Oct 02, 2012 Phil Blackwell Uncategorized
Only after it was done did it make any sense. And it still was impossible to believe.
Such was the verdict at the end of the 39th Ryder Cup Matches, a sports event like few others anyone will ever watch in their lifetimes, or any other lifetime.
Late Saturday afternoon, Europe was beaten, finished, done for. It was 10-4 in the Americans’ favor, and absolutely nothing that was taking place suggested that the Stars and Stripes would end up on the wrong end of the equation.
Yet 24 hours later, there was Martin Kaymer, on the 18th green at Medinah, draining the six-foot putt to deliver the Continent’s deliverance, and everyone was left stunned by it – the Yanks in numbing defeat, the Euros in ecstatic victory.
If this were a novel, or a movie, it would be too preposterous. Upon closer reflection, though, this Ryder Cup was a metaphor for the event’s entire history, with a certain dashing Spaniard serving as central figure and inspiration.
Barely a generation ago, this event was a semi-glorified exhibition, little more than a chance for golfers from America, Great Britain and Ireland to get together, play a few friendly matches, and watch the United States put on another one-sided beatdown.
Enter Severiano Ballesteros. His emergence in the late 1970s, combined with the magnanimity of Jack Nicklaus and other Americans who loved the event but thought it had turned boring, led to the expansion of the British side to include all of Europe.
You know the rest. Almost by himself, Seve, with his burning desire, convinced his fellow Euros that they could beat the Yanks, and a 28-year American win streak ended in 1985. No more sleepy exhibition – this was now the biggest, most exciting and most pulse-pounding event in golf.
Fast-forward to Medinah. Trailing 10-4, dispirited, outplayed, and staring at an American rout similar to those in earlier decades, the Euros, captained by Seve’s long-time playing partner, Jose Maria Olazabal, channeled the spirit of the departed Ballesteros, whose silhouette adorned both the shirts and the bags of the players all week.
Ian Poulter birdied the last five holes on Saturday to rescue a point, and another win from Luke Donald and Sergio Garcia over Tiger Woods and Steve Stricker made it 10-6, the same margin from which the Americans rallied 13 years earlier at Brookline.
And here was where the historical symmetry, the sense of fate and destiny, really kicked in. It was, after all, Olazabal who stood on that 17th green at The Country Club in 1999 and watched Justin Leonard sink that 45-foot putt to complete the U.S rally and trigger that premature celebration, players, wives and caddies storming the green before Olazabal had a chance to putt.
Three players on that European team at Brookline – Garcia, Paul Lawrie and Lee Westwood – all won in singles this time around. Rory McIlroy, nearly missing his tee time and getting a police escort to Medinah, went out and beat Keegan Bradley, who had won everything for two days and served as the home side’s emotional sparkplug.
It got more improbable. Justin Rose made three long putts, including a 45-footer on 17, to come back and stun Phil Mickelson. Garcia, down by one with two holes left, also rallied to win when Jim Furyk painfully missed short putts on each of the final two greens.
It all led to Kaymer’s six-footer. Naturally, it’s the guy thought to be Europe’s weak link. Of course it’s a German, trying to make a six-footer to clinch it, just like 1991 when Bernhard Langer suffered that agonizing miss on the final green of the final match at Kiawah Island to give the Cup back to the Americans.
Goodness gracious, who is writing this? Seve was. He had to be, somewhere in golf heaven.
The moment Kaymer’s putt dropped and the celebrations for Europe commenced, so did the second-guessing of U.S. captain Davis Love III.
Why did he sit the lethal (3-0) Mickelson-Bradley pair on Saturday afternoon? Why did he stick the struggling (0-3) Stricker at the back, where it would be pivotal if things turned bad? Why did he pick Furyk at all, given his late-round meltdowns at Olympic and Firestone?
It’s our way in sports, to discredit the team that blew the lead and discount the team that rallied. But one need not rip on the Americans too much, painful as this defeat was for the red, white and blue.
Instead, appreciate what Europe pulled off. It’s way more astonishing than Brookline, because this was the road team pulling off the comeback against a great American side that, for the most part, really played well.
Treasure this, also, as a moment that’s as good as sports can get. Here are two teams, full of professionals who make millions of dollars, with nothing at stake other than pride and bragging rights, giving it their all, breaking out in cheers and reduced to tears because winning the Ryder Cup meant everything to them.
It was a day, and an event, none of us who watched it will ever forget.