Ryder Cup still a contest between tours

If it seems outrageous that the No. 9 player in the world would
not be part of the Ryder Cup, then consider the European team that
first crushed the United States in this popular exhibition.

The highest-ranked player Europe had in 2004 was No. 9 in the
world.

That was Padraig Harrington, who six years and three major
championships later became a debated captain’s pick Sunday.

Colin Montgomerie called it an ”embarrassment of riches” that
his three picks did not include Justin Rose and Paul Casey, who was
at No. 9 when the choices were made. And that the likes of Henrik
Stenson, Robert Karlsson and Sergio Garcia didn’t even qualify.

The real embarrassment will be if Europe doesn’t take home the
cup, last seen on Twitter being meticulously polished by former
U.S. captain Paul Azinger as a way to needle Ian Poulter.

Europe is a lot like the United States used to be.

It has the highest-ranked players, with all 12 members inside
the top 40 based on Monday’s ranking. Europe won more majors this
year, with Graeme McDowell and Martin Kaymer trumping Phil
Mickelson. And it is favored to win the Ryder Cup, once the domain
of the USA.

One thing hasn’t changed.

Winning the Ryder Cup is more meaningful to Europe than the
United States, which is not to suggest the Americans don’t care
about winning or won’t cover their ears if they have to listen to
the singsong cheering of ”Ole, Ole, Ole.”

This is not a competition between the best players from Europe
and the U.S.

It’s a competition between tours.

What motivated Europe for so many years – and led to so many
victories – was the perception of being a second-class golf tour.
Even though it is the second-best tour in the world (with deep
apologies to the Nationwide Tour), no one likes to hear it.

And that’s why any suggestion to revamp Europe’s qualifying
criteria would be a mistake.

The top four players are decided by the world ranking points
they accumulate over the last 12 months. The next five come from
money earned during the same time from European Tour events. The
other three players are up to the captain.

It doesn’t hurt that seven of Europe’s players were not U.S.
tour members at the start of the year.

Luke Donald suggested last week that if the No. 10 player – that
would be him – were left off the Ryder Cup, something would be
seriously flawed with the system. It was not clear if he was
talking about the Ryder Cup criteria or how he got to No. 10 in the
world.

”The European team has to look harder at the qualification
system and whether it’s the correct way to do it, or whether
there’s a better way,” Donald said after learning he was a pick.
”I think golf really is becoming a world game, and I understand
they won’t protect the European Tour. But at the same time, the top
guys are going to want to play against the best players in the
world, no matter what.

”And they shouldn’t be penalized for that.”

No question golf has become a global game, which is why the
major tours lean so much on the world ranking. But to exclusively
use the world ranking to determine the team would make the Ryder
Cup feel more like the Presidents Cup. The passion of the Ryder Cup
is as much about tours as continents and flags.

Sure, there are a few tweaks that can be made.

Europe should consider taking four players from a ranking list,
four players from a money list and giving the captain four picks.
That’s the same number of picks the Americans get.

Even more peculiar is why Montgomerie had to make his captain’s
picks – Harrington, Donald and Edoardo Molinari – on Sunday night.
Players don’t begin to arrive in Wales until Sept. 27, which is a
month away. Are they really in that much of a rush to stitch names
into the back of caps and fit players for tuxedos?

European officials tried to force players’ hands by making them
choose between the final European Tour qualifying event (Johnnie
Walker Championship) and the start of the FedEx Cup playoffs (The
Barclays).

Harrington, Donald, Casey and Rose chose to play The Barclays,
even though the ranking points did not count toward Ryder Cup
standings because of the five-hour time difference. Make the picks
on Monday, and those four could have tried to play their way onto
the team. There’s no drama in Europe watching on TV at 11 p.m.

Then again, isn’t the drama supposed to unfold Oct. 1 at Celtic
Manor?

Would it have mattered? Not this year. It would have been an
embarrassment for Montgomerie to leave off Molinari, who won two
big tournaments in Scotland over the last two months to rightly
deserve a spot on the team.

Someone was going to be left out. Someone was going to be upset.
Someone was going to question the system.

Montgomerie won’t say this, but it did not hurt Donald’s chances
when he was among the few who played the Wales Open this summer for
a preview of the Celtic Manor course.

Harrington said if he did not make the team, he would have
blamed only himself for not setting his schedule property.

No one was more devastated than Casey, who realized he wasn’t on
the team when he saw Harrington’s wife give a thumbs-up to his
caddie without saying anything to Casey.

Even so, he found perspective in his despair.

”I’m not going to stand here and plead a case for why I should
be on the team,” Casey said. ”It’s done and dusted. I tried my
hardest, and I didn’t make it.”