Every US golf fan knows and bemoans the USA's struggles in the last twelve Ryder Cup matches. In that stretch the team that never lost in the history of USA vs Britain, then USA vs Britain and Ireland, and even the first three USA vs Europe matches, has only four wins against eight losses.
The record is somewhat better in the President's Cup, where in its relatively brief history the USA record is marred by only one loss and one tie in eight matches.
Yet the USA now has won the last three combined Cup matches played, including in 2008 its most convincing Ryder Cup win since 1981. At first I attributed the American resurgence in 2008 to getting some new blood into the mix. For a number of years the American team seemed to contain essentially the same mix of players, and the pressure seemed to get to enough of them to cost us the Cup in most years. In 2008, the USA had a number of fresh names on the team, with the like of Anthony Kim, Hunter Mahan, Chad Campbell, Kenny Perry, JB Holmes, and Boo Weekley. I thought at the time and for some time afterward that the US win was mainly due to the addition of some new and hungry faces to the competition.
That may indeed be part of the story, but I recently noticed something that I think may be even more important. For the last three years we've had this new structure to the end of the PGA Tour year called the Fed Ex Cup. To say that the Fed Ex Cup has had a mixed reception by long time golf fans would be very generous. It seems contrived even to the folks who invented it, as evidenced by the changing format of rules and qualifications in its brief history.
However, the Fed Ex Cup has done one thing which may be very important: its kept top US players on the course at the end of the season. For many years prior to the Fed Ex Cup, you rarely saw most top US players near the end of the year: The PGA Championship, the Tour Championship, and possibly one warm up in between. Now you have the Tour players competing in at least two of the three Fed Ex lead ins, plus the Tour Championship. This is from one to three tournaments with top flight fields that the US players weren't playing prior to the Cup. In the three years of the Fed Ex Cup, the US team is undefeated in two President's Cups and one Ryder Cup, and won them all by convincing margins. I personally don't think this is a fluke. I think that for a long time our best players have been going into the two flavors of Cup matches basically cold, and that the extra play in the last three years has been tidying up their form in the weeks leading to Cup matches.
The Fed Ex Cup wasn't created for exactly this reason. It was clearly intended to generate extra interest in a Fed Ex Cup point race throughout the entire season, something I don't think it has ever come close to actually achieving. I think the effect on the Ryder and President's Cup results is a completely unplanned and unanticipated consequence, but an important consequence nonetheless. So Bravo to Fed Ex, and good luck to the US team in the 2010 Ryder Cup!