CHASKA, Minn. – Somewhere in the cosmos, Arnold Palmer must have been shooting the boys a thumbs up.
The European boys.
Yes, Palmer would have loved the American Ryder Cup effort Sunday, been proud of the way they played and conducted themselves, but he would have loved the show the Europeans put on in the media center after they got whipped Sunday at Hazeltine.
After a hard fought loss, rife with some ugly confrontations with boisterous American fans, the Europeans captured the true spirit of the Ryder Cup with their class act.
Over the years, the Europeans have showed us all they know how to win by dominating this event.
And they showed us Sunday they know how to lose, too.
They showed us with good humor and dignity.
They showed us with their ability to stand back and see a bigger picture.
They showed us in the way they continued to love each other in the aftermath of a hard loss, with the kind of camaraderie we kept hearing about in all their victories. Now that we’ve seen them in a loss, we’re more convinced than ever that it’s genuine.
It’s tempting here to write that the Euros didn’t throw their captain under the bus Sunday night, didn’t point fingers detailing bad decisions leading to their poor play and didn’t demand a task force dissect what’s wrong. It’s tempting to compare them to the Americans after the loss in Gleneagles two years ago, but the Euros don’t know the depth of losing the Americans endured.
Still, it would have been so easy for the Euros to be bitter about this loss, to blame the loss on the raucous nature of the massive, partisan American crowds and the ugly way some fans imposed their will on the competition.
They didn’t, though.
Instead, the Euros credited the American effort. In fact, they even thanked the American assistant captains and players for intervening and trying to help them when the crowds got out of hand.
Clarke captured the nature of the European “team” in the closing ceremony.
“We are Europe and we stand shoulder to shoulder,” Clarke said after congratulating American captain Davis Love III. “We have showed this in the past, and will continue to show that in the future.”
That was Clarke’s theme coming to Hazeltine.
A former rugby player growing up in Northern Ireland, Clarke brought Irish great Paul O’Connell into the European team room this week to talk about Irish rugby’s “shoulder to shoulder” philosophy. These stories sound good after a team wins. The Euros made it more believable in their loss.
“I couldn't be more proud of the guys that I'm surrounded with,” Clarke said. “They did everything I asked of them. They tried their hearts out. They worked hard. They fought hard, but the bottom line is that Davis' team holed a few more putts than we did, and they played better. So when it comes to it, the American Ryder Cup team deserved to win, and we're all gutted and disappointed, but we will be back stronger to fight in two years' time in Paris.”
This Ryder Cup was played on the edge more than any of the 40 staged before it.
This was more raw than the others, more nasty in its partisanship than any of the previous Ryder Cups. Yes, they’ve been rowdy for a long time now, but not like this, not even at Brookline in ’99, when Scotland’s Colin Montgomerie was the focus of American disdain.
Rory McIlroy is a gentleman in a gentleman’s game, but you knew this event was close to getting out of hand when you saw him snarling into so many grandstands, leveling so many celebratory punches at the crowds taunting him. You knew emotions may be getting too inflamed when the normally even-tempered McIlroy taunted the crowd back, putting a hand to his ear and screaming “I can’t hear you!”
It would have been easy for the Euros to leave this loss simmering in bitterness.
Golf’s different than football. You scream an insult in a back swing, and it’s like stepping on the field and tripping a running back racing down a sideline. You’re impacting the outcome more than screaming fans in a football stadium.
That’s what made the Euros march into the media center’s interview room afterward so dumbfounding.
They were already over the loss.
The good humor they showed couldn’t have made their words more sincere.
Lee Westwood was asked if the American fans crossed a line into bad sportsmanship.
“I got called a turd yesterday,” Westwood said, “which is the first time since I was about 12 years old, so it made me feel young again.”
The media center erupted in laughter.
Danny Willett, the Masters champion, got the worst of it from American fans all week after his older brother in England penned an article depicting American sports fans as “greedy, stupid, fat, classless bastards.” His brother made fun of American eating habits, of their love of hot dogs and “pissy beer.”
Willett was asked how it made his first Ryder Cup experience.
“S***,” Willett deadpanned. “Sorry, would you like me to elaborate? Really, s***.”
You had to be there to understand the good-natured dynamic of that admission. Reporters from Europe and the United States alike erupted in laughter.
McIlroy was asked if there was a danger the Ryder Cup was getting too volatile, if maybe alcohol should have been banned from the American venue.
“Not with their pissy beer,” McIlroy clevery deadpanned.
English comedian John Oliver doesn’t get bigger laughs than McIlroy got with that comment.
“No,” McIlroy continued. “People are here, and they are here to have a good time. Geez, I know if I was watching the Ryder Cup, I would want to do the same thing. I'd love to be on the other side of the ropes giving other people abuse. It would be so good. But, unfortunately, I have to play inside the ropes, and that's a great privilege to have.”
McIlroy got the laugh about “pissy beer” because of the disarming things he said before that, because of the gracious, big-picture perspective he displayed when asked if there was a danger European fans would retaliate when the event is played in Paris in two years.
“We wouldn't encourage any sort of retaliation,” McIlroy said. “That's just not who we are.
“We play week-in and week-out on the PGA Tour, and [fans] couldn't be nicer to us. They are welcoming. They greet us like we are one of their own.”
McIlroy said the nature of the Ryder Cup, with fans on the tee boxes first thing in the morning with cans of beer in hand, makes it a different deal.
“So, it has to be expected,” he said. “It is what it is. A couple of people out there crossed the line, but we'll take it on the chin. We'll move on and we'll definitely not encourage anything like that to happen in France next time around.”
Somewhere, Arnold Palmer’s thumb must be up.