By: Evan Lachnit
Fitting. Special. Amazing.
These are all words that could help describe this past weekend’s Ryder Cup. But in all honestly, there was so much more jam-packed into three short days of golf at Hazeltine, that it left golf fans wanting more.
It would be easy to start with the action on Sunday, because that was something special, especially in the early stages of the morning. That will be tabled for later on though.
The event started Friday with the bag of Arnold Palmer sitting on the first tee. Palmer passed away the Sunday before the event at the age of 87. “The King” as he was known in the golf world was the first true icon of the sport. He changed the way that golf was viewed by the general public, he was a pioneer in the role athletes have in sponsorship, and he was the first golfer to fly to tournaments in his own private jet. Known as an everyday man, Palmer was integral in the sports growth as it was first being broadcast on television.
With Mr. Palmer’s bag sitting at the first tee Friday morning, the Americans got out to a blistering start, winning the first four matches in the morning foursome session. This was the first time that the USA had swept any first session at the Ryder Cup since 1975. This included a valiant comeback by Phil Mickelson and Rickie Fowler who were down two holes with four to play against Rory McIlroy and Andy Sullivan. Fowler and Mickelson won three of the final four holes to take the match 1 up and secure the four point lead.
The bag of Arnold Palmer that sat at the first tee Friday morning was from the 1975 Ryder Cup. Palmer was the captain of the United States team that year. It was an unexpected, but very cool way for Palmer to be honored at the event by the Americans sweeping the first session.
The Friday afternoon session and Saturday sessions were just as compelling, with momentum changing every moment. The Europeans made a strong comeback in the afternoon on Friday winning three of the four matches. On Saturday the United States was able to pull away to secure a three-point lead heading into the singles matches Sunday.
Before the final pairings were announced for Sunday’s grand finale to the event, many around the sport had hoped that Rory McIlroy and rising American star Patrick Reed would be paired together. McIlroy was undoubtedly one of the Europeans’ most emotional players and leaders throughout the week. He played well despite constant heckling from the U.S. crowd – even some fans that went too far, forgetting the etiquette and spirit of the game.
Luckily for McIlroy, the more the fans heckled him, it seemed the better he played. In a way, it was a case of “don’t wake the sleeping giant”. Well, throughout the week that is just what the rambunctious Minnesota crowd did.
On the other side, Reed has grown into one of America’s greatest assets in the Ryder Cup. He burst onto the scene in 2014 going 3-0-1 in his matches. He was arguably one of the only bright spots for an American team that was throttled by Europe across the pond 16.5 to 11.5. He was equally as impressive this year and, like McIlroy, appeared to be the emotional leader of the U.S. side.
Luckily for golf fans (sports fans in general), the opening singles match was Reed vs. McIlroy. What ensued for the next three and a half or so hours was riveting, compelling, and fitting. The match was everything that anyone had ever wanted.
The match was a real life version of “anything you can do, I can do better”. And frankly it did not matter who put on the show first, the other was expected to answer. It is weird to say that the eighth hole of the first singles match was the defining moment of the Ryder Cup, but there is no doubt that it was.
Both McIlroy and Reed hit average tee shots on the par-3 eighth. McIlroy was about 60 feet from the hole but on the green, while Reed was on the green up against the fringe 25 feet from the hole.
McIlroy would putt first. The initial reaction when the putt was struck was “this could be one heck of a lag putt”, but the more the ball rolled the more it became obvious that this was special. As it went over the ridge down toward the hole it became a no doubter. McIlroy had the reaction of the tournament screaming, “I can’t hear you” to the crowd as he held his hands to his ears.
Reed had quite the job to follow that up. Reed calmly lined up his putt and hit it with confidence. A moment, and possibly a new rivalry, was about to be born. His putt was a no doubter as well. And in a reaction that trumped even McIlroy, Reed wagged his finger at the number three player in the world as if to say “Not today”.
Reed went on to win the match one up and set the tone for an American runaway.
The winning point for Team USA came from Ryan Moore, who was a Ryder Cup rookie. Moore had narrowly been left off the U.S. team in the past, but he made the most of his opportunity in 2016. Moore completed another great comeback on Lee Westwood who was up two with three to play. Moore rattled off three straight victories on 16, 17, and 18 to capture America’s first Ryder Cup in eight years. Moore finished the event with an individual record of 2-1-0.
And to put a final bow on everything, Tuesday, a memorial service was held for Arnold Palmer in Latrobe, Pennsylvania. At the service, vice-captain Bubba Watson, Mickelson and Fowler brought the Ryder Cup trophy and set it right by Palmer’s casket.
In so many ways, this Ryder Cup meant much more to golf than just a United States victory. As some things pass, new things grow.
(Featured Image: Eric Havir, Flickr)