The man responsible for Europe retaining the Ryder Cup wasn’t one of the team’s star players.
In fact, he calls himself “a bad recreational golfer.”
And he’s not even European.
While much of the credit for Europe’s 14½-to-13½ victory over the U.S. has been heaped upon captain Jose Maria Olazabal for the way he managed the roster and Ian Poulter for his dominating performance and Justin Rose for his clutch putting and Martin Kaymer for winning the clinching point, the man who initiated one of the greatest Sunday rallies in Ryder Cup history didn’t even get to bask in the champagne-soaked afterglow of the triumph.
Meet Patrick Rollins, the now-famous Lombard (Ill.) Police Department deputy chief whose expeditious driving skills saved Rory McIlroy from a lifetime of embarrassment and indirectly led to Europe’s win.
The story is already the stuff of legend. The world’s No. 1-ranked player confused his 11:25 CT tee time for one an hour later because he saw it in Eastern Time on his hotel television. Upon being notified that he was soon on the tee, McIlroy rushed to the lobby of the Westin Lombard, where Rollins was about to leave for a command briefing at Medinah Country Club.
Taking the motto “to protect and serve” quite literally, Rollins told McIlroy he could hitch a ride to the course. He turned on the sirens, radioed to on-site officials that he had a “VIP” on board and like Elwood and Jake in another Chicago cruiser long ago, the two of 'em hit it.
Of course, he could have driven him to Cog Hill. Or Wrigley Field. Or Canada.
Anywhere else and McIlroy wouldn’t have beaten Keegan Bradley, 2 and 1. Anywhere else and he wouldn’t have stood as the differential in a one-point victory. Anywhere else and Rollins could have been known forever as a Great American Hero, mentioned in the same breath with Paul Azinger and Ben Crenshaw as men who led the red, white and blue to Ryder Cup glory.
He never even considered it.
“I would have done the same thing for an American player,” explains Rollins, now in his 22nd year on the job. “We were their hosts; they stayed in our community. The Ryder Cup was to be played on the course, not on the road.”
How important was Rollins to Europe's charge? According to PGA of America managing director of tournaments Kerry Haigh, the captains' agreement stated that any player five minutes late for his tee time would be penalized with loss of hole. After five more minutes, the result would be loss of match. Just a few wrong turns through the Windy City streets and Rollins could have earned a full point for the U.S. – more than Tiger Woods claimed for the week.
Instead, a man whose golf is confined to charity scrambles and admits his results are “dependent on my fellow teammates” is shouldering as much blame in some circles as Steve Stricker or Jim Furyk for losing crucial matches late in the day.
“Oh, absolutely. Everybody is piling on – and rightfully so,” Rollins says with a laugh. “I’ve gotten plenty of jokes and cartoons at my desk. I’ve gotten emails, phone calls, comments.”
Ask the deputy chief if he’s a Chicago Cubs fan and he immediately laughs and acknowledges that he is, but lightheartedly implores the questioner, “Don’t go there.”
Nine years ago, with the perennial lovable losers leading 3-0 in the eighth inning of Game 6 of the National League Championship Series, a fan named Steve Bartman tried to catch a foul ball down the left-field line, disrupting a potential catch by Moises Alou. Given new life, the Florida Marlins scored eight runs in the inning, winning that game and later taking Game 7 to reach the World Series.
In Chicago, the comparisons may come easy, but Rollins contends that his influence on the home team’s loss doesn’t make him Bartman 2.0.
“I didn’t interfere with any play on the course,” he says. “The comparisons are fun in jest, but it’s not a true comparison.”
Then again, the deputy chief isn’t taking any credit for helping Europe, either.
“My part just happened to be transporting the No. 1 golfer up to the course,” he says. “I didn’t drive or putt for Rory. They won it themselves on the course.”
In the hours after Europe’s historic come-from-behind victory, Rollins was relieved to hear McIlroy refer to the “state trooper” who chauffeured him to Medinah that morning – an allusion that seemingly would throw everyone off the scent of who actually helped out.
Soon enough, though, Rollins’ name surfaced. As a result, he could now probably stay for free in England’s Buckingham Palace, drink all the Guinness he could handle in Ireland and dance the cha-cha with beautiful women throughout Spain. None of it, though, can beat the one thing his time in the spotlight has garnered which most self-diagnosed bad recreational golfers don’t have.
“I have a golf story to tell now,” he says. “I don’t have a hole-in-one. I didn’t chip in or make a long putt. But for me, this is a memory that I’m very proud of. I’m proud to be part of the Medinah heritage at the Ryder Cup.”