By Jason Whitlock
Special to Page 2

Wednesday night, I went out to dinner with Missouri basketball coach Quin Snyder and my lawyer/best friend Kirk May. Our conversation turned to the U.S. Ryder Cup team, and why we got smoked by the Euros again.

Snyder and May, two Duke grads and two golfers, offered thoughtful and insightful analysis. May, one of those right-wing think-tank types, commented that a U.S. golfer's success is a function of his ability to remain aloof, therefore, it's difficult for Tiger and Phil to operate as a team. Snyder, a middle-of-the-road intellectual, explained that the Euros have more experience in match-play style golf.

Snyder and May went back and forth dissecting the psyche of American golfers. I'll admit, it was difficult for me, a lowly Ball State grad, to keep pace with these Blue Devil-bred minds. But eventually I chimed in.

Hal Sutton & Tiger Woods
Hal Sutton's squad just never came together as a team.

"Our Ryder Cup team was composed of a bunch of lazy, unpatriotic, stupid thugs who don't know the first thing about playing team golf," I said. "I was rooting for the Euros because I hope it sends a message to our golfers that we need to change the system, change the way we play and pick the team."

Snyder looked at me strangely, wondering what exactly was in the martini I'd ordered. Realizing that I'm an infrequent drinker, May figured I was looped after a couple of sips of my pineapple Stoli-doli.

"Chris Riley told Hal Sutton he was too tired, too mentally drained and that he needed to sit out," I ranted. "What a spoiled, pampered punk. How can you be too tired to play golf? See, it starts when they're little kids and the golf coach looks the other way when they do wrong. These guys play by a different set of rules than the rest of us. What a bunch of thugs! What a waste of talent!"

Of course, I don't really believe any of that. I just repeat it to make the point that our underachieving Ryder Cup team is being criticized at a much lower decibel level and in a much more respectful tone than the USA men's basketball team was.

What's interesting about that is, there's really no difference between our Ryder Cup team and our Olympic basketball team. They failed for the exact same reasons. America breeds, celebrates and rewards individual stars. The melting pot people struggle when asked to play together as a team.

America is fat, happy, arrogant and content. Should we be surprised that our millionaire athletes are?

No. Our Ryder Cup team, just like our basketball team, had superior talent than the competition. They were led by Tiger and Phil, the No. 2 and No. 4 players in the world. The average world ranking of our golfers vs. the Euros was something like 18 vs. 39. But the Euros had significantly more experience with match play than the American-born players, who earn their golfing bones on the college tour. It takes a different mindset to grind it out for four days over the course of a tournament than it does to play survivor on 18 consecutive holes.

European Ryder Cup team
The Europeans once again proved they play better together.

It's also clear that the Euros get far more satisfaction out of taking on the big, bad Americans than we get fending off an inferior challenger. The Euros have the emotional edge. They care. No matter how many times they whip our butts, they're the underdogs. Hell, our professional athletes don't care about representing our country in international competition. We have difficulty fielding a Davis Cup tennis team.

Our millionaire athletes reflect our society. The super wealthy are always far less patriotic than the middle class and the poor when it comes to serving our country. Why do you think rich kids find a way into the National Guard and poor kids wind up as Army infantrymen?

We're not going to fix our Ryder Cup problem. All week I've been listening to theories on how to fix the team. The brilliant writer and Jim Rome fill-in John Feinstein wants to make Tom Watson the 2006 Ryder Cup captain. I read a column suggesting that Jack Nicklaus could make our guys compete.

Hey, Hal Sutton is no different than Larry Brown. Hal and Larry didn't do anything wrong. You can't change -- or even temporarily alter -- the mentality of a man who has earned millions of American dollars from repeatedly performing a selfish act.

Americans don't play well together. That's why parents keep assaulting Little League coaches. We don't trust each other. We celebrate individual successes. We play sports at the highest levels for the money. We can get upset with our basketball players and golfers for embarrassing us and making us look weak in international competition, but it's not their fault.

We don't have a common enemy, so we take great satisfaction in tearing each other down. You can't turn off those instincts just because every two or four years Hal Sutton and Larry Brown say you need to play together as a team.

Jason Whitlock is a columnist for the Kansas City Star and a regular contributor on ESPN The Magazine's Sunday morning edition of "The Sports Reporters." He also hosts an afternoon radio show, "The Doghouse," on Kansas City's 61 Sports KCSP. He can be reached at ballstate68@aol.com.


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