By PATRICK LEARY
College Contributor Network
On Sept. 30, 2012 at Medinah Country Club just outside Chicago, American golf fell apart.
In the evening twilight, 2014 US Open winner Martin Kaymer sunk a five-foot putt to defeat Steve Stricker and complete a comeback as large as any in the event's 85-year history.
The American team, buoyed by the wild crowd that would cheer at the top of its lungs every time Bubba Watson teed off at the first hole, was shell-shocked.
"We are all kind of stunned," 2012 captain Davis Love III told USA Today. "We know what it feels like now from the '99 Ryder Cup."
The 1999 cup was the complete opposite of 2012 for the US, with the likes of Payne Stewart, Jeff Maggert and David Duval winning 8.5 to 3.5 on the final day to erase, not give away, a 10-6 margin and claim the cup.
To win in 2014 at Gleneagles in Scotland, the American team will have to channel the vengeful, trash-talking spirit of the squad that took Brookline by storm.
As of September 2, Bovada has the Americans as +170 underdogs to win the Cup, with the Europeans at -225, since they only need a tie to retain the trophy. Considering that Europe has won the last four Ryder Cups on its home soil, the gap should probably be wider.
The World Golf Rankings don't help the American case much. The top third of the European team is stacked, with four of the best five golfers on the planet, No. 1 Rory McIlroy, No. 3 Henrik Stenson, No. 4 Sergio Garcia and No. 5 Justin Rose, leading their squad.
Granted, a bevy of Americans follow the European top four in the rankings and, as a team, the US has a lower average ranking than their opponents (16.1 to 19.4). But the back end of the European team features red hot players like Kaymer and Stephen Gallacher alongside match play killers like 2014 Accenture Match Play runner-up Victor Dubuisson and Ryder Cup psycho/colorful pants wearer Ian Poulter.
Team USA will miss three of its best players in Scotland. The 2014 golf-equivalent of the elephant in the room, No. 12 Tiger Woods, had a horrible, injury-riddled season and withdrew his name from captain's pick contention after missing the cut at the PGA Championship in August. The greatest player of a generation is 13-17-3 in seven Ryder Cups and 4-1-2 in singles play. Anywhere near his top form, Woods would have warranted inclusion but, in the worst stretch of his career, his absence is a blessing, not a curse.
Two Ryder Cup veterans, No. 17 Dustin Johnson (3-3) and No. 28 Jason Dufner (3-1), also missed the 2014 team. The PGA Tour suspended Johnson for six months after testing positive for cocaine and not listening to his father-in-law, Wayne Gretzky. Dufner just missed qualifying for the team automatically because he withdrew from the PGA Championship with a neck injury and hasn't played since.
All of that leaves the US with a team full of youth and inexperience. Patrick Reed and Jimmy Walker came out of nowhere to qualify for their first teams. Promising 21-year old Jordan Spieth is the other American rookie, but he has just two top tens since the end of April.
Captain's picks Keegan Bradley, Hunter Mahan, and Webb Simpson have just four combined appearances. However, the trio boasts a stellar 8-5-3 record in the Ryder Cup, with Mahan, who was prominently left off the 2012 team, the true match play ace of the bunch.
The core of the US team features big names like Phil Mickelson, Bubba Watson, Zach Johnson, Jim Furyk and Matt Kuchar, all of whom provide experience and stability. Forty-somethings Mickelson and Furyk both had good years, and have a combined 17 Ryder Cups under their belts.
The X-factor for the Americans will be the best Stateside golfer right now, Rickie Fowler. Previously known for long drives and bright orange outfits, Fowler finished in the top five in every major this year, a feat only achieved in the past by Woods and Jack Nicklaus. If Fowler's rising star can shine anywhere near as bright as McIlroy's, the Americans could have a chance.
The Americans have one other important factor on their side: their captain. Tom Watson is not only one of the greatest golfers of all-time, but he skippered the Americans to victory in the 1993 Ryder Cup, the last time Team USA won the cup in Europe. If anyone knows how to win on the biggest stage, it's Watson.
The Americans enter Gleneagles as the clear underdogs, but maybe this team of upstarts and underappreciated veterans can channel the spirit of Brookline and steal the show in Scotland.
Patrick Leary is a senior at Marquette University. He thinks Felix Hernandez is the best pitcher on God's green earth. Follow him on Twitter: @patrickkleary
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