Imagine that you made a decision on late Saturday evening or early Sunday morning to bypass the final day of the Ryder Cup in favour of some generally accepted alternative – a family trip to a vintage bookstore or the Kangaroo Farm, an early fall BBQ with close friends or 18 holes of personal growth and frustration… Yeah, just imagine if you did that. Well, to loosely paraphrase the immortal Mother Teresa; “You sir/madam are a very well adjusted idiot.” It might have been Gandhi, might have been Alex Trebek…whoever. Bottom line – ’99 at Brookline taught you nothing about the joy, the heartbreak, the elation, the brutality of the cauldron of must-never-miss TV that is the Ryder Cup and while you can almost be forgiven for assuming that a 10-6 overnight home field US advantage was virtually insurmountable, I feel it my duty to remind you of a small poetic ditty on the dangers of assumption.
It has often been stated that history is written by the victors for the vanquished seldom see any need to put pen to paper and ramble on eloquently about the decisions which led to their demise. Such will be the case with the Meltdown at Medinah. When the dust from this defeat settles, US Captain Davis Love III will be subjected to voice-over work for Golf Channel’s “10 Greatest Collapses”, while Jose Maria Olazabel’s decisions, no less controversial, will be viewed through the kaleidoscope of post-victory celebration…brought to you, of course, by Heineken.
What will be forgotten about the Debacle at Deep-Dish (I’ll be here all week, try the veal…) is that DL3 finally did for the US Team, what no Captain had done before him in recent memory – he united them. Long criticized for their aloofness and failure to gel as a unit, this US Team showed a new resolve and kindred spirit which translated into domination of the 4some and 4ball portions of the first 2 days. While the Captain’s Picks of Furyk, Stricker, Snedeker and Dustin Johnson will be analyzed ad-nausea until Gleneagles in 2 years, it is important to note that while they didn’t produce the points of their counterparts Poulter and Colsaerts, they played an important role in balancing the fiery character and bravado of Bubba Watson, Keegan Bradley and Webb Simpson. Had DL3 chosen Hunter Mahan and Rickie Fowler over Furyk and Stricker as many had suggested, the Youth Movement would have had only Tiger and Phil to look to at crunch time and it is a role that only one of the two has relished in the past.
Friday at a Ryder Cup is generally considered a “feeling out day” – fire up the crowds, find pairings that work and ones that don’t and let everyone soak up the atmosphere and get their feet wet. While Olazabel shuffled his experienced pairings looking for inspiration and someone to carry the corpse of Lee Westwood, DL3’s combinations looked well thought out if not a tad pre-determined. Cash- game specialists Mickelson and Bradley and Team What Would Jesus Do Watson and Simpson went on birdie barrages which stoked the fire of the Chicago crowds and almost caused Jason Dufner to awaken from his trance. Surprisingly silent and 0-2 was the played-out pairing of Stricker and He Who Once Was Eldrick who somehow lost to Lee Westwood and Nicolas “Weekend at Bernie’s” Colsaerts’ 8 birdies and an eagle. Day 1 ends with the US leading 5-3.
Saturday is adjustment day. While DL3 continued to interview confidently on the merits of ping pong as a team bonding exercise, one of the numerous Assistant Captains appears to have mentioned that the Tiger/Stricker mojo for Alternate Shot has gone the way of Facebook stock and the pair are given the morning off to spectate. The attending crowd gasps but feels safer… When the US takes the session 3-1 to expand their lead to 8-4, Love’s genius is assured, thanks for playing, we can all go home now.
Unless… you decide to sit the 3-0 team of Mickelson and Bradley in the afternoon – coming off a 7 and 6 trouncing of Luke Donald and the ghost of Lee Westwood. It was a pre-determined decision and one that could haunt DL3 for the remainder of his career. In an event as emotionally charged as the Ryder Cup, it is best to throw statistics deep into Lake Michigan and while the numbers show that players who tee it up 5 times tend to struggle in the singles portion, these numbers are highly Euro-skewed. Still, it took a 5 straight birdie finish by Europe’s emotional catalyst Ian “Crazy Eyes” Poulter just to get Europe in the clubhouse down only 10-6 on Saturday evening.
While Johnny Miller and Colin Montgomerie were engaging in a late evening on-set ‘homerism’ cage match of mythical Euro-bash proportions, Olazabel was reaching deep into his bag of I-wanna-be-like Ben Crenshaw and invoking the spirit of Seve in the Continental Team room with visions of Brookline dancing in his head. Even the on-site hot dog vendors knew Europe was going to front-load the Singles Matches in an attempt to peg back the deficit early on. Donald, Poulter, McIlroy, Rose and the US responded with Watson, Simpson, Bradley and Mickelson. When the World #1 almost missed his tee-time and had to be police escorted to the course, one got the sense that even the blue-on-blue of Seve’s Sunday Best was not going to be enough to retain Samuel Ryder’s little gold jug.
And then something happened… A team replete with Best Players to Never Win Majors began to thrive on Golf’s Greatest Stage. Donald quickly silenced Bubba’s raucous crowd, McIlroy channeled Allen Iverson’s complete disdain for practice, Poulter went serial killer again and Rose made 3 putts on 16, 17 and 18 that had Phil the Thrill wishing he’d been born in Stockholm. When Paul Lawrie dispatched Tour Champion Brandt Snedeker 5 and 3 and Europe held an 11-10 lead, one could physically feel the air being sucked out of the windy city through the TV. The Medinah faithful were witnessing a karmic evening out of lip-outs and drops and in an ironic twist of the fates, it was missed putts by Furyk and Stricker which would leave Tiger’s Match, the anchor leg, poignantly irrelevant.
In a moment of strange retribution, the clinching putt fell to former World #1 and PGA Champion Martin Kaymer of Germany, who has spent much of the week watching Langer’s crucial miss in ’91 at Kiawah, courtesy of The War by the Shore documentary, and being dismissed as a ‘has-been’ or ‘never-was’. When the putt dropped so did the stoic German façade and then the cameras slyly caught captain Olazabel peering Heavenwards in a slightly tearful salute to his friend and mentor… Seve, for his part, most likely took a sip of Tempranillo, said, “I believed too” and with a little extra bounce in his step went back to teaching God how to hit 3-Irons out of greenside bunkers just for fun.
Isaac Asimov once penned that; “In life, unlike chess, the game continues after checkmate”. It is a reflection that golfers who have competed at any level understand to be a sanity maintenance mantra… Until next time Kelowna…