The Man of the Matches

By Mercer BaggsSeptember 24, 2006, 4:00 pm
36th Ryder Cup MatchesIn the land of Guinness, Europe once again was brilliant. In the Ryder Cup competition, the United States once again was not.
Little more can be said than those two statements, in terms of the winning and losing of this event. For further proof, check the final score: Europe 18 , U.S. 9 ' just as it was two years ago.
Darren Clarke
Darren Clarke raises a pint of Guinness to the European victory.
From top to bottom, start to finish, this European team was just plain better than their American counterparts. They beat them with brilliance, beat them with class.
They proved to be, arguably ' or maybe overwhelmingly ' the best European team ever comprised.
In surmising this 36th edition, it would be pointless to harp on the Americans shortcomings. For any fault one can find in captain Tom Lehman or Tiger Woods or Phil Mickelson or the team as a whole, there is no need to waste time and effort and writing space in doing so.
Just give credit where credit is due. Tip your cap to the Europeans and applaud them. They deserve it wholeheartedly.
Outside of Dublin, Ireland, Irish eyes were not only smiling this Sunday at the K Club; they were weeping. Shedding tears of joy and empathy for one of their own.
Darren Clarke didnt clinch the winning point for the Europeans. He didnt produce the most points. But his performance in his native country was equal parts spectacular and emotional.
Clarke, who lost his wife, Heather, to cancer six weeks ago this Sunday, made every unimaginable shot imaginable. He won all three of his matches.
But this week was about more than just results for the Northern Irishman. That was evident when he completed his singles victory over Zach Johnson.
After being conceded the winning putt by his opponent, he let it all go; everything that he had been trying so hard to keep hidden, to keep all to himself, he finally relinquished for the world to see and share in.
Clarke broke down, his eyes flooded with tears, showing everyone how great his loss was, and how much this week meant to him. He hugged his caddie and didnt want to let go, just as Woods had done immediately after winning the Open Championship in the wake of his fathers death, also to cancer.
He received a hug from Johnson. He received a hug from his captain, Ian Woosnam. He was physically embraced by all those who had emotionally embraced him throughout his ordeal, including Tiger, who gave him both a hug and some comforting words that will forever remain between these two friends.
Clarke, if he didn't already know, discovered something very important this week: he is loved.
It's done a lot for me for people to show me how much they care,' Clarke said. 'And it's done a lot to show how much they cared about Heather, and that means a lot to me. It's been a difficult week.
The saga of Darren Clarke, a widowed father of two young boys, transcended this Ryder Cup. It added the human quality that a competition such as this one ' one seen by so many as a matter of life and death ' really needed.
After all was said and done, and the Europeans had won the Cup for the fourth time in the last five contests, Clarke stood with his mates on the balcony of the clubhouse hotel. With a bottle of champagne in his left hand and a pint of Guinness in his right, he downed the latter in one great gulp.
He then raised the glass to an adoring crowd of thousands. The tears on his cheeks had been wiped away, replaced with beads of alcohol streaming down his face. And he smiled. One great big grin. For perhaps the first time in a very long time, he was genuinely happy.
As Sergio Garcia said during the celebration: '(Right now), he may be the happiest man alive.'
The Ryder Cup is a wonderful competition, one of the best team events in all of sports. But, whether American or European, accept it for what it is.
This is an event, a game.
Winning is wonderful; losing is painful. Winning can help heal wounds. It can bring excitement to life. But losing is not death. Not even close.
Darren Clarke can attest to both.
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