Why America Is Losing Abroad; Ryder Cup and Foreign Policy Parallels

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), October 4, 2006 | Go to article overview
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Why America Is Losing Abroad; Ryder Cup and Foreign Policy Parallels

Byline: Harlan Ullman,THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Once again, team Europe managed to thrash a dozen of America's finest golfers in one of that sport's most prestigious competitions, the Ryder Cup. But Europe's successes in Ryder Cup play convey a broader message beyond golf. In many ways, these defeats are metaphors explaining why American foreign policy is in deep trouble.

The reasons rest in different rules of the game; differences between individual and team competition; and a thinking opposition.

English seed merchant Samuel Ryder started the matches in 1927. Originally played between America and Great Britain, given U.S. dominance, in 1979, eligibility for play was expanded to all of Europe. Today, the cup consists of 28 individual matches, each worth a single point. In the event of a draw called a "halve," both teams get half a point.

Sixteen matches are "team" play with two Americans against two Europeans. The rest are "singles" between two individual players. At the end of the competition, 14 points wins the cup. If the score is 14-14, the cup stays in the possession of the previous winner. Played every two years, Europe has won seven of the past 10 events, the last two by huge margins of 18-9. Here is why:

U.S. professional golf championships are won on the basis of stroke play. Over an event, aggregate low score wins. American professional golf is, of course, an individual not a "team sport." And, most importantly, no matter where the competition takes place, as the world's greatest golfers know, golf is principally played with the head.

The Ryder Cup is won on the basis of match not stroke play, that is hole-by-hole not aggregate score. A high score on a single hole, enough to knock a player out of competition in stroke play, still beats a higher score and is one of eighteen holes. The Ryder Cup is the quintessential team competition even with a dozen "singles" matches. And, ultimately, the team that wins does so by out thinking as well as outplaying the opposition. The last time an American team did that was in Brookline, Mass., in 1999 with a dramatic come from behind win.

The parallels with American foreign policy are clear. The United States is playing the geostrategic equivalent of stroke play while the adversary is experienced at match competition. With America's overwhelming strength, it believes that at the end of the day, the best aggregate score wins.

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