I’ll divide my Ryder Cup Preview into two parts. This morning, I’ll write a few personal thoughts on the Ryder Cup and talk a little about its history. Tomorrow morning, I’ll dive into more of the nuts and bolts–the matchups, the course, the predictions.

My Thoughts

The Ryder Cup is, without a doubt, one of the most spectacular tournaments in golf.  While the four majors are special in their own right, the Ryder Cup is in a league of its own. To me, it’s the Olympics, the Super Bowl, of golf.

Jack Nicklaus says the Ryder Cup is an exhibition, entertainment, and an exercise in sportmanship and goodwill.  It’s true that the Ryder Cup is all of those things…and, quite frankly, who am I to argue with Jack Nicklaus?  

It's almost showtime.

But think back to the United States’ last win: 1999 at Brookline. Remember Justin Leonard’s insanely long putt and the accompanying reaction by the U.S. team–Davis Love, Payne Stewart, Tiger Woods, all running across the green like crazed hyenas, dancing, jumping, screaming?

Now do you think those guys thought the Ryder Cup was just an “exhibition”?  In sporting terms, an exhibition is a Ravens-Jets game in mid August, or a Braves-Mets game in Orlando in March; it’s an eighteen hole round between a couple of friends. While technically, yes, the Ryder Cup is an exhibition. Let’s be honest, the Ryder Cup is no “exhibition.”

Guys lose their minds at this tournament. Even for seasoned tour professionals, it will be quite an experience for these guys to walk on to the first hole at Valhalla on Friday and see tens of thousands of people lining the first fairway. The grandeur of this event, the magnitude of it all, is unequaled in professional golf.

If you’re a nongolfer and you’re reading this blog, you’ve got to make a little time this weekend to watch this tournament. It’s truly, in my opinion, one of the great sporting events in the world. And it only happens once every two years, so this is your last chance until 2010.

The History

To me, the Ryder Cup is a bit like the Georgia-Florida series in college football. For decades, Georgia owned the series, really dominating the Gators. Then, in the 90s and early 2000s, most of us know what happened.

Up until the 1980s, the Ryder Cup was simply the United States’ biennial beatdown of Europe.  Every two years, you knew the outcome before it happened. The U.S. was 20-3-1 against the Europeans through the 1983 competition. Then things began to change.


Faldo played a key role in the European Ryder Cup success in the 1980s and 90s. (Image:leonharris/Flickr)

Bolstered by world-class players like Seve Ballesteros, Nick Faldo, Bernhard Langer, Sandy Lyle, and Colin Montgomerie, the Europeans started having their way with the American team. Since 1985, the Euros are 7-3-1 against the Yanks.

And remember, in the case of a tie, the team who previously won the Cup keeps the Cup. So the Europeans have retained the Cup in 8 of the last 11 matches, including absolute beatdowns of the U.S. in 2004 and 2006.

So, yes, the United States is due. But they were due in 2004 and 2006, as well. To be quite honest, they just haven’t shown up the last few years. The Europeans have wanted it more, so to speak.

But Paul Azinger, the United States Captain,  is one of the most competitive golfers ever. I think Zinger will have the guys as ready as ever to take back the Cup. 

After 3 straight losses, and after losing 5 of the last 6, are the Americans psyched out? Is the European team all up in the United States’ collective heads? Can Captain Faldo outsmart Captain Azinger? Will Padraig Harrington dominate? 

I’ll discuss all this and more in part two of the Ryder Cup Preview tomorrow morning.

Until then.