Ryder Cup 2021: Europeans show dignity and class despite suffering record defeat
It’s normally the most cringeworthy press conference in golf, but not on this occasion.
Yes, there was disappointment and rightly so, but, to their eternal credit, the European players handled defeat in the 43rd Ryder Cup probably better than any team in that unwanted position in the past in the biennial bout.
Acceptance of being trounced 19-9 by a better team was wholly expressed while hands were held up by those who had under-performed at Whistling Straits.
There was even laughter at times - who knows what Tommy Fleetwood got up to in the team room but it certainly tickled his team-mates - and it really was a fantastic show of unity.
“The team did everything asked of them,” insisted captain Padraig Harrington, sitting in the middle of his players. “They worked great together, they worked hard together, there was great team spirit.
“Everybody tried 100 percent. We were just beat by a better team this week, a very strong US team that seemed to play right up to their ability. Had a bit of momentum, holed a few putts, had the crowd behind them. Just a lot of things really tough to overcome.”
At times over the three days, Harrington looked as though he’d aged 10 years from the start of the week as a tide of red swept over the leaderboards time and time again.
It was nice to see him smiling again, though, as he faced up to the fact his captaincy had, unfortunately for him, coincided with the US being represented by a dream team on this occasion.
“Yeah, they obviously got it right this week, a very strong team, but, you know, I'm happy for Steve Stricker,” said the Irishman of his opposite number, with Stricker’s success having come in his home state of Wisconsin. “You know, he's one of the good guys in golf. If you're going to get beat by a captain, that's a good captain for sure.
“He obviously got his plan right. Whatever their prep was, they did a good job, and they came out and started well and kept the momentum going. It was just a tough one to overcome. I believe that we did our job, and it just wasn't our week.”
This might well have been a final playing appearance in the event for English duo Lee Westwood and Ian Poulter. If so, it was a sore way to sign off as the Europeans suffered the heaviest defeat on record.
“How much it hurts and how much you despise it and how much you can't wait for it to come around in two years' time and win it back,” replied Westwood to being asked what he would take from the experience.
“I've only lost one other one, and it's dismal,” added Poulter. “We've got a great team this week, and we were outplayed. Every session was difficult. They did their job, and this one's going to hurt for a bit.
“But, you know what, it's things like this that make you stronger going forward. It means a lot in Europe to represent Europe in the Ryder Cup, and that's why it hurts and that's why you see all the emotion that you see.”
Harrington was involved as a player when Europe won 18.5-9.5 at Oakland Hills in 2004 before repeating that scoreline two years later at The K Club in Ireland. He enjoyed being on the “right side of it” on those occasions, but also took this disappointment on the chin.
“That's the way it goes,” he said. ”Everybody here gave 100 percent, and pulled together, everybody worked together this week. Nobody didn't give their heart and soul to this team.
“We don't owe anybody anything in that sense. They all tried. They all put it in. There will be more Ryder Cups ahead and most of them have the best part of their career ahead of them.
“Look, there are young guys in this team that will be the heart of the team going forward. Jon Rahm, clearly; Viktor [Hovland], these are young guys that will be there for a long time. But there's a good heart to the team.
“Everybody keeps going on about the experienced guys, but there is a really solid heart on this team of players who are still coming into their peak of their careers.
“Yes, it didn't go right this week, but that happens in sport. Just remember, you know, if you want to have these glorious moments, you've got to put your head out there, and sometimes it doesn't go right.
“You get your head knocked off. That's just the reality of sport. If you put yourself out there, you'll have some miserable days, but also you'll have those thrilling days when you win.”
Having been one of those to be disappointed about how he played on the first two days before leading by example in a forlorn chase in the singles, Rory McIlroy will be determined to be firing on all cylinders in the next edition in Italy in two years’ time.
He was being honest, though, when he talked about the new wave of top young Americans having a different attitude about the Ryder Cup than some of their predecessors on this stage.
“There's phenomenal talent on that team. A lot of young guys, and I think the most important thing for the US team is that a lot of young guys that are great players have bought into the Ryder Cup. I think that was probably missing in previous generations,” said McIlroy.
“But guys like Justin Thomas, Jordan Spieth, the sort of heartbeat of that US team, they really bought into the team aspect of Ryder Cups, Presidents Cups. They are going to be formidable opposition from now until I'm probably not playing Ryder Cups, whenever that is, in hopefully 20 years' time.”
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