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For Europeans, fun is team ingredient

Playing relaxed, for each other, makes all the difference vs. U.S.
Sunday Singles Matches
Europe's Ian Poulter celebrates with the Ryder Cup trophy.Andrew Redington / Getty Images

The European Ryder Cup team ambled into its post-match news conference like a dozen blokes picking out their favorite bar stools in their local pub. Some wobbled a bit as they walked. A couple pretended they couldn't hit their chairs on the first attempt.

They all looked like they'd been in similar circumstances many times — often together — waiting for last call in some corner of the itinerant golf world. They might as well have been a circus family or a vaudeville troupe. Frenchman Thomas Levet commandeered the proceedings from whatever golf functionary was nominally in charge of the normally formal affair.

"Sing us a song, Paul," Levet said in a perfect Brit accent. Then he began to sing, confidently, like a fellow who knows how to make his mates laugh after a few pints. "I'm so excited," he crooned, "and I just can't hide it."

One by one the Euros began introducing each other into their open microphones, pretending to conduct their own interviews.

"Now on the main stage, we have the Irish Monkey, Padraig Harrington," Levet said. "On the extreme radical left, we have the Mean Machine [Colin Montgomerie]. On the far right, we have The Midget [Paul McGinley]. Seated next to him is the fellow who lifts so many weights we just call him, 'Ahhhhnold' [Paul Casey].' "

"And, finally, here's the bad man himself, Mr. Trousers, Ian Poulter," Levet said.

And you wonder why the Europeans have smoked the United States in seven of the last 10 Ryder Cups. The Americans don't have nicknames for each other. They're so tight they sometimes even refer to themselves in the third person.

"On our tour, we all travel together and spend a lot more time with each other, probably, than the Americans do. We tend to play for each other. And that's huge," said Montgomerie, the consummate European Ryder Cupper who gains magical skills once every two years. "And this week, what a team we were."

"We live for this," Sergio Garcia said.

The heroes of this European team, historic conquerors Sunday of a bludgeoned U.S. team of Tigers, Phils and III's, come from England, Ireland, Scotland, Spain and France, though their coach is German. They love cigars, peroxide in their spiked hair, and beer; but champagne, preferably sprayed rather than swallowed, is their favorite intoxicant.

They're drunk now, the lot of them. That's a promise. Either from glee or wine, probably both. As you read this, they're flying at 40,000 feet, probably aided by an airplane, though not necessarily.

"No one will sleep tonight," Northern Ireland's Darren Clarke said after his team had given America its worst beating -- by far -- in the Cup's 77 years, 18 1/2-9 1/2. "Our flight back home leaves at 5:35 a.m., and no one will sleep on that, either."

For non-golf addicts who lack a sense of what a nine-match margin of victory implies, it exactly equals the total margin of victory in the last seven Ryder Cups combined. In the Cup's first 57 years of existence, the United States lost only three matches, by a total of six points. So, these last three days have roughly approximated a century of revenge.

There were no odds, not even with British bookmakers, for such a score. Because no one anticipated it was possible. Even a U.S. win by such a score was unimagined. It's like a two-touchdown underdog winning the Super Bowl, 50-0.

On Friday, American captain Hal Sutton said that he would have "bet the ranch" that his pairing of Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, ranked No. 2 and No. 4 in the world, could not have been beaten twice in the same day. After this defeat, he was asked what he would have bet if he'd been given his team and nine points.

"Whatever was left to bet," Sutton said, meaning after "the ranch" was already lost.

Woods got the joke and pounded his fist laughing. The rest of the American team looked like it was making plane reservations to 11 different cities, all in first class. Well, except for the ones with private jets.

The golf world left this Ryder Cup asking, "How?" and "Why?" But the answers are probably not technical, not about golf swings and pairings strategies. It's more personal, emotional and, frankly, interesting than that. The team that was far more fun, more personal, more passionate and more deserving of victory in a team setting got its vindicating victory. Even the Euros' followers, scattered across the knolls of Oakland Hills in knots of glee and noise, reflect the temper of their team. They wear the hats of fools and jesters. Or wrap themselves in various national flags. Golf is a party, don't you know?

These Euro players see in each other a collective athletic strength that none of them has ever been able to summon as an individual. Though their fame and wealth are certainly uncommon, they are far from singular. And they are acutely sensitive on the point. Not one of them has ever won the British Open, Masters, U.S. Open or PGA Championship. And they may never. For some, the time is already perhaps too late in their careers. For others, the last smidgen of talent or ego may be lacking.

So, every two years, the Euros come to the Ryder Cup with pent-up glee, a spattering of anti-American resentment and a mutual support system common to underdogs everywhere. They are golf's second-class citizens and ferociously proud of it. They see themselves as the Best of the Rest, the princes of the European Tour, flying off to play the kings of the PGA Tour.

For 20 years, this scenario, or some slight variant, has played itself out on golf's most emotional stage where players weep and dare to care. This time, however, the result was so entirely different that it was almost beyond comprehension, much less prediction. This drubbing of the aristocracy by its transAtlantic bourgeoisie was class warfare at its edgiest and finest. In fact, it was the culmination of an almost quarter-century trend. In 1981, America beat Europe so badly on its home turf in Surrey, England -- 18 1/2-9 1/2 -- that the very fate of the event was endangered. How could a competition so lopsided be continued?

Now the circle, right down to an identical score, is complete.

The American team watches all this with undisguised and mystified envy. Why can't we have a blast like that? Why can't we break the rules of the event and sign autographs for fans, including American fans? Why can't we jump into each other's arms?

"We've looked at each other harder each night," Davis Love III said. "Why does this keep happening to us? We want to win so bad that we don't play well."

"Everybody always calls them the 'underdog' and they love that," Mickelson said. "Well, I don't think we will be the favorite next time. Hopefully [with the roles reversed] we'll play like they did."

Perhaps by accident, Sutton then interjected his most perceptive comment of the week. "I think their hairdresser has the answer we're looking for," he said.

Perhaps he was making fun of the half-dozen outlandish dye jobs on the European team -- outlandish, at least, if you've been hermetically sealed on the PGA Tour for the last 20 years. The Euros are barely up to the tenor of the times. They just look like wild and crazy Martians in contrast to the Ameros and their flock of frighteningly identical gorgeous blond wives and girlfriends.

"We need to play with more of a free spirit," Mickelson summarized.

First, you have to have one.