Two years had come down to this. Two years of speculation over captains, consternation over wildcard picks, contemplation over potential matchups and deliberation over pairings had come down to this one fateful autumn day outside Chicago.
But let’s put fate aside for just a minute. When your team is up by four points entering the final session and you own the home-field advantage and the other team can’t even find its most talented player, fate is the furthest thing from your mind.
Instead, thoughts turn to questions such as these: Are the years of European domination finally over? Which American player will clinch the winning point? How sweet will the champagne taste out of golf’s most famous cup?
And then, something happens. The other team’s most talented player surfaces, rushed in via police cruiser after a time-zone miscalculation. Home-field advantage doesn’t feel like so much of an advantage when momentum wanes. That four-point differential gradually fades as the day wears on.
Suddenly, fate doesn’t just enter your mind. The idea consumes it.
Ben Crenshaw knew all about it. Back in 1999, with his U.S. squad down by the same four-point margin on Saturday night as the Europeans this time around, the captain assessed his chances by calmly saying, “I’m a big believer in fate. I have a good feeling about tomorrow.”
And he did. Less than 24 hours later, his team had overcome the odds in the largest comeback in Ryder Cup history. Thirteen years thereafter, his words would serve as a prescient reminder. If fate can help rationalize victory, then it can just as easily explain away defeat.
Not that it worked that way. In the wake of Europe’s 14½-13½ come-from-behind triumph at Medinah, America’s loss was blamed on decisions by captain Davis Love III for his captain’s picks and sitting a torrid Phil Mickelson-Keegan Bradley combination on Saturday afternoon. It was blamed on veterans Tiger Woods, Steve Stricker and Jim Furyk for compiling a combined 1-9-1 record. It was blamed on the entire roster for not wanting it badly enough.
Really, though, more blame – or credit, as the case may be – should have been foisted upon the opponent. Europe’s captain, Jose Maria Olazabal, invoked the memory of Seve Ballesteros in the team room throughout the week. Ian Poulter’s bug-eyed performance was transcendent. Justin Rose sank two of the most clutch putts you’ll ever see – on back-to-back holes. Rory McIlroy, fresh off that police cruiser ride, went from goat to hero by winning his singles match. Even much maligned Martin Kaymer proved his worth by holing the clinching putt.
The end result was that Europe had secured the title for the fifth time in six attempts this century. It was more than that, though. The 2012 edition of the Ryder Cup has been called golf’s greatest event of the year, but that is underestimating its value. The truth is, you can place this competition against any of the year’s greatest individual sporting events – the New York Giants’ improbable Super Bowl victory; Manchester City’s stunning Premier League championship; any number of inspirational performances from the Olympic Games – and it stands its ground as far as emotion and drama and adventure.
It’s what makes the Ryder Cup our No. 2 Newsmaker of the Year.
“Last night, when we got together at the team meeting, all I did was just tell the boys that I still believed that we could turn things around,” Olazabal said after the victory. “I think the players believed, and you know, what happened today, I think it will go down in the history books of the Ryder Cup. It was a huge comeback, and I'm really happy for these 12 wonderful men.”
The celebration for Europe’s stars served as a stark contrast to their red, white and blue-clad brethren. It was reported that Woods apologized to the team’s rookies for failing to secure more than a half-point for the week. Many players contend the loss still haunts them today, three months after the conclusion. And the captain remains the heartiest of the second-guessers.
After the matches were over, though, he couldn’t help but sound a bit like Crenshaw, albeit from an entirely different perspective.
“These guys had a great week, had a lot of fun, and they played well,” Love explained. “They played a lot of good golf, and so did the other side. To end up like that is unfortunate. I know these guys put a lot into it. Ultimately, this team really understands, it's just golf.”
It just may have been fate, too. There aren’t many other ways to explain how a biennially dominant team entered the final session trailing by four points on foreign soil with its most talented player somewhere literally off course, only to find itself celebrating hours later.
Two years came down to this. Two years of speculation and consternation and contemplation and deliberation turned into one of the most entertaining golf events – no, sporting events – of the entire year.
Newsmaker of the Year schedule
No. 2: Ryder Cup
No. 1: Dec. 31