Europe’s key to victory? They wanted it more

Rory McIlroy and Lee Westwood during Monday singles at the Ryder Cup.

NEWPORT, Wales – Europe’s recent dominance in the Ryder Cup can be encapsulated by six words from Ian Poulter. “I live for the Ryder Cup.”

That sentence speaks volumes for why Europe displays more passion for the biennial competition than the U.S. Poulter isn’t alone – most Europeans feel the same. They want it more. Man for man, Europe takes this event far more seriously than the U.S. Nine wins, three losses and a halved match out of the last 13 contests is testament to Europe’s obsession with Samuel Ryder’s trophy.

Do you think Tiger Woods or Phil Mickelson live for the Ryder Cup? Think again. Tiger once gave a million reasons why he’d rather win a WGC event than the Ryder Cup. Europeans would probably spend a million just to play in the match.

Europe’s passion for the biennial competition can be traced back to 1983. After years of taking a back seat to the U.S., two men set down a legacy that would change European fortunes forever.

Tony Jacklin took over the captaincy in 1983 and instilled a belief that Europe’s best were as good as America’s best. He demanded his teams be treated like winners to breed a winning attitude. Out went wool and in came cashmere. Four-star hotels became five-star luxury. His teams flew on Concorde, the best air travel Europe could offer.

Most importantly, Jacklin brought Seve Ballesteros on board. The Spaniard played in 1979 but sat out in 1981 because of a dispute with the European Tour. Jacklin had to cajole Ballesteros to play in 1983. It didn’t take much. All Jacklin had to do was stress that it was Ballesteros’ chance to put one over on the best U.S. players every two years. That was his favorite pastime. The Spaniard embraced the match with more passion than any player before him, and passed that fervor on to generations after him.

When Europe lost the 1983 match at Palm Beach Gardens by a point, Seve berated his teammates for feeling depressed afterward. “Why are we all so sad?” he yelled at them. “This has been a great victory. We proved we can beat the Americans. We must celebrate.”

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From then on, no European team would act as doormats to the U.S. No wonder Colin Montgomerie and his team held a conference call with Ballesteros on the eve of the Ryder Cup.

“Seve is our Ryder Cup and always will be,” Montgomerie said.

Individual players are the only ones who live for the match, the entire European Tour appears to feel the same. The tour puts huge stock in it as a marketing tool to attract sponsors.

Montgomerie put the match’s importance in perspective when he said, “Personally, this event has meant nothing to me. But as a team, and as a European Tour, it means the world to me. That’s why I’m here – for Europe, for the European Tour, for the European cause and the European team.”

The makeup of Montgomerie’s back-room staff proved just how important the match is to the European Tour. Darren Clarke, Thomas Bjorn and Paul McGinley acted as vice captains. Along with Montgomerie, they serve on the European Tour’s powerful tournament committee. All four wanted to avoid a repeat of Nick Faldo’s disastrous captaincy two years ago, when Europe lost. That’s why they put aside personal differences and came together to restore Europe’s honor.

“We are doing this for the sake of the European Tour,” Montgomerie said. “Four out of the five of us sit on the European Tour tournament committee, and it means an awful lot to us within our European Tour to win this event.”

Quite simply, the Ryder Cup is the glue that holds the European Tour together. Poulter, Donald, Kaymer and others might have homes in the United States and play the PGA Tour, but the main reason they maintain European Tour membership is to play in the Ryder Cup. They live for it.

They would probably die for it, too.

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