Spanish golfing legend Seve Ballesteros made a surprising statement about one of his favorite events, the Ryder Cup.
Ballesteros, who played on eight European Ryder Cup teams and was the winning captain in 1997, said he would root for the Americans when the 37th Ryder Cup begins Friday at Valhalla Golf Club in Louisville.
“I see the Ryder Cup getting very boring because we are beating them so badly,” he said. “Everybody is losing interest. I think it will be good if they win the next one. It would give the Ryder Cup a lift.”
Ballesteros might have been only joking – although he’s been known to stoke the rivalry when possible – but the biennial match-play event between the United States and Europe has become no laughing matter for the U.S. side.
The Americans once led the competition 21-3 (with one tie), but most of that record was built when they were facing only Great Britain. Now the European side has won five of the past six, the last two by nine-point margins.
“We need to do something to stop the bleeding,” U.S. captain Paul Azinger said. “And we need to stop it right now.”
As the competition comes to Valhalla for the first time, the U.S. team leads overall 24-10 with two ties, but has won only three times since 1983.
The Ryder Cup, which has become one of the great international sporting events because of the national pride on the line, is hosted by the PGA of America every four years.
That should provide some home-field advantage, but the red, white and blue has been unable to take advantage. The Europeans have been popping the champagne corks on both sides of the pond.
“We need to win this one,” said Kenny Perry, a current team member who was on the losing side in 2004 at Oakland Hills near Detroit. “I want to be the one that runs around the 18th green and sprays everyone with that big bottle. I want to drink that champagne.”
Fulfilling Perry’s dream won’t be easy.
PGA Tour veteran Jay Haas said that back in the days before the Europeans became so dominant, there was a sense they had to “climb Mount Everest” to beat the Americans. Now, it seems they have a head start up the peak.
Azinger will bring his 12-player team into the tournament as a decided underdog, according to most of the golfing world, especially without the world’s No. 1 player, Tiger Woods, out since having knee surgery after the U.S. Open.
“We are on our soil, but we are still going to have to earn it against a really, really strong team,” Azinger said. “When I look at that list, it’s a scary team. They’re coming in here on a high-horse, and they’re the favorites.”
The Americans won 19 of the first 23 competitions against Great Britain (1927-71) and then against Great Britain and Ireland (1973-79).
Everything changed in 1979 when the selection process was expanded to all of Europe. The U.S. team finally saw its depth matched.
“We got it handed to us basically for 50 years,” said TV commentator David Feherty, who played on one European team and wrote a book on the Ryder Cup. “It was so hard to win because we didn’t know what it was like.
“I looked up to guys that were always losing the Ryder Cup. Now, it’s become easier because these guys are watching others who are used to winning it.”
The Europeans won on American soil for the first time in 1987, the two teams tied in 1989, and the United States won close ones in 1991 and ’93.
The only U.S. victory since then was the “Miracle at Brookline” in 1999, when the Yanks needed the largest final-day comeback in Ryder Cup history to win by one point.
“We had our noses rubbed in it pretty good, so I am thrilled where it’s at today,” said Tony Jacklin, a former European captain whom many credit with helping the turnaround. “But it could change back in a hurry.”
The Americans are 5-1-1 in the Presidents, a biennial event against the best players from non-European countries.
And in recent years, the U.S. team has had the Nos. 1- and 2-ranked players in the world in Woods and Phil Mickelson.
“You look up and down that American lineup, and, golly, there’s no way you can think they’ll lose,” said Louisville’s Bobby Nichols, a former winner of the PGA Championship and Ryder Cup player. “They have had a lot of good players on that team.”