In Good Conscience

European brotherhood up against US nationalism

The essence of the Ryder Cup is to try to turn big beasts - solitary beasts - into brothers.

The Americans reckon they have the best line-up in living memory. The Europeans admit to being in transition, with six "rookies" among the chosen players.

It pits a country against a continent. It is a coming together - over one long weekend in the two-year golf cycle - that invites men who normally play for themselves to put team before self.

The foreplay was intriguing.

It is customary nowadays for the captains to invite an entertainer and an inspirational speaker to address the players on the eve of the tournament.

For Team USA, Michael Phelps, the Olympian, was able to relate the winning feeling in the pool against every man (bar one, Singapore's Joseph Schooling).

But this is golf's biennial invitation to its top stars to be team players. Laying the ball up close so that your partner might finish the hole is different to shooting for glory.

For Team Europe, Paul O'Connell, former British and Irish Lions captain, all but sang the Shoulder to Shoulder anthem of Irish rugby.

The team meetings are private, as they should be. Not being privy to what either man said, one imagines O'Connell's message being more bonding.

Phelps, after all, achieved what he did by ploughing on all alone through more Olympic triumphs than any other individual.

Swimming is solitary, except in the relays. Rugby is a pack game. Every man for himself, or every team-mate for one another.

In many ways, Phelps, with his 23 gold medals, is the living embodiment of that old American line, attributed to the UCLA Bruins National Football coach Red Sanders in 1950:

"Winning isn't everything, winning is the ONLY thing."

One man in the room when the United States Ryder Cup players dined this week was Tiger Woods. The greatest golfer of his time (perhaps, with apologies to Arnie Palmer who was the king for other reasons, notably the way that he carried fame), Woods is, to put it mildly, a curiosity in the American camp.

His Ryder Cup record is not great. But by the end of this weekend, we will know whether the US team captain David Love was inspired or just desperate in inviting Woods to be on his panel of vice-captains.

By all accounts, Woods has been as selfless in giving his time and advice to the American players as he was perceived to be selfish when it came to playing on a team.

He lost more match-ups than he won, and was on five losing Ryder Cup teams out of the six he contested from 1997 to 2010.

Yet he is still an American icon, and has been available to the team players on a one-to-one basis for months leading up to this Ryder Cup.

"Everybody wants to be around Tiger," says captain Love. "Everybody wants to ride around in the cart with him.

"He is Michael Jordan. He is Wayne Gretzky. You just want him on your team."

Englishman Lee Westwood did not appear to be convinced by that.

He is the inverse to Woods. The Briton has never won a Major title, but he has played his part in Europe winning seven and losing but two of the nine Ryder Cups he had taken part in up until this week's .

"I don't know what impact there will be from having Tiger around," Westwood said. "They always struggled to find a partner for Tiger that's been successful. He could have an adverse effect in the team room."

Every captain is searching for an edge. The presence of a tamed Tiger, and the passing on of knowledge from one of the undoubted tactical minds the game has ever known, might indeed be a winning hand played by the US.

We shall know by Monday.

To me, the most inspirational captain and leader at any Ryder Cup I witnessed, was the late Severiano Ballesteros.

He was an erratic force on the course, wasteful and yet inspirational by the second.

Yet in his turn as captain, he was irrepressible. He scooted around the course on his cart, seemingly able to sense where players most needed his presence.

It almost seemed as if there was more than one Ballesteros, a bevy of them on that Valderrama course in 1997 where Europe prevailed by 141/2 to 131/2 points.

In transmitting his desire, his spirit, into players, Seve became almost supernatural that year.

He wanted the Ryder Cup so emotionally it was visible. And he wanted it not for himself, but for Team Europe.

We have seen great Ryder Cups, Titanic tussles on either side of the Atlantic, ever since.

No one can say that the Americans did not care about the tournament. They care to their core for winning.

Europeans, it seems, care even more. Even at Brexit time, striving to win together can unite disparate individuals.

English and Spanish, German and Swedish, Belgian and Irish, the sum seeks to be greater than the parts.

The crowds bay at Hazeltine National Golf Club "USA! USA!", and if anything, European resolve grows.

It is the antithesis to nationalism. "Winning" is an American obsession, coming together can be Europe's response.

On paper, the US have higher ranked players, and might prove the "winningest" team.

Hazeltine is built for big hitters, and America has plenty of those.

But this is golf's biennial invitation to its top stars to be team players. Laying the ball up close so that your partner might finish the hole is different to shooting for glory.

Paul O'Connell wasn't the only guest at Europe's team briefing. There was also Steven Frayne, a magician known simply as Dynamo.

"He was great," said Swedish golfer Henrik Stenson. "Before I knew it, I was back in my bed - and I didn't even walk to my room. It's impressive seeing someone that good at what they do, but at the same time annoying when you can't figure out how he does it."

Magic in Minnesota.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 01, 2016, with the headline 'European brotherhood up against US nationalism'. Print Edition | Subscribe