Amidst a tumult and shouting that would have impressed even the great Grantland Rice himself, the United States defeated Europe 17-11, winning their first Ryder Cup since 2008. Patrick Reed preened like an NFL linebacker, Phil Mickelson made putts from Duluth, St. Cloud, and Monkato, and Ryan Moore - the last man to make the team - sank the Ryder Cup clinching putt in front of 55,000 full-throated, adoring fans.
The sound was like being in the middle of an airport tarmac with jet engines taking off all around you.
Was it the greatest Ryder Cup ever? Probably not, but there were historic moments that will forever be a part of the event’s time capsule. We finally got a heavyweight prize fight for the ages in singles, a mano-a-mano, pistols-at-dawn shootout that may go down as the most electric singles match of the modern era. We also watched Phil Mickelson’s finest hour in the Ryder Cup. He talked the talk, and then he walked the walk, shouldering responsibility for the team’s success off the course, then delivering time and time and again in the clutch inside the ropes. And it was redemption for captain Davis Love, the memory of victory cruelly dashed from his lips in 2012 forever erased.
Best of all for American fans, the USA has great hopes for the future in the event: an organizational footprint in place on the planning side and a core of talented, eager young guns ready to win.
STRIKE UP THE BAND
Say what you want about Patrick Reed’s checkered past. He may be unsportsmanlike. (Real golfers don’t wag their fingers at their opponents.) He may be narcissistic. (He wants to play the best player on the other side every time out.) And he may be completely unlovable as a person. (His college teammates used to walk up to his singles opponent and say things like, “We want to win, but we hope you kick the s%#* out of Patrick Reed.”) But he was THE STUD of this Ryder Cup - all caps, the definitive article. Reed went 3-1-1 and won his second consecutive singles match, this time against four-time major champion, new FedEx Cup champion and Team Europe Superman Rory McIlroy, a victory for Reed that featured one of the most epic stretches of scintillating golf this august tournament has ever seen.
It was Shakespearean-in-magnitude drama. We so rarely get the biggest names due to the random nature of Sunday singles pairings, but this time, somehow, we knew this was going to happen.
Reed had been a volcano of energy over the first two days. He was the catalyst, the battery that powered the engine, the vanguard carrying the Stars and Stripes into battle, igniting the crowd at every turn, lathering them up like a rock star, all the while getting under his opponents’ skin with his escapades, each one better than the last. He played three matches against the pairing of Justin Rose and Henrik Stenson, the Olympic gold medalist and the reigning Open champion and took two of them.
You knew Reed was going to go off first for the U.S. So Rory McIlroy asked to go off first for Europe. You have to love that attitude by both of them. They want the ball in the clutch. How very Larry Bird of them…
Rory was sick of our s%#*. It was bad enough that people were cheering the Europeans bad shots, but fan behavior had devolved to personal affronts and verbal epithets. Rooting for your country is one thing; telling an opposing golfer to “Suck a d#&” is completely out of bounds, and if you don’t realize that, you need to go back to the couch and open another can of Pringles while watching “The Walking Dead.”
“It crossed the line a little,” he said politely. He admitted that partisanship is fine, even understandable. But between the fans being engaged, his team trailing 9-1/2 to 6-1/2, and Reed wanting to lead the team into the singles for what could have been an early knockout blow, McIlroy stepped up, and we got the blockbuster we wanted.
Godzilla vs. Mothra was never so much fun.
And that’s what it was like – two giant monsters laying waste to a helpless Hazeltine. Rory roared like Godziilla after making a putt on seven, but Patrick rolled in a bomb right on top of hm and took a bow, the same celebration McIlroy performed when he closed out the Friday fourballs session with an eagle on 16. It was a scene they repeated on Nos. 6 and 8. In a stretch of four holes, 5-8, they played a combined 9 under par. It was only when Reed rolled in a birdie putt on 18 that he could finally shake free of McIlroy.
“It's just kind of one of those things, any time I can wear the red, white and blue, play for our country, and it happens to be match play, it kind of all just fits in. Any time I feel like I can go one-on-one against somebody, it's something I love to do,” Reed explained afterwards. “I did not want to let my team down by all of a sudden having a blue score up off the first match. I wanted to at least keep it halved or win the point so they could see red, try to build some momentum.”
Reed’s been doing this since college. As a freshman he knocked veteran upperclassmen out of his team’s lineup. At Augusta State, he won critical match after critical match, helping the team to back-to-back NCAA championships. And he was a lone bright spot for the Americans in 2014, infamously shushing the fans while amassing a winning record.
His success depends on self-assurance, and it’s only natural that with 55,000 cheering him on, he feels at home. This is his environment, and with the Ryder Cup on the line, some pundits who lament that “I want us to win, but I hope he gets beat 9 and 8,” are having to eat crow today…as Patrick’s detractors have had to for a long time. You can bet, come 2018, Reed will have a huge target on his back, and the fans will come ready to hate him.
Bad news for them…that’s right where he wants them.
But you can’t win a Ryder Cup with one player, and where Reed was the beating heart of the team, Phil Mickelson was the soul. All the scrutiny of his terrible record in the Ryder Cup (especially recently), all mocking of the Task Force as being a bureaucratic boondoggle, and all the whoop and crash of the media build up: Phil erased it all with his most inspiring Ryder Cup performance ever. This Ryder Cup was as much a referendum on Mickelson’s potential future captaincy as it was a chance for the USA to stop Europe’s three Cup winning streak.
It was vintage Mickelson. Phil the Thrill showed up all weekend, going 2-1-1, mesmerizing the fans with sublime golf, especially in the clutch. First, in the Friday foursomes, he and Rickie Fowler flipped their match against Rory McIlroy and Andy Sullivan, turning a late deficit into a win. That triggered the first session avalanche where the U.S. opened up a 4-0 lead.
Then he and Matt Kuchar, with whom he’d never played with before in 11 Ryder Cups, cruised to a 2-and-1 victory in a Saturday fourball match against Sergio Garcia and Martin Kaymer.
But Phil saved the best for last, a sizzling 63 on Sunday to halve his match with Sergio Garcia in what some are calling an even better battle than Reed-McIlroy. Phil carded 10 birdies, Garcia nine, and they each won five holes with neither player enjoying anything more than a 1-up advantage all day. It was two Hall of Famers putting on a performance that will resonate throughout the history of the Ryder Cup.
“We played some good golf,” he deadpanned afterwards, soaked in victory champagne. “I know that I birdied five of the last seven and he birdied the last four, and it was probably a fitting result with a tie, even though I wanted the win. As long as we won the Cup and brought this Cup back to America, that's all that really mattered. But the match itself was really good.”
Who says ties are boring?
As it always is in team golf, you won’t play great all weekend…you just have to play great in the clutch. In the white-hot crucible that he created for himself two years ago with his criticism of the way America approached the Ryder Cup, that’s exactly what Phil did. He talked the talk, then he walked the walk. He put a plan in place with Davis Love and they brought the Ryder Cup back after eight long years.
LOVE FOR DAVIS
Finally, there was redemption for Love, a cruel, hard-luck loser in 2012 but now vindicated. At that joyous moment when the champagne-soaked American team mugged for the cameras with the 17-inch-tall golden trophy, that’s when Captain Davis Love finally broke down and laughed with heart’s ease.
“I'm just so proud of these guys. They had a lot of pressure on them for the last two years. And every time we picked a guy, there was more and more pressure on the team and more and more questions, and I'm just proud the way every one of them played,” he gushed. “It was a great team effort. I've never seen a team come together like a family like this.”
Indeed it was. Everyone on the team scored at least one point; everyone on the team won at least one match. But let’s be clear: This Ryder Cup was won the night before, during the Saturday afternoon fourball sessions.
Team USA’s 4-0 lead had been all but erased. Fowler and Mickelson had just been rolled 4 and 2 by McIlroy and European prize rookie Thomas Pieters of Belgium, while Spieth and Reed had just flushed a 3-up lead to lose a half-point to a resurgent Garcia and Cabrera-Bello.
“We were panicking. We almost ran out of time getting the picks in,” Love admitted.
It was Tiger Woods who championed sending out Spieth and Reed again, even though they had just endured what some thought was a demoralizing collapse.
“Tiger said, ‘Please don’t take out my guys,’” Love confided. He listened, giving credence to the ideas of the Task Force’s goal of giving players more input. He also made sure to play Ryan Moore and J.B. Holmes again, assuring that the entire team had seen at least two matches before Sunday singles. He also played Mickelson again in the afternoon. Two years removed from Tom Watson’s decision to sit Phil all day Saturday, here was Phil front and center for a critical session.
The U.S. won that session 3-1, giving them a solid 9-1/2 to 6-1/2 cushion heading to Sunday. The critical point came from Moore and Holmes...or should I say from Lee Westwood, who missed three putts of less than three feet, all critical to the final score. If Westy made any one of those, he would have secured a half-point, and if he made any two, he would have taken a full point.
Still, the deeper U.S. team won the singles 7-1/2 to 4-1/2 and fnally washed way eight years of futility. The teams now turn towards France and Le Golf Club National in Paris for 2018. Until then, the Ryder Cup will slip back into the mists of history, the Greatest Show on Grass to materialize once again like a reverie two years form now, leaving up with just one burning question for the next two years:
Why can’t we have a team event like this every year?
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