A European loss will not only provide bragging rights to the visitors in next month’s Ryder Cup, but might just call for a revision of Europe’s selection process, writes Sam Geoghegan.
The Ryder Cup is upon us once again, and Europe is desperate to avoid a second consecutive defeat at the hands of the United States. The sporting world will be glued to the dramatic, exciting, and very often painfully intense action from the moment the first ball is struck on the morning of 1st October.
This Ryder Cup is crucial for the Europeans. The pressure is on captain Colin Montgomerie and his team to reclaim the trophy that the US impressively won at Valhalla two years ago. Europe hasn’t lost back-to-back cups since 1993, nor has it been beaten on home soil since. To make matters worse, Montgomerie had the unenviable task of selecting three wildcards out of five deserving and talented stars.
The Scot chose three-time major winner Padraig Harrington, Englishman Luke Donald and the Italian Edoardo Molinari, brother of Francesco Molinari, with whom he brought home their country’s first World Cup in China almost a year ago. While Francesco has failed to win on the tour this year, and joins Harrington in a spell of underachievement, his brother has two tour victories under his belt. The English duo of Paul Casey and Justin Rose were the unfortunate two who will have to watch the event from home.
All five of the players in question had compelling reasons for selection, so the issue here is not with Montgomerie and his vice-captains, but with the flaws of Europe’s selection process. Casey is ranked number seven in the world, yet he’s unable to earn a spot on the 12-man team.
Justin Rose won twice on the PGA Tour this year and is ranked higher than four of the selected team. Dubliner Harrington undoubtedly earned his spot due to his impressive double at The Open and not his Ryder Cup track record.
Montgomerie described his selection headache as “an embarrassment of riches on this occasion”, yet this “embarrassment” was caused by the European Tour’s stubbornness to admit that they are inferior to their American counterparts.
The US PGA Tour is, without a doubt, the most prestigious tour in golf. It has the best players and the biggest prize money. These factors make it irresistible for any professional golfer wishing to challenge themselves against the best in the game and have drawn much of the talent away from Europe’s “Race to Dubai”. The Ryder Cup is Europe’s finest against the best of the United States; it is not the European Tour versus the PGA Tour.
Encouraging participation in the European Tour by offering Ryder Cup points is clever, yet shortsighted. If the European Tour officials believe that their policy will force more of their players’ home from across the Atlantic, one just has to remember the last European qualifying tournament.
At Gleneagles, Casey, Harrington, Donald and Rose all needed to play in an attempt to gain an automatic spot. Not one of the four attended the tournament in Scotland, instead preferring to take part in the first round of the PGA Tour’s FedEx Cup playoffs in New Jersey. Each of the “FedEx Four” knew the consequences of their decision, yet the lure of the PGA Tour and its end of season playoff structure proved more appealing than a spot in the Ryder Cup.
On a positive note, however, Europe has a good mixture of youth and experience – six of the team being first timers. Harrington’s two Open Championships and a USPGA Championship title are no longer all Europe can show for their efforts at the majors.
Irishman Graeme McDowell won this year’s US Open, while Martin Kaymer of Germany proved victorious at the PGA Championship. That said, while the European team is excellent, it could be better. Paul Casey and Justin Rose are unequivocally inside the top twelve European players in the world and deserve to be on the team.
If “Mr. Ryder Cup” himself, Montgomerie, is unable to lead Europe to the 14.5 points needed to claim the trophy back from the Americans, then the selection process must be altered – just as the Americans did after losing the Ryder Cup in 2002, 2004 and 2006. Ironically, a US win in two weeks time is required to reform, and indeed develop, the European game.