The Ryder Cup does strange things to all of us. It makes people who love golf behave in a manner they would consider unseemly for the intervening two years. It makes people who otherwise feel nothing for the sport willingly give in to a beautiful three-day fling.
It makes good players great, except when it is making great players average. It does all this not just through the prize at stake, or the history, or even the format, which in an era of desperate marketing punts and half-baked pseudo-competitions is the greatest gift a struggling sport could ever own.
It does it through emotion, in a world of deep-cast statistical analysis and cold science, in a sport which is meant to be about staying detached from anything but the process and the proficiency.
Jim Furyk’s American team had 31 majors between them to Europe’s eight. It contained 11 of the top 20 players in the world rankings, Thomas Bjorn’s Europe only six.
And yet the US were thrashed, put to the sword in such fashion that after winning the first three of Friday morning’s fourballs, they lost eight matches in a row, heading home with their third-biggest defeat in history despite arriving with a team as good, by most estimations, as any they have ever sent overseas.
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It was not a rogue result. In only two of the past eight Ryder Cups has the team with the greater number of major winners emerged victorious. Fourteen years ago, when Europe inflicted on Hal Sutton’s team at Oakland Hills the biggest American defeat in the event’s history, the visiting team contained only one player from the world’s top 10.
Half the European team here at Le Golf National were outside the world’s top 20. Five of them were in their first ever Ryder Cup. And yet every single player won at least a point.
Something happens to European players in the Ryder Cup that appears to sweep up far fewer of their opponents.
You could see it across the rolling hills and greens of the course all week: a transformation in mood, a stirring of the spirit, a corresponding surge in form.
It feeds into the galleries and it comes back amplified like some beautiful collective madness: logic doesn’t matter round here, reputations are for somewhere else.
Europe’s four wildcards won 9½ points between them. The United States’ – who included Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson – won two.
Woods and Mickelson are about to stage a two-man Vegas shootout that will make them many millions of dollars. It is the antithesis of the Ryder Cup, an event that needs no hype but sucks it in anyway, a week where nothing has to be forced because it lies there latent, ready to emerge without being pushed or concocted.
Neither of that storied US pair – 19 major championships between them, 20 Ryder Cup appearances – could win a match in France. Dustin Johnson, world number one, lost three of his four contests.
And yet everywhere unheralded or struggling Europeans were metamorphosing into one-week world beaters.
Thorbjorn Olesen, thumping the previously indomitable Jordan Spieth 54 in Sunday’s singles; Henrik Stenson, in a winless year beset by injury, taking two foursomes points and then his singles against Bubba Watson having trailed early on.
Sergio Garcia, with three points from four matches, rediscovering his touch in a season that had been defined by missed cuts and faded glories; Paul Casey, a decade on from his last Ryder Cup appearance, halving his singles match with Brooks Koepka, who has won three majors in the past 18 months.
All of it driven by emotion, none of it better exemplified than by Ian Poulter. His postman moniker isn’t quite accurate; he doesn’t always deliver. He lost as many matches as he won at Le Golf National.
But even in defeat he is a tornado picking up his team and carrying them with him, a force of nature who emerges every autumn in two to wreak havoc among the carefully laid plans of bemused Americans.
So used are we to the chest-thumping and the roaring exhortations that you could consider them cliche, except there is little that is empty or artificial about them.
On form, physique and major track record, Poulter should not be beating a man like Dustin Johnson, ranked 33 places above him. He did so because he was driven by something more than one-on-one rivalry.
“As a parent, these moments we get to spend with one another sometimes are few and far between,” he tweeted to his son Luke afterwards. “But when moments like this come around I was not letting you down today. You lived every shot with us this week… love you buddy.”
It is not only the cynical who consider team spirit to be an illusion glimpsed only in victory. You might ask whether we would have been hearing from Rory McIlroy about the European “love-in” on the team’s WhatsApp group had his singles defeat by Justin Thomas presaged a stunning US fight-back.
But you could see it around the course throughout the week, and we have seen it from European teams before. At a time when the continent is politically fractured, its golfers have found a shared purpose and a bond to carry them forwards.
“There’s something about this group of guys,” said McIlroy afterwards. “We all get along so well.”
Francesco Molinari and Tommy Fleetwood’s friendship was there before the Ryder Cup. The two hung out together even before their romantic weekend in Paris became headline news.
They are also two fine golfers in their own right. But together they were something stronger altogether, their games complementing each other but their characters meshing and their success a collective one.
Defeat always brings recrimination. Patrick Reed is a habitual saboteur of the established order. When he complained about Furyk leaving him out of the foursomes on Friday and Saturday – “for somebody as successful in the Ryder Cup as I am, I don’t think it’s smart to sit me twice” – he was clearly forgetting his woeful form in the morning fourballs more quickly than anyone else.
Yet in his comments to the New York Times afterwards he gave a glimpse of a critical difference between the two teams.
“Every day [in the team room] I saw: ‘Leave your egos at the door. They [the Europeans] do that better than us.”
At times this week the US appeared to be playing a different course to the Europeans, one without Le Golf National’s tight fairways and snagging rough. Before the competition began, the hosts had played a cumulative 232 rounds of competition golf on the course, the US just eight, half of them by Thomas (four points from five).
They could not adjust to the reality that faced them off the tee, and they could not match the intensity summoned repeatedly by their opponents. The Ryder Cup is a passion play, and the European team relish its critical plots.
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Article source: http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/golf/45711531