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Column: Grim Europe needed Ryder Cup pick-me-up

  • Article by: JOHN LEICESTER
  • Associated Press
  • October 1, 2012 - 11:49 AM

PARIS - Bailed out by a German, liberated by a bunch of British lion-hearts fighting back against the odds, and inspired by a couple of Spanish masters. Told that way, the manner of Europe's Ryder Cup victory sounded like the opening of a joke about European politics, history and culture.

The punch line gave the Europeans the last laugh. Commiserations to Americans everywhere, of course, but Europe really needed this pick-me-up. Because economically, the last couple of years since Europe's last Ryder Cup win at Celtic Manor have been almost unrelentingly grim on this side of the Atlantic.

Economies tanking. Jobs, livelihoods, hopes and optimism plunging with them. The dream of a united Europe pulling and working together severely strained by a gargantuan financial storm.

The blue European flag with yellow stars has flown at many crisis meetings where politicians from Britain, Germany, France, Spain, Italy, Greece and elsewhere have differed and dithered about how to dig their countries out of the rough.

So how striking it was to see that same flag, for once, fluttering merrily, over the leaderboard at Medinah, for a group of golfers who knew exactly what was required of them and just did it. Four Englishmen, two Northern Irish, a Scot, a Swede, an Italian, a Spaniard, a German and a Belgian refusing to accept that a difficult situation is hopeless.

It would be trite to suggest that there are political or economic lessons for Europeans to learn from the miracle of Medinah. Unlike a 10-6 Ryder Cup deficit, Europe cannot be turned around in a day. Still, this was a positive example of what being European can mean — individual nations being stronger when they work in concert than they are on their own.

Given how his country, Germany, has been using its wealth to help bail out other European economies, it seemed fitting that it should be Martin Kaymer who rescued Europe with his 6-foot putt on the 18th that secured the crucial 14th point the Europeans needed to retain the cup.

Deep in recession, Spain can no longer afford the rich array of golf tournaments it used to host. It will likely have just one European Tour event in 2013, the Spanish Open, down from seven last year. Yet this Ryder Cup victory was inspired and led by a Spanish captain, Jose Maria Olazabal, himself inspired and driven by his desire to honor and remember another Spanish master, his late friend Seve Ballesteros, who died from a brain tumor in May 2011.

The heroics of Luke Donald, Ian Poulter, Rory McIlroy, Justin Rose, and Paul Lawrie, with their string of singles match wins Sunday that swung the momentum Europe's way, could have been speech-writing fodder for another stubborn, never-say-die Briton, Winston Churchill. Rarely in Ryder Cup history can Europe have owed so much to so few putts made at crucial times.

The magnitude of the achievement was such that Jose Manuel Barroso, the European Commission president who spends much of his time dealing with the continent's economic crisis, could be forgiven for jumping on the bandwagon of this sporting success.

"You have brought together under the European flag a team of players with many different nationalities, languages and cultures from many different parts of Europe," he said in a message of congratulations to Olazabal. "Your victory will be an inspiration to so many people in Europe."

For British sports enthusiasts, especially, it rounded out a year that will long be remembered.

First, Bradley Wiggins became the first Briton to the win the Tour de France. Then Britain won 29 golds at its home Olympics in London to finish third on the medal table. Then Andy Murray became the first British man since Fred Perry in 1936 to win a Grand Slam tennis title, with his victory at the U.S. Open in September.

For the first two days at Medinah, with the U.S. team purring, the golden summer seemed to be ending amid the autumn leaves.

Then came Sunday and the improbable European comeback. It won't make any difference to the lives of Europe's millions of unemployed. But, at least temporarily, it did make Europe's choice of official anthem seem not quite so inappropriate.

Its name: "Ode to joy."

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John Leicester is an international sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at jleicester(at)ap.org or follow him at http://twitter.com/johnleicester

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