After the heroics and histrionics at Hazeltine, these two (and the fans) are hoping it can happen one more time.
Davis Love III has all sorts of mementos from the 2016 Ryder Cup scattered around his house. There are two, though, that he probably enjoys looking at more than any of the others.
One is the ball that Ryan Moore played on the 18th hole of his singles match with Lee Westwood. When Westwood conceded Moore’s one-foot par putt shortly after 4 o’clock on that bright October Sunday in Minnesota, the Ryder Cup returned to the United States.
Moore was instantly surrounded by his teammates and never bothered to pick the ball up. Love picked it up for him.
“In 1993, when I made the putt at The Belfry that clinched retaining the cup, I never got the ball from the hole because I was mobbed, and then I went to shake hands with Costantino [Rocca],” Love says. “I always regretted that. I wanted to make sure Ryan got that golf ball.”
But when Love tried to hand the ball over to Moore, the new hero shook his head. “You keep it, captain,” he said. “I want you to have it.”
The other cherished memento is even smaller than Moore’s golf ball. It’s the tee that Patrick Reed used to hit his drive at the 18th hole earlier that Sunday during his epic singles match with Rory McIlroy.
“As soon as he hit it, he started walking down the fairway with this strut in his step like he knew he’d hit it 50 yards past Rory,” Love says, laughing. “I just went over and grabbed it. I wanted something to remember that match by – one way or the other.
“I knew Rory had hit it way past Patrick,” Love says, “but it didn’t matter. He wasn’t going to let the match get away. He knew it; Rory knew it; I knew it.”
McIlroy had, in fact, hit his tee shot 30 yards past Reed. As Love says, it didn’t matter. Reed hit his second shot to 10 feet and made the birdie putt that clinched the match.
McIlroy, who had hit his second shot to six feet, knew Reed wasn’t going to miss the putt. “He hadn’t missed all day,” he said. “Why would he miss that one?”
When Love told Reed later about picking up the tee, Reed laughed. “I know,” he said. “I saw you.”
To this day, Love has no idea how it was possible for Reed to see him. “He was 25 yards up the fairway, practically running. He’d have made a great point guard with that kind of peripheral vision.”
Although Sergio Garcia and Phil Mickelson would later halve a superb match – each shot 63 – it is the Reed-McIlroy duel that those who were at Hazeltine National that day remember as if it ended 15 minutes ago.
“Tiger was walking with them, and he had his radio open,” says Jim Furyk, who will captain this year’s American team outside Paris this week. “We would hear this massive cheer come through the radio, and then he’d have to wait at least a minute, maybe longer, to talk to us because it was so loud.”
At one point, Woods, who has put on some shows of his own, said, “You guys won’t believe what I’m seeing right now.”
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THE MATCH THAT ALMOST WASN’T
The Americans had a 9½-6½ lead at the end of Saturday’s four-ball matches. But everyone on both sides remembered Medinah in 2012, when the US team had led 10-6 going into the singles matches.
Love had been the US captain that year, too. Late that Sunday night, when he went to the European team room to congratulate captain Jose Maria Olazabal and his players on their victory, his good friend Darren Clarke had taken him aside, put an arm around him and said, “What the hell were you thinking?”
Europe had, as Love now puts it, “loaded the boat,” putting its best four players out first, knowing it needed blue on the board early. Love had put out a more balanced lineup. Before you could say, Miracle at Medinah, Europe won the first five matches and went on to retain the cup.
“What I learned that day was, I had spent months thinking about the pairings for the first two days,” Love says, “and I did a good job with it. But I spent maybe an hour or two thinking about Sunday’s lineup, and that’s 12 matches. When they asked me to captain again, I vowed not to make the same mistake.”
After the matches ended on Saturday at Hazeltine, Love sent his five vice-captains – Woods, Furyk, Tom Lehman, Steve Stricker and Bubba Watson – to the back of the Hazeltine locker room to start putting pairings together. He sat in the club’s dining area – the US team room – with his players to talk to them about the next 24 hours.
‘Their fans are clever and funny – funnier than we are. Our crowds are louder.’ — Patrick Reed
By the time he walked in to where his assistants were waiting, Love was having a bit of a panic attack. For months the plan had been to load the boat on Sunday – whether leading or trailing. A fast start was imperative to either keep spirits high, among players and the rabid crowd, or to get them going.
Love thought Clarke – now his opposing captain – might push McIlroy and Henrik Stenson to the third and fourth spots because McIlroy had traditionally played third. He wanted his two best players, Reed and Jordan Spieth, to go head-to-head with them.
“Maybe we should move Patrick and Jordan back,” Love said.
Everyone disagreed. “We reminded him what the plan had been all along,” Furyk says. “If they moved Rory and Stenson back, so be it. But we wanted to come out guns blazing.”
There was one other thing. “I think deep down we knew Rory was going first,” Love says. “He had to go first.”
McIlroy felt that way, too, and had told Clarke that. He thought that Love wouldn’t make the same mistake twice and would lead with Reed, who had taken on the mantle of Captain America that week.
“I was going to do whatever the captain told me to do, of course,” Reed says. “But I wanted to be out there first, and I wanted to play Rory. I loved the challenge.”
With Ian Poulter hurt and in the role of vice-captain, with Graeme McDowell not on the team and with veterans Westwood and Martin Kaymer struggling, McIlroy had arrived at Hazeltine knowing he had to lead a team with six rookies.
Clarke knew it, too. “Rory had to go out first,” he says. “He’d been our leader all week, the guy who took charge in the team room, the guy everyone looked to. I was hoping he would come to me and say, ‘I want to play first.’ I’m not honestly sure what I would have done if he’d said he wanted to stay in that third spot, where he’d been comfortable in the past.
“I didn’t expect him to say that, and he didn’t let me down,” Clarke says. “Once he said he wanted to play first, it wasn’t that difficult to make the rest of the line-up. Rory had to be the one out there first not only to play Reed, who I knew would be out first, but to take on the American fans – again.”
For two days, McIlroy had taken on the opposition inside and outside the ropes. “I had to do it,” he says. “I was playing well coming in [winning the Tour Championship], and some of the veteran guys who had been our leaders weren’t there to lead as in the past. I needed to show the guys not only that we could win but we weren’t going to be intimidated by the crowd.
“I thought if I could take Patrick down, get us off to a fast start, we could rally the way we had at Medinah,” McIlroy says. “I knew this was different from Medinah. There, we’d won the last two points on Saturday to close the gap to four. We had the momentum. This time, we’d given up points late, let them build the margin. My job was to get the momentum back.”
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GOING ‘FULL HULK’
One couldn’t fault McIlroy’s effort. He birdied five of the first eight holes. As it turned out, that wasn’t enough.
McIlroy birdied the third hole to go 1 up before Reed drove the short par-4 fifth and made an eight-foot putt for eagle to even the match.
The next three holes were what Woods would describe as needing to be seen to be believed.
Both men birdied 6, both men birdied 7. At the par-3 eighth, McIlroy had what Reed now describes as “a five-million-foot putt” for birdie. McIlroy drained it, then went – in the words of Matt Kuchar – “full Hulk”, screaming at the top of his lungs, doing everything but tearing his shirt off.
Reed had about a 25-footer to match him. He rolled it in the centre, and the place was so loud it felt as if the roof would come off the building – except the roof was blue sky… and it almost came off.
Reed turned and pointed his finger at McIlroy, and for a split second it looked as if the situation might turn hostile. It didn’t. McIlroy offered a fist bump, and the two made the long walk to the ninth tee side by side.
“That walk might be what I remember most from that day,” Reed says. “We were talking about how much fun it was to be competing like this with one another, knowing how many people were watching, and what was at stake. It was one of those moments where you remember that what you’ve been given the chance to do, playing in the Ryder Cup, is incredibly cool.”
McIlroy remembers that walk, too. “I had shushed the crowd a little bit earlier, which was what Patrick had done at Gleneagles during his match with Stenson,” he says. “I said to him, ‘You know imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.’ We actually had a good laugh there.
“I knew what was going on was special. I’ve played in four Ryder Cups and been in some tense matches. But nothing like this; nothing at this level of play and emotion. I was doing everything I could to put some blue on the board for us, to give my teammates behind me a boost. Patrick just wouldn’t let me do it.”
Neither player was able to keep up the level of play that had occurred over those first eight holes, but Reed had just a little bit more left.
“I think all the adrenaline, not just from the day, but from the entire week drained me just a little,” McIlroy says. “The whole week was full of emotion. Arnold Palmer’s death, then the controversy over Danny’s brother [comments by P.J. Willett about American crowds], and then a few in the crowd who got out of hand. Plus, we were fighting for our lives from the start after we went down, 4-0, on Friday morning. We rallied back after that, but it took a lot of energy.
“I’m not sure I even realised how exhausted I was until I got home and had some time to relax. The Ryder Cup is always emotional, but never quite like that.”
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A REMATCH TO COME?
McIlroy has never sat out a session in four Ryder Cups. Given what the Hazeltine week took out of him, might he consider talking to European captain Thomas Bjorn about sitting out a session in France?
“Absolutely not,” McIlroy says. “For one thing, Paris will be different. We won’t have six rookies playing. We’ll be at home, and that changes things considerably. I definitely plan on playing all five.”
So does Reed. He and Spieth and Woods, the vice captain of their unofficial pod, had to convince Love not to rest them on Saturday afternoon at Hazeltine.
“Put it this way: I’ll keep telling Jim I want to play all five matches over and over again if need be,” Reed says. “I can go five – I know it, and I think I proved it at Hazeltine. I can rest on Monday.”
Furyk isn’t going to divulge his pairings or captain’s picks until he has to, but he makes it clear Reed is exactly the kind of player he expects to lead his team – especially in France.
“When I met with potential team members at my house during the Players, I told them some specific things I was looking for in my team,” Furyk says. “One of them was a chip on the shoulder, especially under pressure. Patrick’s certainly proven he’s got that.” Reed has come a long way from the introverted Ryder Cup rookie in 2014. During the Saturday-night team meeting, Mickelson told him, “We need to know you better.” Now, Reed knows not only that his spot on the team is secure, but he’ll arrive in Paris expecting – and wanting – to be a target for the fans.
“I loved it when they got on me at Gleneagles,” he says. “I expect even more of it in Paris, and I’m looking forward to it. Their fans are clever and funny – funnier than we are. Our crowds are louder. They’re funnier.”
All the Americans agree on that. European crowds can be boisterous, but they rarely take rudeness to the level sometimes seen in the United States.
“I would hope the Americans won’t have to deal with what we had to at times at Hazeltine,” McIlroy says. “Their players tried their best to stop it. We would certainly do the same thing, but I hope it doesn’t come to that. I honestly don’t think it will.”
Bjorn says he plans to see to it that it isn’t a problem. Adds Furyk: “I honestly don’t think it will be. My experiences as a player over there have been good. I love their singing, and they are funny. I remember standing on the first tee in Wales during a fog delay, and a guy in the crowd yelled, ‘Hey, Jimmy, just follow your nose down the fairway. No way you’ll get lost.’ I cracked up, gave him a salute because it was a good line.”
‘Winning the Ryder Cup is different – it’s unique. But the next-best thing is losing the Ryder Cup. I wouldn’t miss one for the world.’ — Rory McIlroy
McIlroy believes that the Ryder Cup experience of 2016 helped make Reed a Masters champion, just as his own experience in Wales in 2010 was a factor in him becoming a Major champion at the US Open almost nine months later.
“If you can handle that crucible, when you’ve got teammates depending on you and your country counting on you, then it certainly helps your confidence when you get into contention in a Major,” he says. “I was still learning after Wales, and I took my lumps at Augusta that April [when he shot a final-round 80 after taking a four-shot lead through 54 holes]. But I knew the ability to play my best when it mattered most was there inside me. The pressures are different, but if you can play well in a Ryder Cup, you know you can play well in a Major.”
Reed agrees. “You have to be playing well to get yourself into contention in the first place,” he says. “But when you get in contention, you can certainly draw on that Ryder Cup experience to deal with the pressure.”
Reed had played in a dozen Majors before Hazeltine and never finished better than T-12. After not playing well anywhere for most of 2017, he finished equal second at the US PGA Championship. He followed that by winning the Masters to start 2018 and then finished fourth in the US Open at Shinnecock Hills.
Reed and McIlroy understand that circumstances will dictate whether they get another shot at playing one another in singles in France. Each would love the chance to face the other again.
“The thing you have to understand is that moments like that are fun,” Reed says. “It’s what you play golf for; it’s why you compete. I really like the guys on the European team, and there’s no one more enjoyable to play against than Rory.
“When I finally sat down and watched the entire last day, including our match, I got chills remembering some of those moments – not just hitting good shots or making putts – but the camaraderie we felt out there. I’d love to have that feeling again.
“That weekend was special not just because we won, but because it was the first time I’d represented my country at home. I’d played the Ryder Cup at Gleneagles, the Presidents Cup in South Korea. Having the crowd behind me those three days was amazing.
It’s a memory I’ll always have no matter what happens in Paris or in the future. I hope I get the chance to go back [to Hazeltine] in 2028. That will always be special to me.”
‘The Ryder Cup is always emotional, but never quite like that.’ — Rory McIlroy
Hazeltine will always hold memories for McIlroy, too, and he’d love another crack at Reed this weekend – with a different result. “Being part of that match was one of the highlights of my career,” he says. “I love the Ryder Cup. As disappointed as I was to lose that match, I walked away from it feeling good about the way I’d performed. In the end, I didn’t pull it off, but under unbelievable pressure, with 50,000 people rooting against me, I played about as well as I could have hoped to play.
“At some point, I’ll be under incredible pressure again – soon, I hope – and the memory of that match and that weekend will only help me.
“Winning Majors is an absolutely great feeling, nothing like it. But winning the Ryder Cup is different – it’s unique. But the next best thing is losing the Ryder Cup. I wouldn’t miss one for the world.”
McIlroy pauses and smiles. “But I’d really rather not go through losing it again. Once was enough.”