In the colorful history of Chicago, one of the best known chapters is the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre. That event involved one powerful gang invading the home turf of their rival gang and when the smoke cleared, no one from the home team was left standing; they’d all been wacked.
You can now add one more chapter to the Chicago history book: The Massacre at Medinah.
In overcoming a daunting 10-6 deficit to defeat the United States 14.5 to 13.5 in the 39th Ryder Cup, the European team proved that this event is unique in its ability to produce outcomes that simultaneously quicken the spirit and boggle the mind. For the first two days the Americans bullied the Europeans, distributing two-man beatings like the gangsters that used to dominate the Windy City. The Euros looked outmanned, outgunned and uncharacteristically outclassed compared to the Americans. From the pyrotechnic bromance that was Phil Mickelson and Keegan Bradley to the silent movie that is Jason Dufner and Zach Johnson, virtually every pairing seemed to be a confirmation of the skill and preparation from U.S. Captain Davis Love. And what was most puzzling was that the team matches had historically been the domain of the Euros. With Sunday singles looming, it seemed that a rout was afoot.
It was going to be a rout, but not the one that everyone expected.
European captain Jose Maria Olazabal took a page from Ben Crenshaw’s Captain’s Log, exhorting his charges to “believe”. They had been given hope in the form of Nicolas Colsaerts eight birdies and an eagle to save a point on Friday. Ian Poulter seemed to lose his mind as he won a crucial point on Saturday with five straight birdies and a victory yell straight out of Braveheart. The U.S. team also provided hope as Tiger Woods and Steve Stricker went oh-fer in their matches, an especially disappointing result for Stricker as a Captain’s Choice.
On Sunday, the Europeans front-loaded their lineup knowing that they needed to draw blood quickly to have any hope. While the American pairings had covered the weaknesses of their players, those vulnerabilities were fully exposed as the teams went mano á mano. The Euros seemed to remember that while the Americans had seven players on their roster with a major championship, they had four major winners as well as four players on their own team that had been ranked No. 1 in the world and four players in the current top 5. Singles play provided the opportunity for the each of the European players to navigate the course in their own manner. It quickly became apparent that the Euros were not going to roll over for the U.S. team or the U.S. crowd.
While the Euros took flight, the Americans seemed to wilt as each match reached the back nine. Maybe it was because so many of the matches in the first two days ended early, but whatever the reason the Americans lost ten consecutive matches that reached the 17th or 18th hole, a damning statistic. It speaks to the Americans being classic frontrunners that choked like dogs in the clutch.
The whole day was a repeat of the Americans astonishing comeback in Brookline in 1999, where the U.S. rode a wave of crowd noise and a thousand feet of holed putts to victory. But on the last hole of the Martin Kaymer – Jim Furyk match on Sunday, it was the ghosts of Bernhard Langer and the the six-foot putt that he missed that would have won the Cup for Europe in 1991 that hung over the course. Fellow German Kaymer found himself also standing over a six-footer for the Cup. He drained it, making the anchor match of Wood and Molinari moot, and putting a cap on arguably the greatest day of golf ever. Somewhere, Seve Ballesteros was smiling.
In the St. Valentie’s Day Massacre, one side was outmanned and outgunned. In this massacre, the victims were plenty well-armed; they just couldn’t get off a shot when they needed to. The senior core on the U.S. team of Furyk, Stricker and Mickelson failed utterly on Sunday, and Woods never had the chance to secure a point that could have partially redeemed him from yet another lackluster Ryder Cup performance. And while Davis Love said that he would not have done anything differently on team selection, Rickie Fowler and Hunter Mahan must have felt some combination of disgust and satisfaction as they watched Stricker and the rest of the golf version of the PTA hobble and wobble to the finish line.
There are so many individual stories that will come out in the next few days as the events of the last few are analyzed. The 39th Ryder Cup was a weekend that will live long in golf annals, and in the minds of both teams. For the Europeans, it will truly be the Massacre at Medinah. For the Americans, it will always feel more like an ambush.