Ian Poulter, the wild-eyed hero of the European Ryder Cup team, tweeted Monday that he was flying home to Florida feeling as if he’d just robbed a bank.
Europe’s record-tying comeback to win the Ryder Cup Sunday at Medinah Country Club (Ill.) was an extraordinary turn of events. For the Americans, who needed to win just 4 1/2 of a possible 12 points on Sunday to capture the cup, there were no easy answers to what had happened.
Before the last, joyful strains of “Ole, Ole, Ole” die away, it’s worth a look back at what transpired Sunday.
Did the Europeans win it or did the Americans lose it?
The Europeans took it from the U.S. team with an extraordinary collection of performances when they absolutely had to have them. The Americans helped them immensely by not matching the Europeans’ sense of urgency, but to lay the outcome entirely on the U.S. doesn’t do justice to how good the European team was on Sunday.
Where it got away from the Americans:
Everything was still fine for the U.S. team until the Phil Mickelson-Justin Rose match arrived at the par-3 17th hole Sunday. Mickelson had a 1-up lead and the worst-case scenario suggested Lefty would scratch out at least a half-point in the day’s fourth singles match.
Mickelson thought he’d possibly won the match on the 17th hole, thinking he’d chipped in for birdie. Instead, his ball didn’t go in and Rose slam-dunked a bomb for birdie to pull even. Had Rose’s putt not slammed into the back of the cup, he might have had trouble making the comeback putt for par.
Instead, they went to 18 even. Mickelson missed the green long, but it ultimately didn’t matter because Rose made a 15-footer for a birdie to flip the match to a European victory.
It was right about then the ground seemed to shift at Medinah.
What should captain Davis Love III have done differently?
Love will get a portion of the blame for Sunday’s American calamity, but the bottom line is his team needed to play better.
He sent out a lineup that included 12 of the top 23 ranked players in the world and they won three matches. The captain isn’t allowed to chip and putt.
It’s easy in hindsight to quibble with his singles lineup, but the order might not have mattered. Sending Bubba Watson out first probably wasn’t the best idea. The Europeans went with rock-steady Luke Donald and, in retrospect, Love might have been better off going with someone like Dustin Johnson or Zach Johnson.
Love thought he could rely on the veterans at the back end – Jim Furyk, Steve Stricker and Tiger Woods. Turns out they couldn’t deliver the last critical point.
Did Love make a mistake not playing Mickelson and Keegan Bradley Saturday afternoon?
That’s a popular theory, especially after the way Sunday turned out, but Mickelson made it clear he didn’t want to play Saturday afternoon. He’s 42 and wanted to be fresh for Sunday. As it turns out, Mickelson didn’t win his Sunday singles.
Though the scoreboard doesn’t see it, there’s a difference in losing and in getting beat. Rose beat Mickelson with brilliant golf at the end. Mickelson had his best Ryder Cup.
Bradley probably would have played Saturday afternoon had he been asked, but Love stuck with his plan of keeping pairings together, similar to the way Paul Azinger had his four-player pods in 2008. Like Love said Sunday night, in hindsight he’d do several things differently. Playing Bradley on Saturday afternoon might be one of those things.
Did the captain’s picks make the difference?
Ian Poulter was a European captain’s pick and he went 4-0.
Jim Furyk and Steve Stricker were two of Love’s four picks and they went a combined 1-6. Dustin Johnson was the only unbeaten American, going 3-0, but Brandt Snedeker struggled.
It’s likely this was the last Ryder Cup for both Stricker and Furyk, who won’t be going out in a blaze of glory. They looked gutted Sunday evening, knowing what they hadn’t been able to deliver.
What happens when the Ryder Cup matches go to Gleneagles, Scotland in two years?
The European team will likely look very similar, especially the core of McIlroy, Donald, Poulter, Westwood, Rose and Graeme McDowell. They may not have the historical imprint of Seve Ballesteros, Jose Maria Olazabal, Nick Faldo, Sandy Lyle and Ian Woosnam, but this has begun to feel like a second golden age for European Ryder Cup golf.
The next European captain will likely be Paul McGinley, Darren Clarke or Thomas Bjorn, depending on how they want to slot them down the line.
The American team is in the midst of a transition. Mickelson might have one more Ryder Cup in him. Tiger Woods will be back, but his personality doesn’t lend itself to team play. He had great stretches at Medinah but didn’t have a great impact.
The core of future U.S. Ryder Cup teams includes both Johnsons, Bradley, Webb Simpson, Jason Dufner, Snedeker and Watson. Figure Rickie Fowler, Nick Watney and Bill Haas will be in the mix, too.
It seems too soon for Furyk to be captain and suggestions that Mickelson could be a playing captain seem far-fetched. David Toms is considered Love’s likely successor, but there’s a popular feeling that it should be Fred Couples, who will captain his third straight Presidents Cup team next fall.
It’s too soon to make that call. The American bruises are still too sore.