After all the conjecture and rolled European eyeballs over the PGA of America’s convened “task force” committee, the Ryder Cup returned to the United States on Sunday for the first time since 2008, with the winning point in a resounding 17-11 victory over Europe delivered by the last player named to the team, Ryan Moore.
The 11-person task force rewrote the Americans’ Ryder Cup playbook and reconfigured the team’s qualifying procedures, changing them to allow captain Davis Love III to choose one final player as late as the day before the team arrived in Minnesota seven short days ago.
It also produced a team with a purpose, as well as a champagne shower, before night fell on Hazeltine National Golf Club in Chaska. Losers three consecutive times since 2008 and six of seven Ryder Cups since 1999, the Americans took a course they set up to produce birdies and eagles galore and walked away with the most lopsided victory by a U.S. team since 1981. That’s when the second-best team ever assembled — one with eight Hall of Famers on it — won in England by nine points.
They celebrated with the aforementioned champagne and a public thank you at a sun-splashed closing ceremony to Minnesotans and other fans who turned out in massive galleries all week.
When Phil Mickelson closed out his 63 with a 10th birdie, he came leaping off the ground with both feet, reminiscent of his 2004 Masters victory.
“I probably jumped a little higher then because I got at least 6 inches off the ground,” said Mickelson, 46. “I’m older now.”
Afterward, Minnesota’s own Tom Lehman, a U.S. vice captain, choked back tears when he spoke about what such a long-awaited American victory meant to him in his home state and said his whole family “bawled like babies” when Moore’s two-putt on No. 18 gave him a 1-up clinching victory over Lee Westwood. Iowan Zach Johnson called Hazeltine “an arena that you just dream about” and admitted his emotion overcame him late in his round after he saw Moore back on the course.
“I looked like my 3-year-old daughter, I was a mess,” Johnson said. “It’s just awesome. It’s just fantastic.”
The Americans finally brought back the Cup after the country’s new Ryder Cup star, young Patrick Reed, outdueled Europe’s Rory McIlroy in both low scores and maybe even theatrical gestures, in a tense, splendid opening match for the ages.
When Reed imitated McIlroy’s Friday demonstration by bowing to the crowd himself during a torrid front nine for both players, McIlroy came back the next hole and shushed the gallery with his finger to his lips, just like Reed did in Scotland two years ago.
“When he bowed, I told him it was good, but not as good as mine,” McIlroy said. “That kind of broke the tension.”
The Americans did it with Mickelson and Sergio Garcia each shooting 63s in their match and the best either got out of it was a halved result.
And they did with Moore providing the winning point in the day’s seventh match, beating Westwood just a week before he played McIlroy to a four-hour playoff at the Tour Championship believing he still had little chance to make his first Ryder Cup team.
A phone call from Love that night changed all that. Moore arrived in Minnesota having never been fitted for Ryder Cup clothing because he was nothing but a long shot to make the team when all prospective members were measured last May. Even as late as last weekend, Moore believed he had no chance to make the team.
On Sunday, he eagled No. 16, birdied No. 17 and striped a final drive to beat Westwood and trigger an American celebration on the 18th green while the final five matches continued elsewhere.
“I have no words right now,” said Moore, a 33-year-old who has won five times on the PGA Tour and has a great amateur record in match play. “To be where I was a week ago and to now clinch the winning point for the U.S., it’s unbelievable.”
Had Love chosen all four of his captain’s picks after the BMW Championship ended Sept. 11, he would have chosen either Bubba Watson or Jim Furyk. But the rewritten procedures gave Love the option to add a “hot” player just before the Ryder Cup, and there was no one hotter than Moore, who ended the PGA Tour season with four top-10 finishes, including a victory, in the final six weeks.
Love and his vice captains debated whether it’s too awkward to add a man so late, but Love agreed Sunday they picked the right guy. Moore won two of his three matches.
“Whether that’s destiny or just blind luck, it’s cool to see that’s the way it played out,” U.S. vice captain Steve Stricker said.
A bit of an outsider on the PGA Tour, Moore was embraced as the team’s 12th man and swarmed with affection Sunday after securing that winning point.
When asked about how the changed qualifying rules led to him being the guy who earned the winning point, he said, “I’ll let you write that up, but, yeah, it seems kind of fitting for sure.”
His play Sunday also won him a kiss on the cheek and an “I love you” whispered in his ear from vice captain Bubba Watson beside the 18th green.
It was a team effort
All 12 U.S. players won at least a point — the first time since 1975 — against a Europe team that had six first-time players, some of whom didn’t nearly play like it. The Americans also were the first team since 1975 to sweep a session when they went 4-0 in Friday’s morning play.
Four years ago in Chicago, the Europeans overcame a four-point deficit on Saturday and won the Cup once again with a Sunday singles exhibition they now call the “Miracle at Medinah.”
There was no miracle this time after captain Darren Clarke’s team trailed by three points Saturday night.
“Disappointing obviously, but I think it’s good for golf,” McIlroy said.
By the way, Arnold Palmer was the United States captain in 1975, and his golf bag from that year’s Ryder Cup sat on the first tee Friday to commemorate his death last week.
All of it was enough to make Lehman tear up more than once early Sunday evening as he talked about 12 men he considered truly a team, perhaps the main objective of the Ryder Cup task force.
“To win that Cup here in Minnesota means the world to me,” Lehman said. “This team is full of amazing men. They are courageous, smart, fearless, compassionate and most importantly, they love each other and they are a team. To be a part of that two hours from where I grew up, I’m so grateful for the opportunity and so proud of these guys.”