The European Ryder Cup team beat the American team 14.5 to 13.5 on Sunday. Since the Europeans won the Cup in 2010, they only had to score 14 points to retain it, and the US had to score 14.5 to take it from them.
The casual fan or observer would think it was a close match; the Americans played valiantly but were eventually outgunned by a European side that has now won five of the last six Ryder Cups.
But the actual fan of golf, or the event, would know that the US team had a 10-6 point lead going into Sunday. The largest deficit to come back from was a four-point comeback by the US in 1999 at Brookline, Massachusetts. The lead on Sunday was huge, and an American victory was an afterthought.
But no one told the Europeans that our victory was assured.
With the US apparently assuming victory, the Europeans mounted an epic comeback, even on a bigger scale than America’s comeback at Brookline in 1999 because this was an “away match.”
When the US team was separated into pairs, some of the players pairing up with good friends, the players were in total sync with each other. When the players were all alone, the true test of golf, team USA folded under the pressure. The American golfers did not seem to be mentally prepared for the pressure of Sunday at the Ryder Cup. And the Europeans came prepared.
Down 10-5 on Saturday with one match remaining, the Europeans looked dejected and out of sorts, being overwhelmed by the long driving and solid putting of the Americans. This was only until, soon to be Sir, Ian Poulter birdied five straight holes to put the Europeans within striking distance and energized the entire team going into Sunday. Poulter also won the final two holes on Sunday to win his singles match against Webb Simpson.
When asked about Sunday’s round, Poulter said, “Buckle up, it’s gonna be a hell of a ride.”
And he was right.
The Europeans won the first five matches on Sunday, turning what seemed to be a coronation day for the US into an 11-10 deficit that instantly struck panic into the rest of the American team. Six of the 12 matches were decided on the 18th hole on Sunday. The Americans only won one match.
The big name players for America simply failed to make the putts that they were breezing through on Friday and Saturday.
Obvious questioning of US team captain Davis Love III’s selections are in order, but the problem with that is all the players he picked are the players anyone else would have picked. Davis Love III picked the best group of American players, on paper. And they played lights out for the first two rounds.
It would be easy for anyone to criticize Captain Love on his picks or his decisions on when players would play or rest, but regardless of the result, the team he put out there on Friday, Saturday and Sunday were the best group of players that the US has to offer.
Sure, he could have picked Bo Van Pelt, Nick Watney, Rickie Fowler, even Hunter Mahan, but he didn’t, and the players on the 2012 USA Ryder Cup team simply could not keep up with the surge of the Europeans.
"The plan worked the first two days," Love III said after Sunday’s round. "It just didn't work today."
Tiger Woods and Steve Stricker have to be viewed as Ryder Cup failures at 0-0-4 for this tournament. Both had potential match-squaring putts throughout the tournament on 18—Tiger on Friday, Stricker on Saturday—and they both missed. Jim Furyk bogeyed 17 and 18 on Sunday to lose his match to Sergio Garcia and complete a year of regrets.
Brandt Snedeker just last week won the Tour Championship, the Fedex Cup and a cool $11.5 million; to say that he was emotionally and mentally drained would be an understatement since he played poorly all weekend.
But blaming the Americans for the loss would be unfair to the incredible play from the European team.
Justin Rose was clutch on Sunday. Rory McIlroy, Luke Donald, Sergio Garcia and others were steady and unyielding in the pressure of the situation, with easily 80 percent of the loudest crowd in golf rooting against them.
Ian Poulter won the Europeans the tournament, not literally since Martin Kaymer actually putted the winning putt, but mentally and emotionally, Poulter was more influential to the team’s result than any other player or captain.
Poulter, 36, is 12-0-3 in the Ryder Cup overall, arguably making him the greatest Ryder Cup player of his generation. The Englishman, usually known for his perfectly coiffed hair and outrageously flamboyant clothes, became the leader for the European comeback.
Only making the team on a special Captain’s pick, Poulter earned the spot, outplaying many of the players who actually qualified for the event. He has not won any major championships but he has three Ryder Cups and that seems to be just fine with him.
“These may be my majors and that’s fine. I have more pride and passion in winning the Ryder Cup than winning a major. I’d love to win one, don’t get me wrong. But if I don’t win another golf tournament, Sunday is going down as the highlight of my career,” Poulter said after Sunday’s win.
The Europeans believed. Their captain Jose Maria Olazabal believed. And the spirit of the late, great former Ryder Cup champion and European team favorite Seve Ballesteros was felt by the whole team. The love and admiration went as far as someone paying a skywriter to spell out “Do It For Seve” in the air above Medinah.
“On Sunday, we’re wearing blue and white for Seve, we got Seve on the bag and we have his right-hand man [Olazabal] as captain,” Poulter said Saturday night.
This entire tournament seemed to be dedicated to Seve, and to compare Poulter to Seve is not an unfair assessment. Poulter refused to let his team down.
Regardless of the result, the event took over the weekend, became a must-see event and garnered the highest television ratings that the event has had since the ’99 Brookline comeback.
Americans care more about events like these when we lose, especially on home soil, which makes the 2014 tournament in Gleneagles, Scotland that much more anticipated. The teams will be stacked again, the matches will be a tossup and the crowds will be noisy, only with more flags because it’s Europe.
The only certainty in golf’s most competitive event is a guarantee of excellent playing, a strong sense of national or continental pride and Ian Poulter; whether he’s in the top 10 in the world or the top 250, he needs to be there and will make a great Ryder Cup captain when his time comes.