Europe Won the Ryder Cup? Depends What You Mean by 'Europe'

Taking into account where players live and practice, "Florida v. Florida" may be a better description for the storied golf tournament than "U.S.A. v. Europe."

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The record book will say that Europe defeated the United States in this year's Ryder Cup by a score of 14 and a half to 13 and a half. Much of the commentary on the remarkable comeback of the European team has focused—naturally enough—on the Americans' unsteady play on the final day and some arguably questionable player selections by captain Davis Love III. But that all ignores a more interesting question: Who really won the cup? The contest, long envisioned as a clash between two Western cultural blocks, has become something messier, and the "Europe" team that clinched the title is a far cry from being representative of Europe as it actually exists.

Europe's victory, however unlikely it may have seemed on Sunday morning when the USA went into the final day of play leading 10-6, was in line with the history of the cup since 1979, when the squad facing the Americans was expanded to include players from the European continent as well as the previous British and Irish contingent. The aim at the time was to restore some competitive juice to an event that had lost its luster as American victories had become routine. Mission accomplished—perhaps to excess, from the American point of view. Since the Europeans have been added to the mix, it has been the Americans who have more often than not come up short, and increasingly so in recent years. Entering this year's match, Europe had won six of the last eight renewals of the biennial competition.

Team Europe marches up the fairways under the flag of the European Union, and its 12 players are drawn from the EU's member states—but hardly in representative fashion. Of the 12, four hail from England, one from Scotland, and two from Northern Ireland—seven in all from the United Kingdom. No one from Wales made the cut—but that was true of 21 of the 27 member states of the EU, with the balance of the squad filled out with one player each from Belgium, Germany, Italy, Spain and Sweden. Only three—Nicolas Colsaerts of Belgium, Francesco Molinari of Italy ( but with an asterisk as discussed below) and Martin Kaymer of Germany—are rooted in the original six-nation Belgium-Netherlands-Luxembourg-Germany-France-Italy Common Market core of today's EU.

The Eurozone was once envisaged as the leading edge of an irresistible movement to European unity in politics as well as economics, but Europe's Ryder Cup line-up confirmed what has already been revealed in the world beyond the clubhouse: that the Euro may not be the the wave of the future after all. The seven-man UK contingent, as well as Sweden's Peter Hanson, represent EU members who spurned the Euro, and even Italy's Molinari lives in England. Only Belgium's Colsaerts, Spain's Garcia, and Germany's Kaymer add up their financial scorecards in Euros.

But the "European" component of Team Europe is overstated even by these calculations. As was widely noted in the run up to this year's contest quite a few of the Europeans are more at home these days on the turf of their Team USA opponents. Luke Donald (England) lives in the Chicago area, where he attended Northwestern University. Peter Hanson (Sweden) lives in Florida—as do Ian Poulter (England) and Justin Rose (England). Northern Ireland's Rory McIlroy is reportedly making a move to Florida as well.

It would be hard to deny that Europe won the battle for the Ryder Cup 2012 on the practice ranges and greens of the USA, long before the players teed off on Friday in Illinois. Of the 14 and a half points that Team Europe amassed, no fewer than 10 were attributable to the play of its "American" component.

At the same time as the territorial reach of Europe's golf world has expanded across the Atlantic to embrace Florida, that of American golf has shrunk to the territorial limits of the southeastern United States, with four team members from Florida, two from Georgia and one from South Carolina. Florida vs. Florida, not the USA vs. Europe, may have been a more accurate description of the opposing sides. Will it be necessary to realign the Ryder Cup into a contest between Florida and the Rest of the World to recapture the original intention to feature teams with distinct national origins and allegiances? If that ever happens, Team Florida will be odds on to replicate the hegemony once enjoyed by the U.S. over the Brits.

But for this year at least, late on Sunday afternoon, with a European victory very much in doubt, it was the German Martin Kaymer, at home in both the EU and the Eurozone, who won the match that clinched the cup for Europe. That it was Germany that held Europe's fate in its hands is, of course, hardly a surprise these days—anywhere, that is, except perhaps on the golf course.