The Ryder Cup is, miraculously, one of the world’s best sporting events, “miraculously” because it remains a true athletic competition despite the television hype. Twelve professionals from Europe compete over three days in three different formats with 12 from the United States. Head-to-head, hole-by-hole competition takes the 24 competitors — all ranked in the world’s top 35 — to their mental and physical breaking points.
Some succeed and others do not. Some matches are won on breathtaking play while others are lost on poor showings. Which are which and why are questions endlessly asked and not answered?
Conceding the point that “if you are a hammer every problem is a nail,” I was drawn to a comparison of the U.S. team effort with Mitt Romney's candidacy for President.
On Friday and Saturday, there were 16 matches involving pairs of players. The formats (I’ll spare you the details because golfers know and others don’t care) are popular in Europe but less so here. Generally, the Europeans lead after the first two days, but this year the Americans held a decisive 10-6 advantage. It might even have been 12-4 but for two European comebacks in the early evening on Saturday.
It reminded me of the presidential campaign last spring. The prospects for the European team looked like those of an unpopular incumbent with low job approval ratings in a weak economy with two-thirds believing the country was headed in the wrong direction. He was likely to be outgunned financially just as the Europeans would be outgunned in the individual matches. The American team looked like the vigorous challenger who had just overcome the worst part of the contest – the primaries for Romney and the paired matches for the American team. How could either lose?
From late Saturday afternoon through Sunday evening, the tide steadily turned to the Europeans, much as the tide appears to be steadily turning toward President Obama. It seemed that the European shots were always closer to the hole than those of the Americans and that the European putts fell in while the American ones lipped out.
By early Sunday afternoon, when the situation still favored the Americans, I felt that I knew the trend would continue to the astonishing 14 ½ to 13 ½ European comeback. Of course, I did not know, I merely felt, but it felt inevitable and unexplainable. What changed? Who did what well or less well and why?
Countless words will be written on how the Europeans with an average world ranking of 19 defeated the Americans with an average world ranking of 12 despite seemingly insurmountable advantages. Though most of those words will be finger pointing and recrimination, some might include valuable lessons for coaches and athletes.
It feels like the Republican Party will soon be engaged in a similar activity. Lessons learned from losses are often the most useful.