An inspirational Poulter joins an elite list of players
CRAZY, CRAZY times! The sheer lunacy of it all lingered all around us in Medinah Country Club on Sunday night, as emotions which ranged from utter, unconfined joy – anyone with a European accent – to downright disbelief, epitomised by USA player Jim Furyk’s admission of hitting “the lowest point of my year” – encapsulated sport’s thin line between victory and failure.
One putt. One chip-in. One shank. One lip-out. Any number of things that could have finished differently, for either side, may have altered the outcome.
But the result is the result, and Europe’s most improbable win – overcoming a four-point deficit in the singles for a 14½-13½ success – reaffirmed a shift in the axis of power in world golf.
Of the past nine Ryder Cups, seven have been annexed by Europe. Yet, it was the manner of this success, on foreign soil, achieved against all the odds, which unquestionably made it Europe’s greatest of all in this biennial match.
As ever, a team need a heart-beat and, on this occasion, Ian Poulter – he of the bulging eyes and refusal to capitulate – was the pulse: the Englishman was a living, breathing inspiration in just about everything he did.
For what’s already become known as the Miracle at Medinah to have occurred in front of our very eyes, a series of events conspired to fall Europe’s way and, to their credit, José-Maria Olazabal’s team showed unquestioned belief which was backed-up by a large travelling band who found their voices (and seemed to appear like out of the woodwork) as destiny called.
“It was hard to believe at one point, but when we saw the momentum going our way, all of a sudden I believed it could turn into reality,” said Olazabal of what unfolded before him.
On Saturday night, when it seemed that the golfing gods had played them a raw deal, Olazabal invoked the memory of the late Seve Ballesteros at the team meeting to spur on his team and arranged for Seve’s silhouette to be embroidered on shirts and sweaters for the final round.
“All I did was just tell the boys that I still believed we could turn things around, that all we needed was just to be a little bit more effective on the greens and to make a few more putts and that would change the tide for us . . . what happened will go down in the history books of the Ryder Cup,” said Olazabal, who ruled out any possibility of seeking a second term as captain at Gleneagles in two years’ time.
For sure, Ballesteros would have approved of how Olazabal’s men turned the tide. As the maestro once put it of playing in the Ryder Cup against the Americans: “I look into their eyes, shake their hand, pat their back and wish them luck but inside I am thinking, ‘I am going to bury you’.”
And, in taking eight and a half points from a possible 12 in Sunday’s singles, that is effectively what Europe’s players did in taking Ballestero’s words and putting them into action.
In an emotional tribute to his team at the closing ceremony, Olazabal remarked: “All men die, but not all men live, you made me feel alive this week.”
Where once players like Ballesteros, Olazabal himself and Colin Montgomerie provided the on-course inspiration, that role has now passed on to Poulter. He was the top-scoring player on the European team (with four points from four matches) but, more than putting points on the board, his actions were infectious: to his team-mates, and to the thousands of European supporters who chorused their Ole-Ole-Oles as if encouraging bullfighters.
Poulter quipped afterwards that he was taking “two years off, I’ll see you at the next one”.
In reality, he is taking a three-week break – well-earned – from playing, but there is no doubt this match brings out the very best in him. Why? “It’s a passion I’ve seen at the Ryder Cup for years and years and as a kid growing up. It’s something that comes from within. I don’t know. I just love it.”
Of his competitiveness, Poulter added: “In every form of sport I played (growing up), whether I was playing football, whether I was playing pool, whatever I was doing I was really competitive. My dad ingrained it in me, he always told me to play to win. I’m a bad loser. My dad’s a bad loser. That’s why I’m hard to play against in matchplay, and why guys dislike me and want to beat me.”
And, yet, on the flipside, the emotions experienced by the Americans demonstrated how heart-breaking things can be when they go horribly wrong. The plight of Furyk best exemplified the heartache. On two other occasions this year, in the US Open and the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, Furyk – a captain’s wild-card pick by Davis Love III for Medinah – had seen his putter let him down when victory was at hand.
Here, it was worse.
“I’ll be honest, it’s been a very difficult year . . . we came here as a team, we wanted to win the Ryder Cup as a team and we didn’t do it. It’s been a low year.
“I’ve played very well this year but haven’t closed the door. I’m pretty sure Sergio (Garcia) will tell you I outplayed him but I didn’t win and I lost the match.
“I’ve had a lot of that happen this year. As far as team versus individual, it’s the lowest point of my year,” admitted Furyk.
Victory and defeat. A very thin line.