It was a sight that would make any Brexiteer sad, although I imagine many were in attendance in Paris on the last Sunday in September. Phil Mickelson shanked into the water on the 16th to confirm what had already been known for the best part of an hour. Europe had won the Ryder Cup.
“Tommy, Tommy Tommy, Tommy Tommy, Tommy, Tommy Fleetwood, Moli, Moli Moli, Moli Moli, Moli, Molinari!!”
The refrain rang clear throughout Le Golf National that evening. You could bet good money that the people singing it were not from Francesco’s backyard of Turin in Italy. Instead, it was those from Pete Doherty’s Albion of Digbeth, Catford, Watford and Mansfield that watched on as Molinari and his golden-locked partner of Friday and Saturday, Tommy Fleetwood, that were held aloft in brilliant blue.
The preamble to the 42nd Ryder Cup was the same as it ever was. There was a superficial quality to the mutual respect that both teams displayed in the press conferences of the preceding week. Both sets of players knew that once the first ball had been smacked in anger, it was tooth and nail until someone had a hand on the cup. Friday’s pairings were a literal tale of two halves. The morning fourballs saw the US inflict the first wound. Dustin Johnson and Rickie Fowler comprehensively beat Rory McIlroy and Thorbjørn Olesen to score the first point and although it was a decidedly closer-run affair in the first tee-off between the American tandem of Koepka and Finau and Messrs Rahm and Rose, it was the former who would chalk up the second point of the morning for Team USA. Molinari and Fleetwood would salvage what was left of a disastrous European morning but they did show that the home team could carry the fight to the visiting tourists. They would see off Masters champion Patrick Reed and a drastically revitalised Tiger Woods. No doubt the Statesmen thought they would be the anchor to bring it home but no matter, it was 3-1 to the Americans at lunch and it would be all to play for in the first afternoon. A response was needed. The foursomes are a more delicate matter than their morning counterpart. Here, it really does take two to tango and thankfully, the European pairs were more than up to the challenge that was set before them. One by one, the American pairs were stricken off the record. Ian Poulter, selected partly over the Scottish Russell Knox as one of Captain Thomas Bjorn’s wildcard picks, was back to his brilliant best of 2012, the Miracle at Medinah echoing in his elegant play. Something about the Ryder Cup stokes the fires in Poulter and this edition was no exception. Sergio Garcia did his best to mirror Poulter alongside Alex Norén and the happy marriage of Molinari and Fleetwood would go again in the afternoon, both pairings winning 5&4 to complete a storming Friday comeback for the Europeans.
Saturday morning and momentum was the order of the day for Team Europe. They won three out of the first four matches, the classy Reed and Woods again being bested, again by the mercurial Molinari and Fleetwood. Europe led 8-4 going into Saturday afternoon and although those afternoon’s matches were split evenly down the middle, there was a sense that the Europeans had one hand on the storied trophy. The Americans were now surely regretting their reluctance to play the European Tour for the majority of this season. US golfers have oft been criticised for their arrogance surrounding anything other than their own continent (given that they host 3 out of the 4 annual majors, who could blame them?) but the unwillingness to even scout Guyancourt before the tournament started was questionable at best. Nevertheless, 10-6 at the end of Saturday and although the Europeans would have been favourites, there was still a sense that the Americans could make it interesting.
That is exactly what they did. It took until the fourth singles match of Sunday for the Europeans to win when Jon Rahm narrowly squeezed past Tiger. It was a shame to see Woods come back to play his first Ryder Cup in 6 years, on the back of play that had been totally inspired in months of late, and lose all 4 of the matches that he was involved. Say what you will about his personal life, the travelling Americans would have been hoping that he could have chipped in with a couple of points of his own. Regardless of how Woods played though, Rahm’s victory over the Californian kickstarted a run of 6 consecutive European singles victories. By the close of the day’s play, Europe has bested the Americans 17.5-10.5 and the underdogs had comprehensively beaten off the infinitely more fancied Team USA. It was evident that the celebrations would carry long into the night as Poulter and Henrik Stenson staggered, rather than swaggered, to the victor’s podium. Some would call it complacency, others would say the Yanks were beaten fair and square. Either way, it does not matter. It will be the Europeans defending the trophy in 2020 at Whistling Straits in Wisconsin.