by James Cranney
“This is the year” These words were exclaimed two weeks ago during an interview by an NBC golf analyst Johnny Miller. Discussing what he thought would unfold during last weekend’s 41st Ryder Cup, the commentator added, “not only could the U.S. win, there’s a good chance they could win by like five points.” Many fans and journalists of the European team scoffed at Miller’s remark, and had reason to.
Four years ago on a similar fall weekend, the United States endured a heartbreaking loss on home soil. The US went into the 2012 final round with a four point lead and looked to be avoiding consecutive Ryder Cup losses. The Sunday at Medinah began with the Americans maintaining the lead until the wave of momentum began to swing towards Team Europe. Team Europe stormed right back stealing 8 ½ of the last 12 points, repeating as champions, and securing one of the greatest comebacks in Ryder Cup history. The following Ryder Cup yielded the same result as Europe cruised to a 5 point victory over the US.
Losing the last three consecutive Ryder Cups, fingers were pointed and leadership was called into question throughout the United States’ locker room. One of the most notable complaints came surprisingly from Hall of Fame veteran Phil Mickelson, who disagreed with some of Tom Watson’s leadership and decisions as captain. Entering this year’s bi-annual battle at Hazeltine with immense scrutiny, the US team felt the past was settled, and their chance to hoist the Ryder Cup was just as good as the Europeans. Something was different.
When faced with a daunting or overwhelming obstacle, a team needs a spark. The winds of change may have begun blowing when the United States got their spark on Thursday. During the day’s practice round, European players Rory McIlroy and Andy Sullivan repeatedly struggled on the 8th green with a tricky 12 foot downhill putt. European teammates Justin Rose and Henrik Stenson overheard a verbose American heckler from the gallery. Claiming that he could make the same putt with ease may have gotten under the European’s skin, as Stenson took the fan up on his offer handing him McIlroy’s putter.
David Johnson hailing from Mayville, North Dakota was probably not expecting a rebuttal to his heckle, but now had to put his money where his mouth was when Rose placed a crisp hundred dollar bill next to the resting ball. After joking that the European’s putter was too short and that he would need an American’s, he addressed the ball as the eager spectators fell to a collective hush. Johnson drew the putter back and struck the ball as if the hole was fifty feet away. Rolling down the hill, the ball began picking up more velocity as it was surely destined to run off the green, that was until the ball hit the back of the hole and found itself at the bottom of the cup. The crowd went wild, and the members of Team Europe were left shaking their heads.
The United States got off to a scorching start taking a 5-3 Friday lead, and the Americans continued the dominance into Saturday seizing a 9 ½-6 ½ lead over the Europeans going into the final round. Just like Medinah in 2012, the United States would go into the final round of the Ryder Cup with an abundant lead. Exactly a week removed from the death of American golfing legend Arnold Palmer, the US was not prepared to allow their performance to decline.
Behind strong efforts from Patrick Reed, Rickie Fowler, and Phil Mickelson the United States held steady and kept the Europeans from making any sort of challenge. After eight long years, the United States recaptured the coveted Ryder Cup. America’s 17-11 six point victory surprised many. Something struck a chord into the competitors wearing red, white, and blue last weekend. The US Ryder Cup team answered the bell fighting tooth and nail for a redeeming victory, a win that could potentially alter the course of United States golf.