The Ryder Cup is the only major sporting event in the world where the losing team has to sit and watch the winners receive the trophy. Sunday night as darkness fell on Medinah Country Club, the American contingent marched to the massive stage and watched the Europeans reap the harvest of their Ryder Cup victory- the greatest comeback of all time.
You remember those times in life when the hands on the clock seemingly creep from minute to minute. Will this ever end? That was Sunday night in Chicago. Only at the Ryder Cup do you have to throw on a coat and tie and go congratulate the winners. Only in golf would something like that happen.
If the Closing Ceremonies weren’t enough, the PGA of America requires its players and officials to attend the post mortem press conference in the Media Center. As the two vans took us to our destination one of the players quipped, “Any chance we could just keep on driving through the gates and get out of here?”
Once inside, Davis Love III continued to exert his role as the keeper and protector of his twelve man squad. He fielded all of the obvious questions about why Phil and Keegan didn’t play Saturday afternoon; why Tiger and Stricker were at the end of the lineup; what he would do differently if he had the chance.
Jim Furyk took the most brutal question when asked what was tougher, the way he lost the U.S. Open and the Bridgestone WGC event earlier this season or dropping the final two holes in the Ryder Cup. Furyk’s answer was short and to the point.
“Obviously you have never played on a team,” he said as he glared at the reporter. “I let these eleven guys down today. What do you think?”
Following the media session, the players scattered to their rooms and eventually to the team room. We, as officials, had to attend a farewell dinner with the Ryder Cup Europe officials. The dinner did not get started until around 9 p.m. and didn’t end until Midnight. It wasn’t anything that any of us Americans were looking forward to. This is a tradition that has existed for many years.
Until 1995, the two teams actually attended the farewell dinner. Both captains decided that it was just too much to ask the losing team to sit through dinner watching toasts and celebrations from the winners. However, the Ryder Cup officials decided that the tradition would continue for everyone but the players, mainly on the insistence of the Europeans.
Sunday night, Ryder Cup Europe could not have been more gracious. Honestly, they were still in as much shock by their victory as we were our loss. While the PGA of America solely owns the U.S. Ryder Cup, three different entities share ownership of the European side of it- the European Tour, the PGA of Great Britain and Ireland plus Ryder Cup Europe.
We were privileged to have two former European Ryder Cup members at this year’s farewell dinner. Peter Baker from England and Jean Van de Velde of France are both directors for Ryder Cup Europe. Van de Velde was a member of the 1999 European Ryder Cup team that fell to the Americans at Brookline, MA. That was the year when the U.S. trailed by the same 10-6 score after Saturday’s play and Captain Ben Crenshaw uttered the famous phrase, “I have a good feeling about this.”
The U.S. went on to rally just like the Europeans did on Sunday. Ironically, Van de Velde fell victim to Love III in the singles match at that historic Ryder Cup finale at The Country Club. The memories are still vivid for the Frenchman.
“This loss by the Americans will sting for a long time. They will wake up tomorrow and feel the pain,” said Van de Velde as we dined and wined together Sunday night. “It will take a while to get over this one. For me, there is some redemption tonight. It eases some of my pain from 1999.”
Van de Velde certainly knows the pain of defeat. He nearly achieved an upset victory at the 1999 Open Championship at Carnoustie, when he was the clear leader playing the closing holes. He arrived at the 18th tee needing only a double bogey six to become the first Frenchman since 1907 to win the world’s oldest tournament. He had played error-free golf for much of the week and birdied the 18th hole in two prior rounds.
Despite a three-shot lead, Van de Velde chose to use driver off the tee and proceeded to drive the ball to the right of the burn and was lucky to find land. Rather than laying up and hitting the green with his the third, Van de Velde decided to go for the green with his second shot. His shot drifted right, ricocheted backwards off the railings of the grandstands by the side of the green, landed on top of a stone wall of the Barry Burn and then bounced fifty yards backwards into knee-deep rough.
On his third shot, Van de Velde’s club got tangled in the rough on his downswing, and his ball flew into the Barry Burn. He removed his shoes and socks and gingerly stepped through shin-deep water as he debated whether to try to hit his ball out of the Barry Burn, which guards the 18th green. Ultimately, he took a drop and proceeded to hit his fifth shot into the greenside bunker. Van de Velde blasted to within six-feet from the hole, and made the putt for a triple bogey seven.
This dropped him into a three way playoff with Justin Leonard and Paul Lawrie. Lawrie, a member of both the ’99 and ’12 Ryder Cup teams, would eventually triumph in the playoff.
On Sunday night, I couldn’t muster up the courage to ask the great Frenchman which hurt worse- the loss of the 1999 Ryder Cup or the debacle at the Open Championship. One thing was apparent though, Van de Velde was still smarting from that ’99 Ryder Cup defeat.