It was a Sunday of laughter and tears, of success and relief. It was an afternoon on the prairie when America’s golfers stood up to anxiety and knocked down the criticism.
It was the day the United States finally won the Ryder Cup.
“There was a lot of pressure on these guys the last two years,” said the U.S. captain, Davis Love III. “More and more pressure, more and more questions.”
Such as why had the Europeans won this international competition the previous three times, and eight of the last 10? Why had the U.S. choked away a considerable final-round lead four years ago at Chicago when Love also was captain?
Now there are no more questions. Now, with brash Patrick Reed — “I’m made for this kind of stuff,” he boasted — and persistent Phil Mickelson as the driving forces of the 12-man squad, America has beaten the Europeans, 17-11, at Hazeltine National Golf Club.
Now with Michael Jordan in attendance, as he is at virtually every Ryder Cup, and thousands of partisan spectators chanting “USA, USA,” the American players gleefully could spray champagne as they watched the Euros do at Gleneagles, Medinah and Celtic Manor, sites of the previous three defeats.
“I was apologizing in the back of 17 green in 2012,” said Love of the Cup when the U.S. — needing a minimum of 14 1/2 points for victory, as here — went in the third the and final day with a 10-6 lead, and collapsed.
This time after two days the margin was slightly less, 9 1/2 points to 6 1/2, but the result after Day 3 was far different — and far more satisfying.
“I’ve been part of 10 successful Presidents Cups and eight losing Ryder Cups,” said Mickelson, in his 11th and possibly last Ryder Cup (he’s 46), “and it’s easy to see what the difference is. When put in the right environment, the U.S. team brought out some of their most amazing golf. We’re bringing home the Ryder Cup.”
Mickelson, after criticizing the tactics of 2014 captain Tom Watson, pushed for changes. On NBC, Johnny Miller called Phil “the power behind the throne.”
Yet, with input from players regarding who was paired with whom, and with five assistant captains — including Bubba Watson, who broke into tears at the end, and Tiger Woods — the Mickelson concepts worked.
Certainly Mickelson’s putting touch worked. Going up against Sergio Garcia in what some contended was the best Ryder Cup match in memory, Phil birdied 10 holes, Garcia nine, and the two came out all square, a half-point each.
“It was probably a fitting result,” said Mickelson, “with a tie, even though I wanted to win. As long as we brought the Cup back to America, that’s all that really mattered.
Reed was in a figurative brawl with McIlroy, the Northern Irishman who is third in the world rankings and Saturday mocked the suddenly unruly and occasionally foul-mouthed fans. (The embarrassed PGA of America, which administers the Cup, posted warnings Sunday morning).
As the first match of the day, McIlroy-Reed would both give one side a point and a lift.
There were birdies by the bundle, fist-pumps by the score. McIlroy birdied the second. And the fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth. But he lost the fifth to an eagle two, and so the match was even. Reed was two up after 16 but only one up after 17. Then, when McIlroy birdied 18, Reed knocked in a birdie on top of him and leaped halfway to Minneapolis, 20 miles away.
“It’s just one of those things,” said the 26-year-old Reed. “Anytime I can wear red, white and blue, play for our country, and it happens to be match play, it all fits in. Anytime I can go one on one against somebody, it’s something I love to do. I did not want to let my team down.”
That was the start. The mathematical finish was when Ryan Moore, who only a few days ago was Love’s final captain’s pick, two-putted 18 for the par that would conclude a one-up win over Lee Westwood and provide the 15th point. America’s Ryder Cup pain had ceased.