If the current American Ryder Cup team didn't exist, the Europeans would invent it.
The 2020/2021 Ryder Cup begins this morning at Whistling Straits in Wisconsin. The Europeans have won nine of the past 12 Cups, with one of the exceptions being the U.S. victory at Hazeltine National in 2016.
The Americans have entered virtually every Ryder Cup in history with a stronger lineup than Europe, in terms of world rankings and majors won. As Europe has dominated, so has this perception: That the Europeans are better able to transition from the independent-contractor nature of stroke-play tournaments to the emotional cauldron of a match-play tournament that highlights teamwork and unselfishness.
The irony is that a bunch of Europeans who live in different countries have proven to be much more unified than a bunch of Americans.
"We play for each other,'' Euro star Rory McIlroy said this week.
The Americans have chafed at the unfavorable comparisons while rarely proving them wrong, and this year's team features at least two players who have proved them correct.
Brooks Koepka has won four majors. Recently, he complained about the Ryder Cup to Golf Digest, saying he doesn't like the oddity of the schedule or event, that it takes him out of his routine. Koepka has made clear his disdain for teammate Bryson DeChambeau. The two have feuded on social media and DeChambeau, who is 0-3 in Ryder Cup matches, has spent much of his recent interviews pretending that their relationship is not a problem.
While the Euros treat the Ryder Cup as all-important, DeChambeau has been practicing his long-drive skills and will participate in a long-drive event on Monday in Las Vegas. It's hard to imagine any other player on either side dividing his attention or practice time this way.
The U.S. team features six Ryder Cup rookies. Patrick Reed, who led the Americans to a rowdy runaway victory at Hazeltine, was not one of captain Steve Stricker's selections for this team.
The Europeans have a dual advantage: They dominate the Ryder Cup yet enter every Ryder Cup feeling like underdogs, to use McIlroy's term.
"On paper, you look at the world rankings and everything, we're coming in here as underdogs with a lot of things stacked against us,'' he told reporters. "So I think that would make it even more of an achievement to win.''
When the U.S. lost in Paris in 2018, Reed criticized captain Jim Furyk for sitting him in two sessions. That kind of dissension is rarely heard from the Euro side.
If the Americans have an advantage in this competition it could, strangely, be their inexperience. Few of their current players have built up much scar tissue. Justin Thomas' Ryder Cup record is 4-1. Jordan Spieth's is 7-5-2. Tony Finau is 2-1. Koepka is 4-3-1. Any and all are capable of dominating.
I've been lucky enough to cover the last two American Ryder Cups. Both were held on brawny Midwest courses — Medinah Country Club in Chicago and Hazeltine. I've also covered a major at Whistling Straits.
This is my favorite sporting event, and it's being held at a beautiful and intriguing course. The Ryder Cup is the only major sporting event that alters the nature of its competition.
The Super Bowl, World Series, World Cup,WNBA and NBA finals, the Stanley Cup are more-hyped versions of games that are played all year. The Ryder Cup is different. The Ryder Cup takes an individualistic sport often measured by money earned and turns it into a nationalistic team venture, with the losers feeling like they've let down their teammates and their countries.
That's what is so intriguing about this U.S. team. They are without Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson. They are being coached by perhaps the nicest human ever to fix a divot. They are aware of their side's failures.
If they lose they will accurately be accused of choking, or failing to meld as a team.
But if they win, with a young, talented, roster, this group has a chance to change the balance of power in an event that for too long has embarrassed talented American golfers.