The German commentary on Martin Kaymer’s birdie putt on the 18th at Medinah – the one over six feet – is wonderfully understated. “Yes.” Not whispered. Not shouted. I just spoke, summing up how many of us felt as this ball continued to roll. And then the silence. And then the agonizing wait for Steve Stricker to line up his putt by, line it up again and hit it in the hole.
Had all this feedback been for nothing? And why do I still have butterflies as Kaymer then stands over the ball for a normal putt to hold onto the Ryder Cup? The camera shifts to Sergio García and Graeme McDowell trying not to let the panic show through. The captain, José María Olazábal, is halfway down the fairway on the verge of tears.
Kaymer doesn’t shake him. The putt is slow enough that he rests the club against his thigh with his hands in the air before it falls. And Europe has done it.
It was in 2012. Europe lost 10-4 on Saturday with two matches on the course. Ian Poulter hits a putt and screams like one possessed – with that Arsenal fan at Old Trafford’s eyes burning through people, arms shaking. Justin Rose and Phil Mickelson 17th. Mickelson’s delicious chip goes slowly, Rose hits a putt from further. Unusual steel in his eyes, arms tight. Big Phil must applaud.
“You’re much more likely to go to space or climb Everest than to represent Europe at the Ryder Cup,” Lee Westwood said in preparation for this weekend’s tournament at Whistling Straits, who will see Bernd Wiesberger become the 164th man to represent the continent. The European skipper, Pádraig Harrington, insisted that 570 people were in space. It’s interesting to think that you’re three and a half times more likely to be floating in the cosmos than being in the frame to play fourball with Jon Rahm on Friday afternoon.
It does not sound like a situation of either one. What will it be sir? Ryder Cup or space? There’s a good chance Elon Musk is considering touring the elderly there as we speak. Imagine how far it will go from the tee in zero gravity. Fuzzy Zoeller hitting a five and a half mile wood directly into the crater on the green side.
For now the Ryder Cup remains on earth, and for my money – the biggest sporting event going on. This is clearly a matter of Clive opinion, not a debate where everyone disagrees at the start and disagrees at the end. But there is something about it that moves me to the point that I am riding every glorious European moment – Jamie Donaldson’s approach on the 15th at Gleneagles in 2014. “One hundred and forty-six yards left down the hill … BE GOOD “- biting her upper lip, finger pointing skyward. “Absolutely wonderful. Well done Jamie, and now we can finally celebrate.”
Fans of golf in good weather probably do not deserve the joy of this competition. I don’t know when the European Tour starts, I catch the majors if I happen to be at home. Of all the golf courses in the world, I could only confidently describe the 17th at Sawgrass. But by Sunday, I’ll have an encyclopedic knowledge of every hole in the Whistling Strait. When there are 12 singles matches on the course, my brain will have reconnected to a golf version of Minority Report. I’ll know Paul Casey’s lie on the 5th and Shane Lowry’s club selection on the 12th.
Much has been said about rude fans in America – and there’s a line, but I watch from the comfort of my couch with such a bias, it would be gross hypocrisy to criticize too much. The European team is made up of 12 individuals, 12 superheroes – each with their own origin story worthy of a 2.5-hour Marvel epic. Standing in their way are 12 Identikit Americans. They are the bad guys, simple henchmen. That’s 11 henchmen and end-level boss Bryson DeChambeau – twice the size of the others. Do they even have speaking roles? When they pump their fists and hit their chest, it’s vulgar and unworthy of sport. When Europeans do it, it’s for good – it’s romantic, virtuous, it’s part of something bigger. If Viktor Hovland and Matt Fitzpatrick can team up to defeat unscrupulous law firm ScHotele and Scheffler, then perhaps a fractured continent can be reunited. This is what it means to be European.
All of this may not generate such emotion for some, but for gamers it definitely is. The chance to be part of a team. This is the only time they are truly supported – en masse, with passion, singing and chanting. And about the only time they’ve been booed and heckled. This camaraderie rarely exists in individual sports. You may prefer one golfer or athlete over another. But you cannot buy a subscription for Scott Verplank. You can’t go home and go see Adam Peaty. But to be greater than the sum of their parts for a long weekend. To make that five-foot putt mean something to someone else – not just to you. It is important.
And while they might ultimately all be stateless millionaires living on suitcases – swinging metal sticks for our entertainment – the connection between them seems real. Ollie and Seve, Clarke and Westwood, Fleetwood and Molinari.
Monday we can put the golf course away for a few years, but for this weekend that’s all that matters. And on Sunday night, let’s hope Europe takes inspiration from the brilliant Solheim Cup victory a few weeks ago and Ian Woosnam is on a balcony somewhere drinking a pint of Guinness in celebration.