Europe’s Unthinkable Comeback!
Perhaps it was destiny that brought the 2012 incarnation of the Ryder Cup to Medinah Country Club, a tranquil retreat ‘midst the bustling suburbs south of Chicago. The ‘Miracle at Medinah‘ was profound enough to find a hallowed place in golfing lore.
As U.S. golfers scored victory upon victory over the first couple of days at Medinah, announcers desperately and repeatedly referred to the 1999 Ryder Cup comeback by the United States. The TV ratings for blow-outs in golf are not all that good.
It was so bad at Medinah that the European contingent needed to climb a mountain just to get to that same 10-6 deficit the Americans had faced in ’99. Climb it they did, winning the final two matches on Saturday to begin an ascent from a 10-4 deficit. The miracle had begun to unfold, but only the players and the most fervently faithful believed it. The silhouette of former Ryder Cup captain Seve Ballesteros was emblazoned on the Europeans’ gear, an omnipresent reminder of what they were playing for.
The captains of the European and American teams get more attention at the Ryder Cup than non-golfing participants in almost any other golf competition. Jose Maria Olazabal and Davis Love III brought added gravitas to this biennial encounter of the best golfers from two continents. Each had known loss that inextricably linked their personal and professional lives.
The Olazabal/Ballesteros connection was oft-invoked, and a certain father/son partnership less so. Jose and Seve had teamed up in no less than 15 Ryder Cup matches in the eighties and nineties. Few giants of the game had departed so young as Ballesteros did at the age of 54. Payne Stewart and Babe Zaharias were two others. Davis Love had lost his own giant of the game, his golf pro father, in a plane crash very early in his own career. The rainbow backdrop on the eighteenth at Winged Foot when he won the ’97 PGA and invoked the memory of his father is also now permanently etched in the annals of golf history.
The setting was therefore imbued with such history that both inspiration and pressure attended every moment on Sunday, the final day. There was no immediate turnaround for those trying to retain the Cup. In fact, anyone tuning in halfway through Sunday’s individual matches would have heard learned prognostications of 16-12 or thereabouts. Should such predictions hold, the Cup would travel across the Atlantic with the triumphant Americans taking turns sipping champagne from it.
Then the golfing gods took over. On the final nine, putts dropped and putts didn’t. European putts dropped; American putts didn’t. There was fist-pumping by a resurgent Ian Poulter as well as the renewed prominence of Graeme McDowell.
Justin Rose was about to be closed out on 16 by Phil Mickelson, but he gamely holed a not-so-short par putt. Phil smiled with admiration. Rose’s pulled tee shot on 17 left a winding putt from another time zone. His improbable birdie captured the hole. The epitome of class, Mickelson was left to smile and applaud once again. Rose completed his putting trifecta on the final hole. In the span of just three holes he had turned a sure point lost into a full point won. The ‘Miracle at Medinah’ was well underway with a full two point swing.
A usually calm but now adrenalin-aided Jim Furyk hit it right at the pin with his approach on 18, but well past. He went on to three putt and lose his match to a steady Sergio Garcia. The Spaniard’s play further invoked thoughts of his childhood hero, Seve. Then, Steve Stricker hit a chip from behind 17 a tad too hard. Still, one of the best putters anywhere would surely knock it in. He didn’t. Martin Kaymer added to the European comeback and secured the Cup.
The final Woods/Molinari match was suddenly anticlimactic, save for deciding whether the Cup would be retained via a tie or an outright win. Molinari held off Woods and the once huge 10-4 deficit was transformed into a 14 1/2 to 13 1/2 outright win. And so it became the ‘Miracle at Medinah’ forevermore.
AUTHOR: Colin Knight is an avid golf fan and habitual bogey rather than birdy. Colin is more at home watching the Ryder Cup rather than dreaming of playing in it. He currently works for Belmont Lodge.