Ron Agostini

Agostini: Europeans seem to care more about the Ryder Cup

Golf fans in this country still wonder how the Europeans have taken over the Ryder Cup.

For the first time, the Americans are the undisputed underdogs going into the 37th Ryder Cup Matches beginning Friday at Valhalla in Louisville, Ky. The Yankees are not expected to win because they've been lapped by the hungry clutch-playing Europeans.

Europe has won five of the last six Ryder Cups and, over the last 11 competitions, it has walked away with the trophy eight times. Worse, they've never trailed after a single day of competition since 1999, the last time the U.S. won thanks to a dramatic Sunday rally. In 2004 and 2006, Europe won both by nine points. If they were fights, they would have been stopped after two rounds. The Americans constantly are slogging uphill and spinning their wheels.

And when they finally gain some traction, they implode. Over the last three tournaments, 25 matches have reached the 18th green. How many have the Americans won? One.

I detect a trend.

Question is, why is this happening? My argument begins with someone who's never struck a shot at a Ryder Cup, a man who's been a big part of the local golf scene for the last two decades.

Shane Balfour, teaching pro at McHenry Golf Center, believes the Europeans care more about the event than the U.S. He should know. Balfour, 54, is an Englishman born in London who lived nearly half his life in the U.K.

We know Balfour from his days as head professional at Turlock Country Club and as the former director of golf at Diablo Grande. At both venues, he proudly displayed his Union Jack after European victories.

"I've been there. I've seen it. It means so much more to the Europeans," Balfour said Tuesday. "Look at the TV fans. They won't switch from an NFL game unless the Ryder Cup gets close on Sunday. No European fan watches a (soccer) game when the Ryder Cup is on. The players bring some of that same passion."

Balfour is right. The PGA Tour has bred many millionaires over the last 20 years who don't have the time or the inclination to solve the Ryder Cup's team-based equation. Thus, the Americans seem uncomfortable in the alternate-shot and better-ball formats. The best example is the injured Tiger Woods, golf's alpha male, who's a pedestrian 10-13-2 in the Ryder Cup.

Conversely, Europe always performs like it sincerely looks forward to the pressure-packed matches. It routinely dominates by holing important putt after important putt, and is there a better example of nerves under control?

The Americans enter this weekend with arguably their weakest-ever team. Not one player claimed a major championship this year, a first for the home team since 1927.

Is there hope for this classic home underdog? Three theories:

Kentuckians J.B. Holmes and Kenny Perry could ignite some emotion. Holmes knows Valhalla better than anyone in the field, and his mammoth tee shots, if hit straight, might inspire both his teammates and the fans.

Nick Faldo, the European captain, erred by overlooking Ireland's Darren Clarke, one of his side's most popular and successful performers over the last five Ryder Cups. Europe's trademark camaraderie might be compromised.

Half the Americans' team will make their Ryder Cup debuts but one of them, 23-year-old Anthony Kim, is ranked 11th in the world and is fearless. Will Kim's game match his fight?

"I think it's going to be a tie," Balfour predicted, "and Europe will keep the cup."

From here: Finally, we'll witness some Sunday drama -- and a close-fought European win.

LPGA -- Women's golf fans walk into a treasure trove of fun with two major events within a short car drive next month. The Samsung World Championship, a limited-field tournament featuring Lorena Ochoa and the top 20 players in the world, will be staged at Half Moon Bay's Ocean course Oct. 1-5. For tickets, call 888-345-5742 or visit www.samsung.com/golf. The following weekend, the LPGA Tour returns to Blackhawk Country Club in Danville for the Longs Drugs Challenge. Phone 925-725-0148 or visit www.longsdrugschallenge.com/tickets.htm.

HOLE-IN-ONE -- Wayne Dixon, Columbia, 125-yard 12th at Mountain Springs, Sonora, 8-iron.

Bee sports columnist Ron Agostini can be reached at ragostini@modbee.com or 578-2300.

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