Ryder Reign in Spain Is Hardly on the Wane

SOTOGRANDE, Spain -- Just like that, the Ryder Cup has gone from being suddenly competitive to being shockingly dominated by the Europeans.

The United States has managed to win only two of the last seven Ryder Cups, and the youth and diversity of the European team no doubt pose problems for the Americans for years to come.

Perhaps the top 50 players in the United States are better than the top 50 players in Europe, but clearly there is parity among the top 12 players in both places.

"All the talk is about Tiger Woods and how great the players are in America,'' Bernhard Langer said. "But we have great young players here and they showed it.''

As is usually the case at the Ryder Cup, American golf fans -- and perhaps the American players -- were taken off guard by the depth of talent on the European side. The Faldos, Montgomeries and Langers get respect, but there is a tendency to underestimate those who don't play in U.S. tournaments.

But the 14 1/2 to 13 1/2 victory by Europe was a true team effort.

Darren Clarke, Lee Westwood, Thomas Bjorn, Ignacio Garrido and Per-Ulrik Johansson are not household names in the United States, but they proved in this Ryder Cup they are excellent golfers.

Perhaps more important for the future of the Ryder Cup, those five players come from Northern Ireland, England, Denmark, Spain and Sweden, respectively.

If Tiger Woods promises to expand golf's talent pool in the United States, these young players offer the prospect of expanding golf throughout Europe. That talent pool started to expand after Europe's breakthrough victory in the 1985 Ryder Cup, and since then the number of golfers in Europe has more than doubled.

The Ryder Cup will stay in Europe at least until the next meeting, in Brookline, Massachusetts, in 1999. And if anything is clear after Valderrama, it is this: The United States probably never again will have an easy time winning the Cup.

Before the 1995 Ryder Cup -- when the United States had won two straight -- there was a feeling that the heart of the European team was getting old, with no replacements in the wings.

But Europe won in 1995 with the help of players like David Gilford, Philip Walton and Howard Clark. And the message now coming out of Valderrama is that Europe has an abundance of young talent to replace the old lions.