Ryder Cup Mess: The Real Reason America is Losing

By admin March 26, 2015 13:35

Ryder Cup Mess: The Real Reason America is Losing

After the USA’s disastrous performance at the 2014 Ryder Cup, you’ve probably heard several hundred theories as to why America keeps losing. Forget them all.

The reason America loses is simple. Europe wins because they have an advantage, but not one that comes from ability, coaches or intangibles. No, the truth behind Europe’s advantage is the simple old axiom: “Follow the money.”


No golf event rivals the Ryder Cup for profits. The 2006 event in Ireland brought in more than £50 million pounds (about $90 million dollars). The 2010 matches in Wales netted over $25 million of profit. Matches played on American soil generate similar revenue.

In comparison, the Masters and US Open each make roughly $50 million annually, but each tournament covers expenses and pays out $8 million in prize money. The Ryder Cup awards no prize money.

Nothing in golf reaps more profits than the Ryder Cup. Nothing.


Home Ryder Cups mean life or death for European professional golf. In years without a Ryder Cup, the European Tour loses money. In years when it’s played in America they get a portion of proceeds so they end up slightly profitable. When Europe hosts, they essentially win the lottery. The European Tour then uses Ryder Cup money to cover up deficiencies. When a failing tournament cannot pay prize money, Cup profits cover the purse. Even still, several big events, like the British Masters and European Open, have collapsed in recent memory.

To fill these vacancies, Europe “sells” hosting rights in exchange for sponsoring regular tour stops. Both the K Club and Celtic Manor committed to a dozen regular European Tour tournaments to get the Cup.

The Ryder Cup is also the centerpiece in European television contracts. The Tour forces TV stations to carry other, unwanted tournaments just to get the one thing they covet.

Richard Hills, the European Tour Ryder Cup director, calls the biennial matches, “One of the financial locomotives of the tour. The players very much know that they are playing or working for their own company.”

Without the Ryder Cup, the European Tour goes on life support. Players know this, so they put everything they have into the matches. Having a European Tour gives stars like Rory McIlroy a place to hone his craft before competing globally, and it gives others, like Nicolas Colsaerts and Ross Fisher, a chance to play professional golf for a living. It helps them all, so they’re all emotionally and financially invested in the Ryder Cup.


In the USA, there is no such make-or-break attitude because pros compete on a stable, profitable tour where individual success gets prized above all else. American players are their own bosses. In Europe, the Ryder Cup is everyone’s boss because it supports the tour that employs them all.

American pros, however, increasingly view the Ryder Cup as a joyless burden. “Mickelson and Tiger—their time is worth money,” explained Hunter Mahan a few years ago. “The players don’t really get anything. Is it an honor to play? Yes, it is. But their time is valuable. This is a business.”

The social commitments prove equally stressful. “The whole week is extremely long,” continued Mahan. “You’ve got dinners every night—not little dinners, but huge, massive dinners. I know, as players, that’s the last thing we want to do. That’s part of the whole thing: you’re just a slave that week. At some point the players might say: ‘You know what? We’re not doing this anymore, because this is ridiculous.”

Such a scenario might seem preposterous, but isn’t. In 2014, Phil Mickelson withdrew from the FedExCup playoffs to rest and prepare for the Ryder Cup. In doing so, Phil gave up the chance to win over $10 million dollars. What if instead he realized he was better off playing for himself? This could happen, and if one withdrew expect others to follow.


To understand American Ryder Cup dysfunction you must differentiate between the PGA of America and the PGA TOUR. The PGA of America formed a century ago to represent professional golfers when the game was ruled by amateurs. It handled all pro concerns until 1968 when a group of tournament players—like Nicklaus, Palmer, Casper and others—wanted out of the organization still dedicated to helping clubhouse professionals. So golf’s superstars split and formed the PGA TOUR. During negotiations for the separation, TOUR players cared so little for the Ryder Cup that they gave it away without a fight. Why not? It was never profitable and never much of a contest because the USA dominated.

These two PGA organizations are not enemies, but they aren’t best buddies either. The Ryder Cup means hundreds of millions of dollars for the PGA of America. For TOUR players, however, it means a small stipend to donate to charity, donated time and potential ridicule if they lose.

Oh, and don’t forget each Ryder Cup helps the European Tour stay alive, giving its professionals a chance to develop and polish their games…which they then use to come over and compete in American tournaments and majors. In other words, by playing in the Ryder Cup, Phil, Tiger, Ricky Fowler and Bubba Watson helped create Rory McIlroy, Padraig Harrington, Martin Kaymer and Justin Rose—all recent European major winners. What sense does this make? That would be like President Obama holding fundraisers for Republicans, or Microsoft sending its twelve best employees to assist Apple.


Making matters worse, when the Ryder Cup became lucrative the PGA TOUR moved in for more profits. Since it couldn’t siphon off the Ryder Cup, it created the President’s Cup, which pits American golfers against those from around the world. This means Americans play intense international matches every year while the other side gets one year off to rest and regroup.

Tiring out players even more is the FedExCup, a series of six extremely lucrative tournaments leading up to one huge $10 million prize. So now, instead of preparing for the Ryder Cup, America’s stars are grinding it out week after week. Captain Tom Watson expressed his concern over the busy schedule prior to the 2014 event. “These players are playing seven out of eight tournaments or eight out of nine tournaments,” he said. “They are tired. That’s too much golf.”


America’s Ryder Cup fortunes are all messed up. Yes, they lose too often. Yes, something should be done. However, finding a solution first requires understanding the problem. For Team USA, this means identifying that there are more groups with vested interest in the Ryder Cup than just the twelve men from America against the twelve from Europe. Various competing organizations complicate what seems like a simple golf match, and, of course, the massive amounts of money involved is sure to create issues.

Fortunately, the first step to any solution lies in recognizing the real problem. Now that the USA knows what it is, perhaps we can return to winning form.

Written by Ried Holien


By admin March 26, 2015 13:35