ten young amateur men on the U.S. squad were Jordan Spieth, Harris English, and Patrick Cantlay, all of whom now play golf for a living on the PGA Tour. The Americans dominated the Sunday afternoon singles, winning 6 ½ of a possible 10 points. The problem was that the U.S. team began that final session 5 points behind, after splitting the Saturday singles and being thoroughly dominated in the two morning sessions of foursomes play. The result was a 14-12 victory by Great Britain & Ireland, ending a run of three straight U.S. wins. The last dozen Walker Cup matches have been evenly divided with each side winning six times.

A fortnight after the American amateur men came up short at the 2011 Walker Cup, a team of American professional women fared no better across the Irish Sea at that year’s Solheim Cup. The first two days of four-ball and foursomes matches between the heavily favored Americans and Team Europe saw the momentum swing back and forth. On Friday Team U.S.A. started quickly, but Team Europe rallied to tie. The Americans reclaimed the lead, but the Europeans again came back to edge in front by the end of the day. Saturday morning Team Europe expanded their lead, but then Team U.S.A. dominated in the afternoon, leaving the matches all square at 8-8 with only the Sunday singles remaining.

If baseball fans operate under the belief that a tie goes to the runner, golf fans have long held to the conviction that in any team competition, a tie going into the singles matches means victory for the U.S. Men or women, professionals or amateurs, the axiom has been that American talent runs deeper and so to have any chance of winning the players from other countries must build up a lead before their lack of depth is exposed in one-on-one play. In truth, it is well past time to discard that old notion as an antique vestige of days gone by. At Royal Aberdeen the European women took 7 of 12 points in the singles matches to win the 2011 Solheim Cup, 15-13. The two biggest stars on Team U.S.A., Paula Creamer and Christie Kerr, accounted for zero points on Sunday. Catriona Matthew bullied Creamer 6&5 in the first match of the day, while Kerr was forced to concede her match because of an injury.

Just last month they played the 2013 renewal of the Solheim Cup at Colorado Golf Club. This time Team Europe led 5-3 after day one and 10 ½ – 5 ½ after day two, before trouncing the Americans in the singles on the way to a record-setting 18-10 victory. It was the first time Team Europe had won on American soil and the largest margin of victory for either team in the thirteen editions of these matches.

At the 2012 Curtis Cup the team of American amateur women fell short just like their professional counterparts did in 2011 and 2013. Team U.S.A. had won seven straight times at the biennial matches against amateurs from Great Britain & Ireland. But that history meant nothing when play began at Nairn Golf Club in Scotland. After three days of play along the shores of the Moray Firth, it was GB&I 10 ½, U.S.A. 9 ½.

Then there are the recent results at the most familiar team matches of all, the Ryder Cup. At Celtic Manor in Wales three years ago, Team Europe captured the Cup with a 14 ½ – 13 ½ victory. The last hope for an American triumph was lost when Hunter Mahan chunked a chip shot from just off the 17th green, allowing Graeme McDowell to claim a decisive 3&1 victory. And of course last year there was the Ryder Cup remembered as either the Miracle or the Meltdown at Medinah, depending on one’s rooting preference. Midway through the Saturday afternoon four-balls the U.S. lead was 10-4, and Americans Jason Dufner and Zach Johnson had the lead over Rory McIlroy and Ian Poulter in one of the two matches remaining out on the course. That’s when Poulter went on a birdie tear to steal a point for Team Europe. Still trailing by 4 points on Sunday morning, the Europeans silenced the partisan American crowd by winning the first five singles and ultimately 8 ½ out of 12 points to retain the Cup in the most dramatic possible fashion.

Perhaps the lads on this year’s U.S. Walker Cup team will reverse the recent trend when they meet their counterparts from Great Britain & Ireland this weekend on Long Island. Certainly Team U.S.A. will be favored when the Presidents Cup gets underway next month at Muirfield Village Golf Club in Ohio. But at the moment that’s the only trophy still in American hands; and anyone who thinks that victory for Team U.S.A. at any of these competitions can simply be taken for granted, clearly hasn’t been paying attention.

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