Big egos and bad captaincy sink hapless Americans

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You expect drama in sport; that is why it engages the attention of millions. But the Ryder Cup almost goes too far - yet again on SUnday night it went beyond the merely dramatic. Indeed, it came perilously close to melodrama.

There was Colin Montgomerie, coming to the end of a season from hell when both his marriage and his game fell to pieces, left with a knee-knocker of a putt to win the Cup. This is the man his fellow pros sniggeringly call Mrs Doubtfire for his perceived lack of bottle at crucial moments. Mr Line of Fire would be more apt. He sank it, and won Europe the trophy.

A few weeks ago, that seemed impossible. European golfers have had another wretched year: Americans dominate the world rankings; they came here with a team containing five major winners against Europe's none. But from the moment the teams arrived in Detroit, Europe's golfers grew in stature and the Americans shrank.

Everything that has happened began to look as inevitable as a train crash. And that was even before captain Hal Sutton said a word. The US golfers may well have been better than the opposition. As a team, they were hopeless.

The combined genius of Mike Brearley, Arséne Wenger and Sir Clive Woodward might have had trouble finding a team room large enough to contain the competing egos of the Americans. Sutton never had a chance, since what he brought to the operation was an endearing sense of amateurishness that one feared was vanishing from big-time sport.

While Bernhard Langer whizzed everywhere in his captain's buggy, Sutton chose to walk. There was his wild decision to pair Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods, which showed the matchmaking skills, as was widely noted, you would expect from someone on his fourth marriage. And instead of subtly sprinkling his stardust down the order for yesterday's singles, he just listed his players in the order they qualified: captaincy by numbers.

The Americans have long regarded the Ryder Cup captaincy as an honour rather than a job. Since Sutton's grace in defeat was as enchanting as his accent - one rarely heard since Charles Laughton stopped playing white-suited Southern senators - it seems rather sad that this tradition might be brought to a halt by the appointment of someone who can match the likes of Langer in strategy and psychology.

It has also been said over the past three days that Americans "don't get team golf". The fact that they referred to the dear old foursomes, a staple of English golfing tradition, uncomfortably as "the alternate-stroke format" shows that they are certainly ill at ease with the Ryder Cup set-up, even after 35 renewals, most of which they have won by a mile.

But their problems go deeper than that. I am not sure the US truly grasps international team sport. It is a country whose main sporting obsessions (baseball, American football, basketball, ice hockey) are inherently local or else (golf and tennis) individual. American sports players and fans are not used to the national ebb and flow that comes from following international team games like football or cricket.

Confronted with a situation like the Olympics or Ryder Cup, they never seem sure whether to treat it as an extension of foreign policy and insist on whooping and hollering as they did so notoriously at their last home Cup match in 1999, or treating the whole thing too casually, and entrusting it to the likes of Sutton. One day, they'll get it right. Then the rest of us are in trouble.

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