The race to make the Ryder Cup enters its final lap when the WGC Bridgestone Invitational begins in Akron tomorrow, but any burgeoning suspicions that the US contenders are as desperate to secure a place as their European counterparts have been put into perspective by the extraordinary outburst of one of America's most highly-rated professionals.
Hunter Mahan, a prospective member of Paul Azinger's team in Kentucky next month, declared that his country does not take the Ryder Cup "as seriously" as their opponents and his comments signify that any indifference on the players’ part could do be due to them receiving no payment for playing and being treated like "slaves" during the event. Furthermore, the much-vaunted 26-year-old went as far to warn that top performers, including Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, could one day refuse to play in the biennial dust-up.
"At some point the players might say, 'You know what? We're not doing this anymore, because this is ridiculous,'" said Mahan. The Californian, who made a name for himself in Britain when fifth in last year's Open, made his claims in a frank interview in Golf, the American magazine, which is published today.
“Mickelson and Tiger — their time is worth money. And for the PGA of America, the Ryder Cup is a money-maker like no other. They don't have to pay anything. I think when [Mark] O'Meara said players should get paid for it or some of the money given to their charities, I think [he said that] because the PGA takes so much out of the event that the players don't really get anything. Is it an honour to play? Yes, it is. But their time is valuable. This is a business.
“I just feel like the players don't have much control over it, and I don't think they like that. I wouldn't like that.
If that makes unhappy reading for the PGA, the organisers of this year‘s match in Valhalla, then Mahan's thoughts on Europe's recent domination could be construed as being similarly depressing for Azinger, particularly as Mahan has implied he is simply recounting what many on the team are thinking. The US captain has gone to great lengths to stress the importance his nation is placing on reclaiming a trophy they have not won this century and the last thing he needs is the facade being torn down by a Ryder Cup rookie who, in truth, should be slavering at the mouth to topple the Euros.
"I think Europe really, really takes it seriously. I think the U.S. does, too, but not like Europe,“ said the world No 36. “For one, every place they hold a Ryder Cup in Europe is a place on the European Tour schedule. That's really smart because right away they have an advantage. The PGA of America could care less about winning it, honestly. They pick a site where they're going to have the Senior PGA, the PGA and the Ryder Cup, which means less money they have to pay out to get more money.
“And from what I've heard the whole week is extremely long. 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. We want to prepare ourselves. That's part of the whole thing: you're just a slave that week.
“Don't be surprised if it happens [America players refusing to play in the Ryder Cup]. It's just not a fun week like it should be. The Presidents Cup is fun. Jack [Nicklaus, the 2007 American captain] just made it fun. From what I've heard, the Ryder Cup just isn't fun. The fun is sucked right out of it. That's the word I hear a lot.”
Maybe even from the world No 1 himself? Throughout Tiger's reign there have always been rumblings about his attitude to the Ryder Cup. Two of his closest friends on tour, O'Meara, and David Duval, and have gone on record as declaring that the PGA of America should, at the very least, make a donation to the American players' chosen charities and Woods, himself, once famously remarked there were "a million reasons" why he would rather win a lucrative tournament than the Ryder Cup.
Yet, since the European victories have stacked up (five in the last six stagings) the Americans have taken a gung-ho and united stance. Until now. In reopening the “does the US really care?" debate, Mahan has obviously done his own Ryder Cup chances no good. He is 11th on the standings, but with just this £4m tournament in Ohio and next week's USPGA Championship in Detroit remaining, Mahan is faced with playing into the top eight who will qualify automatically or relying on one of Azinger's four wildcards. The latter might find it difficult to opt for a young man with such militant views.
All of which will have pleased Nick Faldo no end. Saying that, the Europe captain has his own selection issues with Sergio Garcia, Paul Casey, Ian Poulter and Colin Montgomerie all currently out of the qualifying spots. Faldo will looking for a big fortnight from all four, although he does enjoy three weeks' grace over Azinger as the wire does not come down on the European race until 31 August.
By then the boys in blue and gold will have proved just how serious they remain about the three-day spectacular in which they would never, ever contemplate refusing to play. Fun or no fun; payment or no payment; slavery or no slavery.