Meltdown, or miracle?

Ryder Cup provided awesome sports theater

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.

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