Langer shows US that nothing tells like team spirit

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The Independent Online

So much for the Ryder Cup being the last major sporting event where a close contest is always assured. Bernhard Langer's European team made a mockery of that assertion with a trouncing of their American counterparts that, in relation to the past two decades, was gigantic.

So much for the Ryder Cup being the last major sporting event where a close contest is always assured. Bernhard Langer's European team made a mockery of that assertion with a trouncing of their American counterparts that, in relation to the past two decades, was gigantic.

It was a throwback to the days of American domination, the nine-point winning margin matching that by the United States at Walton Heath in 1981. Then the Americans really did have a dream team - 11 of the 12 players ended their careers with a major title to their name.

For the first time since that match, no one in the European team is a major champion but Langer assures us that will change, and on most things at Oakland Hills he was spot on.

"This is a staggering performance," said Colin Montgomerie, who capped a personally traumatic year by holing the winning putt in his seventh appearance in the Ryder Cup. "It was a young team, with five rookies, on a course that favoured the home team. We came over here with a captain who had prepared like never before."

Langer's meticulous planning paid off at every turn. Playing 10 times helped but his every decision mocked his opposite number, Hal Sutton's assertion that, "nobody who assumes the role of captain of the Ryder Cup team ever fully understands what it is going to entail."

Yet a newcomer, Luke Donald, stated of his captain: "Bernhard has put so much effort into this match. He seemed to get every detail right. He's someone I looked up to when I was growing up and to play under him was a privilege." Typically, Langer was not hiving off any credit for himself.

"I could only prepare and encourage the players," said the German. "They hit the shots and hole the putts. They made history. It will not be easy to repeat in the future."

Inevitably, there will be suggestions that Langer stay in the job for the K Club in Ireland in 2006. In the euphoria of the moment he seemed to be considering the possibility, but it is likely he will pass the role to someone else.

No one would actually count out Langer playing in two years, even at the age of 49. Montgomerie is certainly a captain of the future but Langer said 2006 would be too early for the Scot in that he still has a playing role.

Such a humiliating defeat may increase the chances of a Ryder Cup firebrand like Paul Azinger taking over from Sutton, rather than the more mild-mannered Mark O'Meara. The Americans certainly need someone who fully understands this team competition, which means the bit on the course, not just in the hotel team room.

Sutton stood by his misfiring superstars but his fundamental error was in asking his players to prepare as if it was an individual tournament, disregarding any practice by fourball or foursome partners. His successor will have to solve the conundrum of why American players are diminished by playing for each other, while the Europeans are inspired. "We are such close friends with our captains that it's awfully hard to go out and not perform for them," said Davis Love. "The pressure comes from wanting to win so badly."

Yet somehow the Europeans seem to want it more. "We live for this event," said Sergio Garcia. "You probably believe in yourself even more than in some other tournaments." The American analysis, from Sutton and Tiger Woods downwards, pretty much stopped at the Europeans having holed more putts. "Perhaps, we are better putters," said Lee Westwood.

There was also talk of the Americans having too much on their plate in playing the Ryder Cup or the Presidents Cup, against the Rest of the World team, every year. "The Europeans would find that tough," said Woods.

"I don't think that makes much difference," Westwood said. "We now have the Seve Trophy and it means as much to me to represent Great Britain and Ireland as it does to represent the US. I don't think that is much of an excuse."

Langer added: "I think if you can't get fired up for the Ryder Cup or Presidents Cup, there is something wrong." But of the 11 matches that went to the 18th, Europe only lost one of them and when there was a crucial moment on each day, it was the visitors who recognised it and responded accordingly.

Though it was the six-point gap built up over the first two days that retained the Cup, it was Sunday's performance in the singles that created the record victory. "I told them to think it was 0-0 and we had to get 6½ points but they did even better than that," said Langer.

Although they started strongly, this was first time the US had lost the singles in consecutive matches. Down in the top-five matches, the Europeans rallied to claim 2½ from them.

Sutton said: "If there is an adjustment, it might need to be the world ranking system." It is ludicrously weighted in favour of the US Tour but where Europe had the upper hand was in five of their players having won six times in the last three months, during which time only Stewart Cink had won on the US side.

In Ryder Cups, winners are required, not players known for playing mistake-free golf to grind themselves into the top-10 of a 72-hole strokeplay event. Todd Hamilton, the Open champion, was ignored while no US captain has realised that while John Daly may not get into contention very often, when he does he often prevails.

"I don't think we'll be the favourite next time," said Phil Mickelson. "Well be the underdog." But, with a gleam in his Irish eyes, Paul McGinley, asked about maintaining their "underdog status" for the K Club, said: "We'll find a way."

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