Watching this year’s Ryder Cup through the fog of too little sleep and the sputtering pace brought on by epic rain made for quite an experience. When it was all said and done, and I’d caught my breath from a dazzling final day of singles matches, I realized there was plenty to take away.
From the telling difference between the captains, to the way certain players stepped to the forefront on the biggest stage and in the most crucial situations, we can draw conclusions that will last far longer than Europe’s champagne hangover.
McDowell is Great
When the singles pairings came out, the first thing I said was “The Americans better not have it all riding on the final match.” You can watch golfers fold under pressure and then you can see them thrive. And during the final round of the U.S. Open, Graeme McDowell not only hung on for dear life, he brought his game to a whole new level.
If there was any thought his major title was a fluke, all you needed to do was watch him throughout Monday’s match against Hunter Mahan. It’s like McDowell fed off the heat, the fans, the moment. More impressively, he didn’t succeed by shutting it all out, he welcomed it, played off the crowd and in the end didn’t just hang on. When Mahan cut the lead to 1-up with three to play, McDowell came to the toughest hole on the course and drained as clutch a long birdie putt as you’ll ever see. There was plenty of talk about Mahan’s flubbed chip on 17 but that was window dressing. McDowell locked up the Ryder Cup for Europe with that sensational 16th.
Captain’s Job is More than Winning
Call the Ryder Cup what you will, but at its core, it’s an exhibition. So when the captains are selected, they need to take on a larger role than the stoic, bland personality that Corey Pavin displayed all week. The captain needs to be a lightning rod, needs to stir up his team (and maybe his opponents), and certainly should make headlines for something other than being Sominex. One popular golf writer called Pavin “Borey” all week, and Pavin went out of his way to be bland.
For the first time, across America, golf fans were wishing we could claim Monty as one of our own. The guy was passionate, he stirred it up, and he wasn’t an all around fuddy-duddy.
Pavin’s problems with the wardrobe was overblown but it sort of illustrated his deficiency as a captain. He wanted to run the team like a relic from the past. By banning his players from using Twitter during the week not only showed he was treating them like children, he was robbing the fans of one of the greatest innovations for building a connection to their favorite players. If anything, there should have been an edict requiring Twitter, not banning it.
Pavin didn’t get that the captaincy is not just about winning. It’s about putting on a show, engaging the golf community and getting you players in a position to win. He failed on all counts.
Middle of the Night to Beat Football
The minute the football season begins, some air goes out of the golf season. The Ryder Cup solved this by accident, wrapping up each day’s play as TVs started clicking over to gridiron action.
I’m a sucker for events played at crazy hours. Whether it’s the World Cup in Korea at 4am, a college football game in Hawaii with an 11:59pm kickoff, or British Open coverage starting just an hour or two after last call.
Playing this Ryder Cup in the middle of the night adds excitement, makes it that much more special. My wife thought I was off my rocker spending the weekend sleeping in short spurts.
Americans Really Care
I’m not ready to say the U.S. team compares to the Europeans when it comes to passion for the Ryder Cup, but the gap’s far smaller than I had previously believed. It’s only natural that you’d see more camaraderie in Europe. Those guys share a feeling that they play on a second-tier tour, they can easily psyche themselves up through an “us vs. them” mentality.
But the more you listen, not only to the guys who made the team but those back home watching on TV like the rest of us, and it’s obvious that the Ryder Cup is a point of pride among the U.S. players. You’d never see Tiger Woods breaking down on the dais the way Hunter Mahan did. But I’m not going to indict all of American golf because Tiger couldn’t care whether his teammates sweep or get swept. For too long we’ve let Woods set the tone and his aloof behavior can be taken for indifference. I’ll focus on Mahan who couldn’t spit out the words after suffering the clinching defeat.
Emotion is One Thing, but Putting is the Key
So much time is spent during Ryder Cup week talking about momentum, emotion, and more momentum. Seve was the original swagger master, passing it to Sergio. This year’s got its dose of energy from Poulter and Edoardo Molinari.
But nothing swung this Ryder Cup like the crucial putts, both made and missed. The Americans couldn’t find the pace during that awful day of team matches. Dustin Johnson looked like he couldn’t comprehend the idea of rolling a ball into a hole. Then when the singles charge was just about to get off to a red-hot start, Cink gagged on a short one and in the process of getting the Heimlich, coughed up half a point.
On the flip side, the biggest putt of the week came off the flat stick of Graeme McDowell, on the 16th hole, when his lead had just been cut to one and just after Fowler’s miracle halve meant McDowell needed to win outright to capture the Cup. He had the composure and the guts to drain a putt we’ll never forget.