GAINESVILLE, Va. Chemistry is sometimes an overrated element in team sports.
You could ask the U.S. team at the Presidents Cup.
The U.S. players don’t take moonlit walks around Lake Manassas. They don’t whisper sweet nothings into each other’s ears. They don’t think as a team. They don’t play as a team.
This lack of cooperation is supposed to work against the Americans. They are the best golfers in the world, but they are not necessarily the best golfers in these touchy-feely affairs.
These affairs seem to mean more to the rest of the world than to the United States, if only because it allows the rest of the world to feel almost equal to America.
The rest of the world usually has an inferiority complex around America and likes nothing better than to have an opportunity to put America in its place, even if it is only a glorified golf exhibition.
To the rest of the world, it beats working the same old cultural territory, which goes like this: Our culture is better than your junk food culture, so there.
You know you are in a psychologically shaky country when you hear McDonald’s being lamented and some old building being touted as culturally significant.
So have a Coke already. A Big Mac, too. Enjoy the weather. And remember: You can’t trust the guy with the big nose, Yasser Arafat, presumably a fan of the Internationals. Now back to the regularly scheduled wisdom.
The Americans, with the help of the media, play the part. Ours is a team of the self-centered and self-absorbed. The 12 players wear the red, white and blue in protest, or not at all if you’re David Duval. What do they care? Why should they care? The pay is lousy, the public relations bump minimal, and if it is all the same to everyone, there are better places to spend an afternoon than in an elitist conclave in Prince William County.
Of course, the Internationals possess what the Americans lack. Their twosomes held hands as they competed in the opening round yesterday. Their twosomes performed cartwheels and cheers on each green and pulled together as if their very existence depended on it. Their twosomes directed one another on each fairway, deploying orange cones, flares and reader boards.
The Internationals embodied the essence of teamwork, of selflessness, of what it is to perform as one. Their can-do spirit was captured by Michael Campbell, the New Zealander who performed the ritualistic Haka war dance before the first match.
Or as Tom Lehman put it, “He laid down the challenge and we accepted.”
There is no “i” in team, although there is an “i” in win, and maybe, the distinction is a musty-building thing, a cultural thing, and maybe, Americans lack a certain sophistication, a certain worldliness.
Let’s win one for the Yasser?
The Internationals didn’t go that far, and if you must know, they didn’t go very far at all.
“Don’t write us off yet,” International captain Peter Thomson said.
That sounded like a plea instead of an order.
As disinterested as the Americans were, they put together a fairly impressive day. They set aside their stock portfolios and cell phones and stuck it to the Internationals.
The Internationals win as a team, and now they are down 5-0 as a team.
That leaves the culture.
The rest of the world has all the best museums, all the best old buildings, all the history, and America only has McDonald’s, Madonna, billions to spare and a 5-0 lead at the Presidents Cup.
The Americans are left to deny the charge that they have no interest in watching Vijay Singh attempt another putt, if that is what you call it. They are committed. Honest.
“I’ve never said to anybody that I’m not happy to be here, ever,” Lehman said. “There’s never been a doubt in my mind about my commitment.”
Not in his mind.
That is a start.
The 5-0 lead is not bad, either.
“Not in my wildest dreams,” U.S. captain Ken Venturi said.
Caring cuts both ways.
It would help if the Internationals could be more competitive.