They entered Hazeltine National Golf Club’s 50,000-person arena fueled by the two completely different catalysts that spark golfers when their staid galleries turn into raucous football crowds during the biennial Ryder Cup.
Good vs. Perceived Evil.
In the hometown corner was Phil Mickelson as Glinda the Good Witch of the Upper Midwest. His American munchkins chanted, “We Believe Phil Can Win!” and they didn’t stop fawning over the 46-year-old until they had lifted him roughly less than half a foot off the ground when his 10th birdie dropped in on Sergio Garcia from 18 feet away on the final hole.
Mickelson, who claims his vertical jump is “a good, solid 4 to 6 inches” wasn’t sure he topped his personal best from the putt that won him his first Masters back in 2004.
“Well,” he said, “I am a little older.”
He also would have shot a 63 had this been stroke play. Ditto for Garcia, who poured his ninth birdie on top of Mickelson from 6 feet to halve an epic Ryder Cup battle during the United States’ 17-11 win. The only bogey on either card came when Mickelson missed a 2-foot putt that Garcia got booed for not giving him on the 11th green.
“I birdied five of the last seven holes and [Garcia] birdied the last four,” Mickelson said. “It was probably a fitting result with a tie.”
In the Perceived Evil Foreigner corner was Garcia, the hot-blooded Spaniard whom Americans mostly embrace except for three days every other fall. He arrived at the first tee as the Wicked Witch of the East, wondering if someone was going to drop a house on his backswing after the way he tussled with the crowd on Saturday.
Only once did an ugly American try to disrupt Garcia’s swing with a scream. It came on the ninth green when Garcia had already drawn his putter back. He backed away, glared and missed the 15-foot birdie to halve the hole and go to the 10th hole 1-down.
We’ve spent all week talking about the late Arnold Palmer’s presence in this Ryder Cup. Well, somewhere up there, the late Seve Ballesteros elbowed Arnie aside on Sergio’s next tee shot.
After Mickelson split the fairway on the difficult hole, Garcia rattled a tree on the left side of the fairway. But Seve reached in and threw the ball 100 yards forward, giving Garcia only 102 yards to the hole. Garcia hit that to 10 feet, made the birdie and squared the match.
On and on it went with neither player ever falling further behind than 1-down.
Glinda, er, Phil was driven by cheers, chants and grown men yelling that they love him. When Mickelson drove the par-4 fifth green, a fan came up with a pretty good Plan C for the first Tuesday in November:
“Phil for President!”
Meanwhile, Garcia drove the same green. His loyal Euro fans did their “Ole, Ole, Ole!” chant. But yet another determined American fan reached for the dagger that fans used on Garcia multiple times again on Sunday.
“Pretend it’s a major, Sergio!” a fan yelled. Another one screamed, “Are you ever going to win a major?”
Garcia was asked if Sunday’s crowd was any better behaved. He smiled.
“I don’t know if I’m the right guy to get that question,” Garcia joked before taking it in front of his entire team. “Today was definitely a little bit better. But I definitely know I haven’t won a major.
“But at the end of the day, I love the Ryder Cup. There’s nothing like it. I loved every minute of it, even all the bombs that Phil was making on me.”
In two years, Mickelson will be 48 and probably playing in his 12th Ryder Cup. Garcia will be 38 and probably playing in his eighth.
But they’ll be in Paris.
In Paris, they won’t love Glinda the Good Witch of the Upper Midwest nearly as much as we Minnesotans did this week.