Graeme McDowell described his playing partner Victor Dubuisson as "Europe's next superstar". It's a bold statement but one rooted in more than the sentiment that naturally accompanies a stunning victory.
And that's what it was. The pair combined to beat the previously unbeaten American duo of Phil Mickelson and Keegan Bradley, who had won all three matches at Medinah two years ago, and a morning fourball against Europe's blue-chip partnership of Rory McIlroy and Sergio Garcia.
The 24-yearold Frenchman has been described as an enigmatic, brooding presence, the suggestion being that he would traditionally prefer the solitude of his own company to the badinage of a team room. Maybe after this week he can peel off that label.
The chemistry between McDowell and the Ryder Cup rookie is
genuine. It’s in the body language, whispered asides and the equanimity in adversity. Three days practicing together has forged a strong bond.
“This morning when I was walking with him [McDowell] to the tee and he was next to me, the stress completely disappeared. I was only feeling positive,” said Dubuisson.
A rookie in name only, the French man was the senior partner in ball-striking terms. His iron play was exquisite at times. From the third to the seventh hole, he lavished on McDowell a series of birdie chances.
None were a mere bagatelle but the Northern Ireland golfer would have been disappointed not to convert a single chance. The litmus test for any relationship is when it is tested and that’s exactly what happened on the seventh hole.
Three up, thanks mainly to Mickelson’s vulnerability on putts from three to six feet, on the fourth and fifth, Dubuisson coaxed a picture-perfect drive down the seventh, putting a gap wedge into McDowell’s hands. Mickelson had caught a bunker and while Bradley found the green with a superb 90-yard bunker shot it was about 45ft from the hole.
McDowell hands and club were out of kilter, the upshot the ball coming to rest outside that of the Americans. Dubuisson and his partner then hit putts they’d rather forget, losing a hole they might have won.
They lost the ninth to a birdie and suddenly their advantage was trimmed to one hole.
The concern on faces in the crowd hinted at a momentum shift, one that gave the Americans more autonomy over their destiny.
Mickelson’s errant tee shot on the 10th was partially redeemed by relief from a plugged lie, but Bradley’s weak chip allowed their opponents to pilfer the hole with a par. McDowell had driven the ball reasonably well on the front nine but this part of his game began to misfire. Dubuisson never flinched, well only once when after a comfort break he arrived on the 12th tee, realising he had left his putter in the Portaloo.
Unfazed, he turned to Pádraig Harrington who’d been following the match in his official capacity and asked: “I left my putter in the toilet. Can you go and get it for me.” Nobody said a vice-captain’s duties were glamorous.
The elegance of Dubuisson’s ball-striking was supplemented by McDowell’s quiet determination and intelligence, mental qualities that allowed him to marshal any anxiety he might have felt in wrestling an occasionally errant game. The Northern Ireland golfer was a soothing vocal presence, engaging fully in decision making and exuding positivity.
The American charge never materialised. Mickelson and Bradley, weary from their morning exploits, continued to grind but could not suppress some lacklustre play
– they were four over par for the 17 holes – for long enough to bridge the gap. McDowell applied what Dubuisson might describe as the coup de grace by rolling in a 12ft putt on the 17th green for a birdie and the match.
As a victory it had many virtues. It is fitting that McDowell have the final word which he directed to his playing partner. “He did not miss a shot. His iron play was just outstanding in really, really tough conditions.
“I’ve always been very fortunate in Ryder Cups to have pretty decent partners. Obviously playing with Rory [McIlroy] the last couple years; he turned out okay. But I was very fortunate to be playing alongside a player [Dubuisson] who I think really is Europe’s next superstar. My playing partner today was really awesome.”
It was an auspicious debut by the French man who has a great deal more to offer this week.