Ryder Cup – It was Neurology “Wot Won It”

There seems to be a moment in team events when everything crystallises or falls apart, witness Manchester United’s pitiful first half against Spurs and the change in the second half, their heroic but ultimately fruitless attempt to pull back Spurs’ lead. As Patrice Evra said “we should have played like this from the first minute, the problem was inside our heads”.

In contrast witness the incredible win by Europe against the US in the Ryder Cup.

This was an extraordinary event, described as a miracle in the dressing room. Ian Poulter talked about the incredible spirit in the dressing room on Saturday night “It just changed”.

The question is “what changed”?  Neuroscience is increasingly understanding how our emotional experience both creates and reflects activity in the brain. When Poulter talked of “a little glimmer of hope” he was referring to the symptom of brain activity reflected in emotional experience.


The experience of “belief” or “disbelief” has been shown to reflect signal changes in some parts of the brain. It appears to be the same part of the brain that judges the pleasantness of odours.

The Europeans wanted this so much “for Seve”, something was happening in their brains and nervous system. Somehow they were functioning “together” as an organism and when they hit it the synergy carried their performance forward. At the same time the US team, notably Tiger Woods, Steve Stricker and Bubba Watson could not do enough in the noise of a home crowd to stay ahead.

We humans, in all our sophistication still have the need to ascribe events to the intangible, something within or without that is not tangible. Ultimately such moments may become measurable and visible at neurological level. This is itself a miracle. My fear is that we may lose some of the mystery and sense of wonder which creates the very experience we cherish.

In the end though, perhaps the Europeans best secret weapon was George W Bush’s address to the US team referring to the Alamo!!

If you wish to know more of the science informing my comments please read: http://www.brainmapping.org/MarkCohen/research/Belief.html

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