Even more typical. Around the time last Sunday that people might have been switching off and at last going about their non-golf business as another bloodless Europe victory materialised, a warm September sun broke out over the K Club.
Okay, the event was staged at a rich man’s playground, and okay, a mix of beautiful people from Michael Jordan to Boris Becker to Bill Clinton watched Team USA sink without trace, but this turned out to be a democratic Ryder Cup after all.
Notwithstanding the exorbitant prices and a touch of park-and-ride chaos, where else could you see Sergio Garcia, Tiger Woods, Darren Clarke, Colin Montgomerie, Jim Furyk, Padraig Harrington and Phil Mickelson — remember him? — pass within touching distance in the space of an hour?
Not alone were there accents from all over Ireland, but from all over Europe and parts of America as well. If the conditions tested the stamina, it was still heartening to watch a few slightly sozzled, over-dressed VIPs emerge from their corporate hospitality suites and promptly sink up to their ankles in mud.
It was if the struggle in rising at dawn, lining up in the rain for shuttle bus to the course and then in braving the elements for most of the day, perversely made the event all that more satisfying. Sodden and all as many of the spectators were, the mood was consistently good and the atmosphere when the players stepped on to a tee box or arrived at a green, positively electric.
It didn’t matter that much of the golf was a bit erratic until the final day singles when Europe really put its foot on the visitors’ throat, it was more important for the galleries to revel in what was certainly a compelling contest until those last anti-climactic few hours.
Captain Tom Lehman, who was articulate and dignified throughout, couldn’t have done much more. With Woods searching desperately for his best form, with Chris DiMarco, Chad Campbell and an apparently disinterested Mickelson firing blanks, and with rookies Brett Wetterich and Vaughn Taylor resembling rabbits in the headlights, Lehman only had a half a team.
In the past, some Americans simply failed to perform – and there was a clearly a repeat of that at the K Club in the case of Mickelson – but this time, a few of the players were not just bemused and inexperienced, they were not good enough. And in all probability, the likes of Wetterich and Taylor have appeared in their first, and only, Ryder Cup.
All the talk of a better team ethos, and genuine friendships between the European players as a determining factor, doesn’t hold water either. Team USA might not bond as impressively, but there were times when if you put 12 Americans out in the singles, they would routinely deliver as individuals. Now, that isn’t even happening.
In Detriot two years ago, Europe won the Sunday match-ups comfortably, and then last weekend, they ran over the Americans as if they weren’t there. Paul McGinley sportingly conceded a 20 foot putt to J.J. Henry at the 18th hole after a streaker ran across the green and hurled himself into the lake – a dazed refugee from one of the park-and-ride lines perhaps – but if Henry had been asked to putt and if he had missed, Europe’s winning margin would have been the biggest ever.
As it was, the 18 1/2 to 9 1/2 result was identical to Detroit, however, there was something different about Europe this time. In 2004, they celebrated a crushing victory with the wide-eyed enthusiasm of players who couldn’t quite believe that the opposition had capitulated so forlornly. At the K Club, it was patently obvious that to a man, they expected to win – and to win easily.
The champagne and the Guinness flowed, and there was some “Ole, ole, oleing” as well as a now obligatory, but slightly muted, version of “The Fields of Athenry,” yet there was a feeling that this third successive victory was preordained. There was satisfaction as much as joy.
For Darren Clarke, it was a bittersweet occasion. He strode into an albeit damp first-tee cauldron last Friday just six weeks after the death of his wife Heather. If Woods, the best player on the planet, finds it hard to hit a straight drive at the start of a Ryder Cup, how would Clarke fare? Could he keep his emotions in check? Would he even see the ball?
The standing ovation he had received was one of many over the three days, and as if in a form of escape from the bleakness of his personal life, he launched a magnificent drive to set up a birdie. Maybe when you’ve been through what Darren Clarke has been through, the Ryder Cup isn’t that big a deal.
Intelligently held back by his captain Ian Woosnam, Clarke only played one game on each of the first two days, and won them both alongside his close friend Lee Westwood, before coming out to dispatch Zach Johnson in the singles. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house when he won at the 16th green, and if there are bound to be some dark days ahead for Clarke, his performance at the K Club, and the way the galleries took him to their hearts, might be some consolation.
Strangely, there were occasions when Clarke appeared almost more relaxed than Ireland’s other representatives, Harrington and Paul McGinley, neither of whom won a match. If Harrington’s total of a just half a point from five games was identical to Mickelson’s he certainly couldn’t have been accused of not trying.
In fact, he was one of only three Europeans who played in every match and if his individual display was disappointing, it was a sign of the winners’ new-found strength in depth that they could afford a poor return from one of their leading players and still run away with the cup.
McGinley also only added a half-point to the cause, but if Clarke was embraced by the galleries as well as both teams, his two compatriots more than added to the spectacle. Afterwards, McGinley appropriated changed the celebratory mood by paying a personal tribute to Heather Clarke.
“She would’ve been right in the middle of all this if she was here, and Big D you’ve been great this week and we’re so proud of the way you’ve handled everything,” McGinley said. “Not only that, but the way you’ve played as well. All credit to you. We’re one big family, and we miss Heather dearly.”
It would have been even more special had Clarke an opportunity to sink the winning putt, that but honor fell to the Swede Henrik Stenson. In the end, it didn’t really matter.
Europe stormed away with that final day, and America were left scratching their heads. Steve Williams, Tiger Woods’s caddie, dropped his boss’s nine iron into the water at the seventh hole, and Woods only had the club returned to him at the 15th. Meanwhile, Scott Verplank had America’s first ever Ryder Cup hole-in-one at the 14th in his game against Harrington, but coming almost half an hour after Europe had sealed the result, it made no difference.
Ireland’s Ryder Cup concluded with cheers, tears and beers. The Failte Ireland boys might have been tearing their hair out because of the weather, but for the rest of us, it was three days we won’t forget in a hurry.
Underdog Rossies defeat
Kingdom for All Ireland
It was a week when anything else that was moving in Irish sport was forced to move below the radar, so the great Seamus Moynihan’s decision to quit inter-county football after Kerry’s All Ireland triumph failed to make the headlines.
Equally obscured was Roscommon’s win in last Saturday’s All Ireland minor football final replay. Now, we’re not saying that a group of teenagers from a county that has seen better days should knock the Ryder Cup off the back pages, but this was a special victory for Roscommon.
Not alone did they account for Kerry by 1-10 to 0-9 at Ennis, but this was also the county’s first minor title for 55 years. With an unheralded team, and Fergal O’Donnell their manager who only took the job at the start of the season when no one else wanted it, this was a genuine triumph for the underdog.
Not quite the same as the events at the K Club.