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Reveling in the Ryder Cup

ST. ANDREWS, Scotland – Ever experience a moment of sadness sparked by the realization that you’ll never, ever experience something?

I had that moment Monday on the 17th green at Celtic Manor. Standing amidst the joyous chaos, alternately keeping an eye on my cameraman so as not to lose him in the crush of revelers, I was mesmerized by what I was witnessing.

The crowds had lifted Edoardo Molinari in the air, as if he were the happy groom at a wedding. Again and again, he thrust two fingers in the air and led the delirious fans in song: “There are only two Molinari brothers. There are only two Molinari brothers!”

The electricity and emotion sent a shiver through me, with a twinge of remorse. It struck me. Among the things I’ll never know is how good it must feel to be hoisted like that in victory, a victory pleaded for by millions.

I play in a men’s basketball league back home and I’m certain that even if our collection of teachers and lawyers and businessmen wins the fall season championship we’ll only exchange high fives, then ice down our aging bodies.

Home-course advantage is worth a half point, everyone agrees, though the Europeans get extra credit for creativity. Their songs and their chants are funny but not unfair.

Now it’s gone quiet, quiet enough at least to round some thoughts together.

Let’s focus on the man upon whom the task of clinching the Cup nervously fell, without whom there would be no celebration, Graeme McDowell. He may not be America’s player of the year – that distinction, however tepid the case may be, will go to Jim Furyk with his three wins. But McDowell could be, if there was such an honor, golf’s man of the year. In a single season he became a national champion and a continental hero.

McDowell is Russell Crowe in Gladiator, stout hearted and brave, the kind of guy who’ll turn around with a wink and a joke just as he’s heading into the heat of the battle. Men want to be in his company and willingly follow his lead.

In the press center here at St. Andrews for the Dunhill Links Championship, McDowell explained how he reacted when told that he had to win his match against Mahan because Molinari had only halved his against Fowler just ahead.

“Oh sh–t,” McDowell recalled.

The room howled with laughter because people laugh when they’re with GMac.

He was on a roll. Asked what kind of reception he believes he’ll get when he goes to the States as the man who not only won the U.S. Open but also took the Ryder Cup away from the Americans, he says, “I just hope they let me in when I go to immigration. I’m just hoping they don’t send me home.”

He’ll play more in the U.S. next year, and it wasn’t lost on him last weekend that he was playing against “these guys who will become sort of my peers and colleagues.”

But the great thing about golf, McDowell believes, is that “we can share a beer and talk about these things.”

A man who can talk and play, McDowell’s a rare commodity in golf. His new peers would be well served to belly up to the bar with him.

He has a few good stories to tell.