What the Ryder Cup Can Teach Us About Politics

It has been said on numerous occasions that sports can be a metaphor for life. If this is true, then witnessing another loss on European soil by the American Ryder Cup team brought some glaring metaphorical lessons to the surface.

Every non-leftist who cares about the continued success and achievement of this land of ours should take a moment to reflect on what can be gleaned from our biennial Ryder Cup drubbing, in a setting that should predict much greater success and much less failure. But it doesn’t. With now predictable regularity we get thumped.  Let me explode some myths and poor reasoning, weak analysis, and outright imbecility that passed for explanations for our failure to win a competition we once dominated.

1)  Americans don’t care about winning the Ryder Cup

This first myth is utter nonsense. Of course they care about winning. For those who did not follow the event (or who do not like golf in general), you are missing one of the truly wonderfully intense and beautiful dramatic stage events available to the viewing public. Filled with passion, intrigue, intensity, and plot twists that Hollywood or Broadway should envy, it is a public spectacle worthy of standing room only, blockbuster status. More lyrical than an opera and more athletic than the ballet, if you love the roller coaster ride of great emotion-evoking theater, then this event is for you. It is unlike any other golfing event.

So to suggest that the American team members are not fully “engaged” or don’t care about their performance is incorrect.

The order of play for the first two days is Foursomes (four groups of two two-man teams) in the morning and Fourball (same) in the afternoon. The final day's play is in Singles Match format.

In the 2010 competition, the Americans won in the rain soaked first days in Wales to take a 6-4 match lead over the Europeans, only to have a dismal performance in a modified six matches on Sunday. Out of six possible points, they squeaked out a half point, leaving Europe with a 9.5 to 6.5 match lead. This left the U.S.  with a large deficit to overcome on Monday when the 12 singles matches would be played.

With breathtaking drama, it came down to the final match. The American in the last match, Hunter Mahan, came up short against the European Graeme McDowell. McDowell is having the year of his golfing life. He came into the event on form and is a competitor made of stern stuff.

The intense pressure of this competition causes the muscles to tighten and the quick twitch reflexes to get erratic, even for the strongest characters. Mahan, a wonderful ball striker, hit an indifferent tee shot and stubbed his chip shot when he needed to win the last two holes. He lost his match on the second to last hole. He could barely speak after the match. He took the loss so hard, he was reduced to tears. The press took this as the proof that the Americans cared about winning. But this has always been a misread by the press. The Americans always cared.

But the only acceptable way they are allowed to show it is in crushing defeat. More on that later.

2)  The second myth is that the Europeans are better teammates than the Americans.

Esprit de corps missing from the “self-absorbed American millionaires” who care more about their standing on the money list and their endorsement deals than about anything so pedestrian as playing for country, for free. Or so the slander goes.

Yet, again in 2010, the actions of the Americans in coming to the aid and defense of Mahan in his time of need displayed a bond and brotherhood that shattered this stale and wretched lie. The Europeans are not better teammates than the Americans. They are great teammates to be sure, but so are the Americans. There is no discernible difference that explains success or failure here.

3)  The third and final myth is a cosmic joke. The Europeans are better able to handle intense pressure and the Americans crumble under it.

I mean no disrespect to anyone who puts themselves out onto the field and carves out a career at the highest level of achievement in his or her particular arena or endeavor. But Colin Montgomerie, Sergio Garcia, and Lee Westwood are three of the most stellar performers in Ryder Cup history. Yet when the pressure to win one of the four majors appeared on their doorstep, history will record a consistent story that is not flattering.  As a matter of  fact, these three indomitable Ryder Cup gods of the greens have been mere mortals, or less, in golf’s four major tournaments (The Masters, US Open, British Open, and PGA Championship).  More strikingly, they are jarringly sparse in wins of any type on American soil. In nearly every event over the past two decades, these three can’t seem to finish off a win here.

So what makes the difference? What explains the phenomenon? And can we learn anything from all this? The answers are there for the taking.

The culture of competition, the narrative, and "horses for courses" explain it all.  And Republicans, Libertarians and independents should take notes.

The Culture of Competition

Somewhere in the past four decades, America began embracing an apology for exceptionalism, an egalitarian neediness for orchestrated results, a rejection of winning, of striving, of competing in general. Little leaguers were told that score doesn’t matter. Wanting to be “better” was a sin. Nobody was “better” than anyone else.

Every possible effort was made to “tone down” the “jock instincts” and soften the “Ugly American” athlete, who was seen as a mouth-breathing bully when he won. Every movie portrayed the athlete as someone who picked on weaker kids, who strutted and intimidated and crowed. It is nonsense now and it was nonsense then. It was a false and phony portrayal by the terminally jealous in order to satisfy their wounded egos. And, by God, it is exactly how non-leftists are portrayed by leftists in the political arena. But it stuck.

In order to combat the false image, the American athlete (except in cultures that get a free pass from leftists) has a reflexive need to “tone down” his competitive fire. A need to “soften” his image.

This comes out in numerous ways, but can be evidenced in many. The Americans will be outfitted in lavender, lilac, and StayPuft Marshmallow men rainsuits because of the need to “soften” their hard- edged image and instincts. It is the sartorial apology for wanting to win before the match even begins.

When one is in abject apology mode, when one tamps down the desire to excel at competition, it lessens the focus, drains the adrenaline, constricts the fire. Not to mention, it would lead the loyal opposition to wonder how they could ever lose to a bunch of “nancy boys.”

If one watched Ian Poulter or Ross Fisher or Edoardo Molinari or even Garcia on the sidelines, the look in their eyes, their gestures, their intensity was on full display. They were spoiling for a fight and wanted to kick ass and take names. The Americans were so muted, their emotions and their fire was so tamped down, they appeared to be taking names at the counter of the DMV.

The Europeans played with a chip on their shoulder, with something to prove. The Americans played with the anchor around their neck, with something to disprove. The Europeans set their jaws for battle. The Americans wanted to be seen as good sports. To dispel the slander. To soften the image.

To not display the “wrong kind” of patriotism, competitiveness, fire in the belly. (There are exceptions -- notably Jeff Overton, an Indiana born and bred rookie, who simply didn’t buy into the whole notion of playing Pastel Golf. He was teamed, appropriately, with a bombardier named Bubba Watson. Two rookies put together, because there was no controlling them anyway, so separate them and cut them away from the herd). You know, the Midwest and Southern man is beyond “salvation.” NASCAR and all that.  They don’t “fit” the mold of the “teachable and trainable” who can be made to genuflect at the altar of America in Apology mode.  Zach Johnson from Cedar Rapids, Iowa, is another who failed to absorb the “message” of softness and light.

If you compete in sports or in politics in constant apology mode, you should be shocked when you win. You should expect to lose. There is a line across which one becomes rude or obnoxious in victory. That line of sportsmanship should be respected. But if you are not getting your toes right up to that line, if you are holding back your fire, if you are not sending the visceral message of a champion, you are going to come off as a chump. If you spend your time denying that you are exceptional, saying you are no better than anyone else, apologizing for your talents, your skills, and your achievements, you will smother the embers of success.  John McCain ran a campaign in complete and abject apology mode. He was so overly concerned with being seen as having “good sportsmanship” that he failed to fully engage. He was halting, hesitant, distracted, and completely thrown off his game. He got beaten by the narrative and the rigged obstacles against him. This happens to Republicans, Libertarians, and independents, repeatedly.