2012 Ryder Cup: Why the Europeans Continue to Dominate the Ryder Cup Matches

Michael FitzpatrickFeatured ColumnistOctober 1, 2012

MEDINAH, IL - SEPTEMBER 30:  The European team hoist their captain Jose Maria Olazabal after Europe defeated the USA 14.5 to 13.5 at The 39th Ryder Cup at Medinah Country Club on September 30, 2012 in Medinah, Illinois.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

The European Ryder Cup team has now won seven of the last nine Ryder Cup matches, including yesterday’s epic comeback victory against the American side.

The question that has been raging since the mid-90s and will undoubtedly continue to rage ever more so in the immediate future is, why has the European team been so much more successful than the Americans during the past 20 years?

Why does the American side often look better on paper but when push comes to shove, the Europeans dominate out on the course?

The Americans have tried everything. They have changed their selection process to include four captain’s picks. They have tried their best to get their hometown crowd riled up through their “13th man” campaigns. They have set up the courses with virtually no rough as to allow the American bombers to swing freely all week.

You name it, and the American side has tried it. Yet it has resulted in just one victory in the past six Ryder Cup matches.

So what in the world is going on here?

Why have all efforts by the American side fallen short since the mid-90s?

Well, the answer to that question might not be as difficult as many people think—the American team is simply not as tough as the European team.   

The Ben Hogans, Sam Sneads, Byron Nelsons, Arnold Palmers, Walter Hagens, etc. have been replaced with big-grinning, awe shucks-type nice guys who are all too content with earning millions of dollars hitting a little white ball around, whether they happen to win or just compile a season full of top-10 finishes.

A lot of this speaks to the way in which modern day American golfers grew up compared to the modern day European golfers.

In America, golf has really become a game of the privileged. Getting access to the types of courses, equipment and coaching one needs to become a professional golfer costs a significant amount of money in America. Most of the top courses are closed-door country clubs, and true access is limited to a minute portion of the population.

Europe is a bit different. Courses are more open to the public, and it doesn’t take an extreme amount of wealth to launch a career in golf. In Europe, players are still climbing their way to the top from families where their parents are cops, firemen, cleaning ladies, bartenders or they start by working at the local caddy yard or pro shop.

They are essentially working their way to the top of the game in a manner similar to how the older generations of American golfers such as Hogan, Snead, Nelson, Palmer, Hagen. etc. used to.

This tough road to success, where players have come from very little and used golf to give them and their families a better life, has resulted in a very tough, gritty and hungry group of European golfers. They are the modern day equivalent to the likes of Hogan, Snead, Nelson, Hagen, Palmer, etc.—guys that came from nothing, saw golf as a means to a better life and would do just about anything it takes to win.    

There is a huge difference between needing to win and be successful in golf and wanting to win and be successful. Guys like Ian Poulter, Graeme McDowell, Rory McIlory and Padraig Harrington needed to be successful. They didn’t come from much and have used golf as a way to a better life for them and their families. They have paid their dues, they know what it is like to struggle and they know all too well what they could potentially go back to if the whole golf thing didn’t work out.

The American side seems to want two win and be successful more than they really need to.

Success is never a bad thing and should always be celebrated, and many of today’s young up-and-coming American stars came from families that were very successful. It, of course, took a great deal of desire, drive and dedication for these guys to reach the upper echelons of the game, but they did so because they wanted to succeed in golf and wanted the pursue golf as a profession.

That is far different from guys like Poulter, McIlroy, McDowell and Harrington, who needed golf. They needed to be successful in golf to have a chance in life, to bring their families to a better place and give their children a better life than they had growing up.  

So what does this whole socioeconomic spiel mean anyway?

Well, it goes a long way towards explaining why the European players have been tougher, grittier and hungrier than the American side over the past two decades.

Many of the top European players have needed to succeed vs. wanting to succeed. And if you have the choice between facing an opponent that wants to succeed vs. one that absolutely needs to succeed, which one would you chose to face off against?

That, in a nutshell, has been what the American Ryder Cup team has been facing in recent years and is why when push comes to shove on Sunday afternoon, the Europeans seem to have a little more desire and toughness which has led to two decades of Ryder Cup domination despite the fact that they have for the most part been far less talented on paper than the American side.

Golf is not like football or rugby, but there is still a level of toughness that needs to be present in order to succeed under the most pressure packed situations.

The European teams have had this toughness over the past 20 years while the American teams have not, which explains the Europeans 7-2 Ryder Cup record over the American side since 1995.  

So, the 20-year-old American Ryder Cup mystery essentially comes down to one word: toughness.

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