By The Associated Press
NEWPORT, Wales — When it ended, the scene was like something out of Mardi Gras. It was a Los Angeles Lakers victory celebration, only a continent away. Europe doesn’t have a Super Bowl, but this will do, at least until the next big soccer extravaganza.
On a Monday afternoon, on a wonderful Twenty Ten course that had been turned into a giant mud pie by days of rain and now was basking in sunshine, Europe won the Ryder Cup. In a competition of golf, with an overwhelming aroma of nationalism, it had defeated the big ‘ol, rich USA, which is always special for Europe.
Beating New Zealand wouldn’t quite be the same.
Europe winning the Ryder Cup has happened a lot lately, especially on this side of the Atlantic Ocean. The last time the United States came here and won was 1993. European sports fans like that a lot. U.S. fans, with so many more things to choose from and be loyal to, are less invested. But every Ryder Cup loss to Europe, no matter where it is played, ratchets up the interest in the U.S.
Expect big crowds and much noise at Medinah Country Club near Chicago in the autumn of 2012.
This one had enough drama for several Super Bowls. The U.S. needed 14 points to retain the Cup. It got 13½. Europe won by the width of a pencil, which was about how much Graeme McDowell’s putt on No. 16 had to wiggle at the end to drop into the hole for what was essentially the winning shot. As it rolled toward the cup, you got the feeling that all of Europe was willing it in.
That put McDowell and Europe ahead, 2-up, with two holes to play. It was the last match out, the anchor spot. Carrying that load for the U.S. was Hunter Mahan, who volunteered for it and put himself in a spot that his teammate, Stewart Cink, later described with great empathy.
“If you go up and down the line of the PGA players in Europe and the U.S.,” Cink said, “and ask them if they would like to be the last guy to decide the Ryder Cup, less than half would say they would … and less than 10% would mean it.”
McDowell, this year’s U.S. Open champion at Pebble Beach, was equally candid about being the guy in the hot seat for team, country and continent.
“I hoped I wasn’t going to be needed,” he said, calling the last nine holes the hardest of his life. “I was hoping my caddie was going to give me the nod that I could relax, that we had done the job.”
Mahan went to the par-three 17th knowing that he had to win the last two holes. Not tie them, win them both. That halved match would leave the two teams with 14 points each, but because the U.S. is the defending champion, it would allow the U.S. team to pack the treasured trophy back on the plane and fly it home.
McDowell hit his tee shot pin high and to the right, about 20 feet away at the edge of the green. Mahan, inexplicably, left his short, perhaps 25 yards off the green in short fairway grass. His chip had to go in, or at least be close enough to keep him alive, were McDowell to three-putt.
What ensued was one of those Ryder Cup moments. Mahan stubbed the shot about 10 yards forward, still off the green, and every hacker in the world identified immediately. Mahan, of course, is not a hacker, and his muff — and ensuing missed putt that meant all he could do was walk to McDowell, concede and shake his hand — left him an emotional wreck.
When the U.S. team met the media afterward, Mahan sat between Zach Johnson and Phil Mickelson. Both kept putting their arms around him with quick hugs of assurance and, when one question directed to him got a little tough, Mickelson good-naturedly took the microphone and said, “Next.”
Past U.S. teams have been accused of not taking this seriously, of not being as emotionally invested as the Europeans. If body language is any measure, Team USA was a devastated group afterward.
Tiger Woods, who won his match, said, “We came so close, it’s a shame.”
Jim Furyk, who lost his, said, “There are lots of guys looking at one another and saying … one half-point. This falls on all of us.”
Colin Montgomerie, European captain, who led by emotion and preached togetherness, said, “I knew I had 12 great players. I knew it and I did.”
Corey Pavin, U.S. captain, who led by preaching togetherness and factoring out all emotion, said, “I’m content with everything, except the result.”
The result was all the Europeans cared about. Within seconds of Mahan shaking McDowell’s hand, a golf course became Bourbon Street. The European players slowly worked their way through the masses to a balcony in the Celtic Manor resort clubhouse. From there, they looked down on thousands of fans, and alternately sprayed them from huge bottles of champagne and took their own swigs. They hugged, laughed, swigged some more and tossed shirts and caps to the fans below.
Fans stood on the previously sacred 18th green. Others walked around in the pond in front of the green. People stood with tears in their eyes, mud on their boots and a beer in their hand. On the big screen next to the stage where they would hold the closing ceremony, they played the scene over and over again of Mahan missing the putt and walking toward McDowell.
Every once in a while, a small group broke into song, one they have sang often as they followed Northern Ireland’s McDowell around the course.
It went something like: “You have your Big Mac and we have our G-Mac.”
Kind of cheesy, but allowed when you win a Super Bowl.