Now that the euphoria of Europe's greatest hour in Detroit has passed, we can start to generate a new angst and survey the rocky road to Dublin for the Ryder Cup confrontation of 2006. Europe will doubtless be the underdogs, as it has always been, so we may as well make an early start on the potential potholes in the road.
Bookmakers are in business because we all feel that we can second-guess the future. But after giving odds of 2 to 1 against Europe retaining the Cup, far less winning it, my bookie is eating humble pie as well as beans on egg n' chips, and may be for some time. He is not likely to make the same mistake again, nor is the US PGA likely to make the contribution of Hal Sutton to the European Tour's success.
Hal has born the brunt of much humour in the US sporting press this week and suffered the slings and arrows of bitter criticism from scribes who, only a week ago were extolling his virtues as a leader of men. Hal got it wrong, even he would not deny that, but whether or not he sought the US team captaincy, others appointed him and they have all retreated back into the woodwork. Hal did what he thought was right and he got it wrong, but surely somebody somewhere should say that what he had at his disposal was not up to the required standard. What, for instance, could anyone have done with Chris Riley when he announced that he was tired and that he didn't want to play in the afternoon after his fourball triumph with Woods in the morning? Jack Nicklaus is reported as saying that he would have kicked his ass - others suggested worse - but surely Riley's expression was only symptomatic of the attitude that the whole US team brought to Oakland Hills. They were a dispirited lot and therefore beaten before Monty drove the first ball from the first tee and, in retrospect it is not difficult to discern, at least in part, why these guys were down.
Hal showed his hand early with his announcement that Woods and Mickelson would lead the fray. It may have escaped Hal but it would certainly not have escaped these two, as well as the rest of the team, that this was not a particularly wise thing to do. Each will doubtless reveal their feelings when they succumb to publishing their reminiscences, but the word will filter out anyway as the Tiger continues to struggle with his form and Phil continues to struggle with himself.
Langer, in contrast to Sutton, kept his cards close to his chest. He looked the part of the captain and played it with the presence of a general. His record, his theatrical appearance and his sheer cool were worth at least two points at the outset.
The opening ceremony was worth at least another two points. The sheer embarrassment of the proceedings must have been dispiriting to the host players who could not extract the humour from it enjoyed by their European counterparts.
Finally, there was the charisma factor. The press have called it team spirit, but it was really just a bunch of guys who knew that they were good enough to do it and set about enjoying themselves in each others' company while they did it. They were the underdogs after all and couldn't really lose. That they started to win with some flamboyance and style must have been crushing for the US lads.
The margin of the win in Detroit could prove more than a pitfall on the rocky road to Dublin for now, everyone will want in on the action. Ian Woosnam has already stated his claim on the captaincy with no likely Irishman in the frame. Faldo and Olazabal will doubtless follow suit despite the fact that it must be clear to all that Langer's lease should be extended.
Langer played a brilliant diplomatic move in filling his backroom staff with Scandinavians when none had qualified for a team place. The European team may not be quite so fortunate again for there are several Swedes who could squeeze into the top-10 in 2006. Swedes in particular are rarely ebullient and their introspection and self-satisfaction is not conducive to team play and is hardly inspiring. The greatest fear, however, must be that their clothing designers purchase the rights to dressing the team.
The staging of the opening ceremony in Dublin is the greatest cause for concern. With the standard having been established in Detroit, it is all too easy to imagine the Irish turning it on big time. Thankfully, the Irish would be hard pressed to find a captain of an aircraft carrier, but they have a surfeit of clog dancers and tin-whistle players in Arran jerseys who can gargle endless ballads about potatoes and persecution. We should dispense with the flags of the nations and simply have the European flag flying beside the stars-and-stripes - but this is not likely to happen in Dublin.
Europe's greatest risk, however, must be complacency, and in no place more than Ireland is complacency more endemic as a national disease. Loveable and charming they may be but focused on the job at hand they are not; Irish strength is in sympathetic retrospective analysis over a glass of porter. After their beating in Detroit, the US team is not likely to be lacklustre in Dublin so there may be a place for a lot of retrospective analysis in the outcome.
Dublin may be a venue that would cause some concern for the likes of Langer but it would be a total disaster for Woosnam who is not only outgoing but is also frequently so with a glass in his hand - and there are an awful lot of glasses in Dublin.
But whatever happens along the inevitably rocky road to Dublin and whatever the outcome, you can be absolutely sure that it will all be entertaining with a peculiarly Irish flavour. To parody Ireland's greatest son William Butler Yeats, 'a terrible beauty will be born.'
|| 27 - SEPTEMBER 2004