Ryder Cup 2012: Marvels and mysteries of the ‘Miracle at Medinah’
IT WILL go down as the ‘Medinah Miracle’. The day Europe, not for the first time in recent Ryder Cup contests, dug deep into the tank and found something special to sicken the Americans.
The 39th Ryder Cup was theirs for the taking with a four-point lead heading into the singles. The moment Brookline was brought up, however, you just knew the Europeans believed they had a glimmer of hope.
It was there, back in 1999, that America had pulled off the event’s greatest comeback. They came from 10-6 down to beat a team that, in fairness, was badly captained by Mark James. It finished 14½-13½ there, as it did at Medinah after Europe handed the home team a big fat dollop of their own medicine. How fitting that Jose Maria Olazabal, the man who saw people run on the green in Boston in his singles match in Boston, should be the European captain on this occasion.
I’ll be honest here. After the opening two days in Chicago, the Spaniard had baffled me. For starters, it seemed incredible that he left Ian Poulter, with his all his passion and energy for the Ryder Cup, out of his pairings as early as the second session. It was like a football manager taking his star striker off the pitch too early. Then there was his decision to include Lee Westwood in Saturday morning’s foursomes. The Englishman was clearly out of sorts and you don’t want to be tossed into playing the alternate shot format when that’s the case.
In truth, the 39th biennial bout looked to be slipping helplessly away from the Europeans. For a change, the key putts were being holed by the Americans. Time after time European efforts either hit the hole or shaved the edges. Led by Keegan Bradley and Phil Mickelson, in particular, the home team had built up a head of steam and, at one point on Saturday, they led 10-4.
The final hour’s play proved just as decisive as Europe winning the singles 8½-3½. In particular, Poulter finishing with five birdies – the burst earned him and Rory McIlroy victory over Jason Dufner and Zach Johnson – changed the tenor of the whole contest. Instead of feeling as flat as most of the terrain in this part of the country, the European team room was buzzing on Saturday. Olazabal told his players to believe they could still accomplish their mission and, boy, did they deliver.
The Americans talked a lot during the week about being a “team”. Even in defeat, Davis Love III, the home captain, said it had been “one of the most powerful” and also “classiest” American teams he’d been part of in his distinguished career. Yet, at their all-in-one press conference afterwards, there was little indication of much chemistry, certainly in comparison to their opponents when they sat in the same chairs a few minutes later.
True, one team had reason to be feeling much chirpier than the other. Yet it was hard not to come to the conclusion that there are cliques in the American camp. Tiger Woods and Steve Stricker, playing partners in three of the sessions, sat together at one end. Bubba Watson and Webb Simpson were goofing around like a couple of kids in the middle while Phil Mickelson looked as though he wanted to be as far away from Woods as possible.
In fairness to him, Love was a decent captain, albeit one who’ll be feeling sore for some time after seeing his team snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. It made for uncomfortable listening, however, to hear that he, in effect, had been dictated to by his players. For instance, it wasn’t the captain’s decision to leave Bradley and Mickleson out of the Saturday afternoon session. Mickelson effectively made that call, telling his captain that the pair had given their all in the opening three sessions and wouldn’t have anything left “emotionally or mentally” for the afternoon.
This is the Ryder Cup, for goodness sake. If a European captain had two players gelling as well as Bradley and Mickelson did, getting the crowd jacked up in the process, he’d surely be demanding that they played in every session. That might have been Love’s only mistake of the week and it proved costly.
You could say his course set-up backfired on him, too. But, in comparison to Oakland Hills in 2004, when the rough was thick and punishing, this was far more entertaining. Eagles and birdies generated roar after roar echoing through the giant trees on Medinah No 3.
The focus now turns to 2014 at Gleneagles, where the event will be held in Scotland for the first time since Muirfield in 1973. Europe will be bidding for an eighth win in the last ten matches. Most of the team at Medinah have every reason to feel confident they can be there for the ride again. In contrast, the Americans look as though they’ve got gaps to fill. Stricker, for instance, looks a spent force in this event. So, too, does Jim Furyk, whose miserable year was completed as he missed from five feet at the last to hand victory to Sergio Garcia. As for Woods, the Americans could be forgiven for thinking they’d have a better chance without him in the team.
In seven appearances, he’s been on the winning side just once. The Americans won without him – he was injured at the time – at Valhalla four years ago. Jinx springs instantly to mind. It’s certainly little wonder that, on more than one occasion, I overheard home fans saying they’d gladly swap Woods for Poulter when it comes to this event.
There’s no doubt Europe’s success since Sam Torrance famously holed his putt at The Belfry in 1985 and raised his arms skywards has been based on team spirit. It’s also taken individuals to generate that and Colin Montgomerie certainly played his part by relishing these contests. That mantle has now been taken over by Poulter, whose value to the European cause was summed up perfectly by team-mate Westwood. “We have actually revised the qualification for next time,” said Europe’s most experienced player at Medinah. “It’s nine spots, two picks and Poults. The Poults clause.”
It would be amiss to reflect on the events in Illinois without mentioning Seve Ballesteros. It was inevitable that Olazabal, in the Ryder Cup’s first staging following the death of his fellow Spaniard last year, used the memory of Ballesteros to inspire his players. Some people, including one or two Europeans, felt it had perhaps been overdone. The players, however, spoke about how they felt a positive force in the team room on Saturday night and that could only have been Seve willing them to turn things around in a contest that brought out the best – the worst, too, occasionally – in him.
Will Olazabal be at the helm again at Gleneagles? Probably not. For starters, how could he possibly top what happened on Sunday? Secondly, it seems as though, unlike the days when Tony Jacklin and Bernard Gallacher had multiple captaincies, it’s now a one-match gig.
If Europe had lost at Medinah – winning is massive in tournament terms and various other spin-offs for the European Tour – then a big gun might have been called for next time around. However, having served as vice captain to both Mongtomerie and Olazabal, as well as proving himself on his own two feet in the Seve Trophy, Paul McGinley looks to be the perfect man for the job.
It will take all of us a few days to catch our breath after witnessing that ‘Medinah Miracle’. The countdown, however, has already started in earnest for Scotland’s turn in the spotlight in two years’ time. Do yourself a favour by being there. Put simply, there is nothing that comes close in golf to the excitement of this sporting spectacle.
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