Darren Clarke became the first European captain since Nick Faldo in 2008 to taste defeat in the Ryder Cup as the visitors lost the event’s 41st staging 17-11 at the end of a thrilling three-day encounter in Minnesota.
For a brief spell early on in the singles, there was “Hope at Hazeltine” as the Europeans, trailing by three points overnight, attempted to pull off a last-day fightback similar to the “Miracle at Medinah” four years ago.
However, led by Patrick Reed as he capped an inspirational display by beating Rory McIlroy in a top match that was sensational over the front nine before fizzling out a bit, the Americans comfortably got over the line.
It was their first victory in four matches and vindicated the measures put in place by a “task force” that had been set up in the wake of a five-point defeat at Gleneagles two years earlier, when Phil Mickelson publicly criticised the captain, Tom Watson.
That led to Davis Love III, the losing captain in Chicago in 2012, being reappointed and, although there must have been a spell when he’d have been worried that history might repeat itself on the final day, he became the first man to lead Team USA to victory in the transatlantic tussle since Paul Azinger, who came out on top against Faldo at Valhalla.
Reed, who tasted defeat on his debut in Scotland in 2014, made an eagle and five birdies to beat McIlroy and take his haul to three-and-a-half points from five. “To come out and play as well as we did, especially on that front nine, was definitely something fun to be part of and I’m pretty sure fun to watch,” he said.
Before play had started, fans had been warned that a “zero tolerance” policy was in force following McIlroy in particular being the target of vile abuse on Saturday. While disappointed that the odd individual had crossed the line, Reed said he’d been inspired by playing in the event for the first time on US soil.
“It was having these crowds cheering our names and picking you up after a bad shot,” he said when asked what had provided his energy for the event.
McIlroy admitted that he’d perhaps ultimately paid the price for the energy he’d put into trying to silence the home fans by giving Clarke the flying start his team needed.
“I wanted to try and temper what he was doing,” said McIlroy. “He’s played great all week and we played a great front nine, but I couldn’t really keep the pace up for the rest of the round.
“Fair play to Patrick. He was awesome all day and deserved the win. Overall this week, obviously the United States deserves the victory so congratulations to them.”
During their match, McIlroy and Reed reacted to holed putts with boisterous celebrations, notably after McIlroy had holed a monster for a 2 at the short eighth then Reed followed him in from around 20 feet.
They may have been desperate to win that first point for their respective teams, but at the back of that green they showed the sportsmanship that is so important to both sides in this event.
“It was definitely friendly,” insisted McIlroy. “It’s nothing personal out there. It’s just a matter of trying to get one up on each other.
“I was doing my best the first few holes, but I just ran out of steam at the end.”
Clarke held his hand up after a defeat that followed his side losing the opening foursomes on Friday 4-0 then handing the momentum back to the Americans after getting back to within a point at lunchtime on Saturday.
“At the end of the day, the American guys played better than we did,” said the former Open champion. “They holed the putts when they had, and we lipped out. But that’s happened the other way around for quite some time.
“The guys gave it all. They tried as hard as they could. You can’t ask for anything more as a captain. We’re obviously bitterly disappointed, but credit to Davis and his team for their performance.”
Having seen his side lose four years earlier due to Europe equalling the biggest last-day fightback in the event, it was difficult not to feel pleased for Love on this occasion as he joined Ben Crenshaw and Azinger as the only winning Team USA captains since 1999.
“I’m just proud of these guys as there has been a lot of pressure on everyone for the last two years,” he said. “I’ve never seen a team come together like a family like this before. There was some unbelievable golf played and they hung in all week.”
No-one had invested more in this Team USA effort than Mickelson and the 2013 Open champion admitted he’d taken huge pleasure from laying the foundations for a victory that clearly meant so much for him and his team-mates.
“I have been a part of ten successful Presidents Cups, and eight losing Ryder Cups, and it’s very easy to see what the difference is,” said Mickelson. “These guys are some incredibly talented players and when put in the right environment, the US team brought out some of their most amazing golf. We’re bringing home the Ryder Cup because of it.
“I’m so proud to be part of the team, I’m so proud to know these guys, to experience this together, to share these emotions, to celebrate tonight. And I’ve known that these guys have had this level of performance in them for sometime.”