Does sport bring about the greatest emotion or emotion bring the greatest sport? The truth probably lies somewhere in the middle. Examples have been numerous over the years. Tyrone winning the All Ireland after Cormac McAnallen’s death. Kilkenny doing likewise after James McGarry lost his wife. Bob Champion returning after serious illness to win the Aintree Grand National. Ulster rugby folk will forever now be touched by poignant emotion following the Spence family tragedy.
When Dunboyne last won the Meath SFC in 2005, this machine produced a column headlined: ‘Dunboyne fulfil their destiny’. Reason being that Tom Yourell – who had been, for so long, the guiding hand and driving force behind the club – passed away during the year. After all, it was he who was behind the formation of the first football team in 1947. It was as if everything achieved was in tribute to Tom. A very bountiful haul was amassed too, including the SFC and a double at U-16 level for the first time since 1963.
All that was mentioned because there was a similar air of destiny pertaining to the Ryder Cup this year from a European perspective. Seve Ballesteros was to the Golf match against the Americans what Ginger McCain was to Aintree. Its greatest champion in more ways than one. With Jose Maria Olazabal captaining Europe, Miguel Angel Jimenez one of the vice captains and Sergio Garcia returning to form in timely fashion, there was a feeling that Spanish sentiment alone might carry the day for the holders.
It was never clear cut though. Simply because the current incarnation seemed to be a different type of US team than some of those gone before. Thanks mainly to the infusion of new talent in the guise of Jason Duffner, Keegan Bradley, Webb Simpson and Brandt Snedeker. Pitch in that Tiger Woods and Steve Stricker had returned to something like their best and the visitor’s task looked onerous.
Being honest, yours truly thought prospects were bleak. Why can’t exactly can’t be pinpointed. Maybe it was the influx of talented newcomers Davis Love had at his disposal. Some of the European team didn’t have the profile of, say, a Ballesteros or a Jimenez. Padraig Harrington’s absence probably didn’t help either. The cyclical nature of sport was a factor too. Europe’s recent dominance will someday turn the other way. Away from home at Medinah this time around maybe heightened the possibility.
There were several factors balancing up things however. After all, Olazabal had the world’s top player in Rory McIlroy in his armoury. Other top performers too, such as Lee Westwood and Luke Donald. Regarding the latter, Jack Nicklaus’ views about Donald as world number one carry credence. Surely winning Majors has to count for something. Thus, the likes of McIlroy and Tiger Woods must continue to rank ahead of the likes of Donald and Westwood until they win one. That’s a topic for another day though!
Any regrets about Harrington not being there were offset by the fact there was still ample Irish representation as Paul McGinley and Darren Clarke acted as vice captains. McGinley would look to be a shoo-in for the captaincy next time round and if the results of recent Irish influence on the Ryder Cup are anything to go by it must auger well.
As for the action itself, reservations regarding European prospects appeared justified as they trailed by five points to three after the first day and then seemingly totally imploded during day two. Even to the extent where McIlroy and Graeme McDowell – for so long the flagship pairing for the blues – were so off colour that they ended up being separated for Act Two on the Saturday.
That turned out to be a masterstroke by Olazabal. As if guided by his dear, departed friend. The imprint of Seve was everywhere. Not just on the players’ apparel and bags. Shaping their leader’s thinking too. Ian Poulter is to the Ryder Cup what Henry Shefflin is to hurling finals. The sometimes grumpy Englishman becomes a different animal in the contests. Certainly being the embodiment of the Ballesteros legacy. In 1979, I think, it was the passionate persuasions of the late Spaniard that saw the concept so that it’s now a team from all of Europe that goes to war, not Great Britain and Ireland alone.
Whatever brought the pairing about, McIlroy and Poulter gelled like apple tart and cream. Rattling off a plethora of birdies late on the penultimate day to leave a decidedly more manageable four points (10-6) between the sides. Evoking memories of the 1999 match where the Americans pulled of a remarkable recovery from the same deficit. Only to have it soured by the disgusting behaviour of the victors. Tom Lehman was branded a ‘disgrace’ for how he acted before Olazabal’s final putt, which could’ve won the day for Europe. Every road has a turn!
Apart from a shot of confidence and a bit of wind in their sails, Poulter’s late performance gave the holders something else. Momentum is often the biggest game changer. Of course, for that attribute really to be with the chasers, they had to break from the blocks fast on singles Sunday. Mr Bolt truly would’ve been proud of them as Donald duly dispatched Bubba Watson before Paul Lawrie played the golf of his life to send Snedeker packing.
While those results obviously imbued a bit more confidence, Zach Johnson’s defeat of a surprisingly poor McDowell and the dour Duffner beating Peter Hanson solidified the home lead. Then, however, the Seve factor seemed to kick into overdrive. For all that, though, some sort of breakthrough was going to be needed.
It duly arrived when Justin Rose came from behind with two to play and took out Phil Mickelson. From there, a blue wave seemed to descend on Medinah as one of the most memorable comebacks ever was orchestrated. It was up there with Meath’s conquest of Dublin in ’91, and that’s saying something!