|I Was There Saturday|
|Hazeltine #8 on Saturday|
|David Feherty moving around Hazeltine National|
By Steven PeaseAfter spending Friday night in a tent at a Jordan, MN campground, I made it to Hazeltine as the sun came up - setting up camp on 8 and 16 in the morning, and back to 8 and 17 in the afternoon. I bought $10 breakfast sandwiches, $11 beers, a $15 radio and way too many gifts at the shop. And just like the players, I couldn't have cared less about money. This was about pride, and having the experience of a lifetime. I got what I paid for.
From the monstrous roar after Phil drained an uphill 40-footer for par while down 3, to the watching the enviable balance, angelic ball flight, and pure roll from Rory - I took it all in with a great group of guys and loved every minute of it (and we're already planning for 2020 at Whistling Straits). The ground shook when Patrick Reed holed out for eagle on 6. Heads shook as Paulina Gretzky took a selfie from the back of a cart on 8. And the cheering on 16 began almost the moment Ryder rookie Matthew Fitzpatrick cannonballed his approach into the blue lagoon.
Drinking It All In
Undoubtedly, a number of American spectators became quite toasty in the Indian summer heat. I heard many of the roars, cheers and laughable jeers. I admit I partook in the cheering of a putt to roll back off of a slope, and for that I feel a small pang of gleeful guilt. But I clapped for more European approaches than I cheered against. The Europeans I spoke with while waiting - Lee from Wales, Derek from Sheffield, David from Spain - all felt the crowds were reasonable, save for a few. Hardly "hostile" as Rory put it.
Still, I'm Left With A Few Endearing Questions
Does this type of revelry, badgering and belittling not occur at the Ryder when it's played on European soil? I, personally, didn't hear anything too out of the ordinary (for a Ryder Cup or football match). But I saw video of at least one shameful exchange that crossed the line, and Rory crossed it right back. It's not in the spirit of the matches, and it's a bummer a few drunks weren't able to keep their crooked mouths shut.
Perhaps just as importantly, why wouldn't Rory wear a hat during the matches, but wouldn't take off his shades after they were over? Head-scratcher.
And is it fair to now say Patrick Reed is already the greatest American Ryder Cupper ever? At 6-1-2 dare I say Captain America is the new American GOAT!?
Shots, Shots, Shots, Shots-Shots-Shots!
The Europeans weren't above taking shots after the last putts had been conceded on Sunday. For the utmost class shown by Captain Darren Clarke, it was Justin Rose of all people who poo-pooed the course set up. Hazeltine, with its Augusta-like "rough" and mostly center pins was set up for birdies, eagles and in the most pristine condition imaginable. Meanwhile, Willet whined his way around the week, quizzically backing up his straight-up rude brother who found it necessary to call 'most' Americans fat and lazy in a "satirical" post. Real original! Arguably true, yes, but rest assured you put a target on your brother's green-jacket-covered back. Who was the "classless bastard" this week, Pete? My son tells me the best way to beat bullies is to forget they exist. And thanks to Danny's 0-3 record helping the U.S. win, I'm more than ready to forgive and forget the Willets.
Thursday Was When The Magic Happened
However, the magic started as early as Thursday's final practice round. Usually, Michael Jordan provides the motivation. This year, it was Mayville, North Dakota's David Johnson. The insurance salesman called out by Henrik Stenson made the curling, downhill 12-footer when Rory and others couldn't. Like a damn boss. Under Ryder Cup pressure. And the U.S. team followed suit - led by Captain America, Patrick Reed - ramming putts into the back of the hole all week.
If Johnson doesn't make that putt, who knows how the week would have gone? Would the Americans absolutely route the Euros in the Friday morning matches? 4-0 is tough to come back from in the Ryder Cup. Johnson was joined by every American golfing celebrity you could shake chicken-on-a-stick at. I spotted Corey Pavin, the (next U.S. captain?) Freddy Couples, even David Feherty drove by and said "morning" to me. Huh. Tiger and Bubba were within a few feet of me a few times. And, to quote my buddy Peter, "Rory looks so tiny!!!"
Never once did I see Reed back down or question a shot he took. With clear eyes and full hearts, Texans Speith and Reed couldn't lose on Saturday. (Technically, a halve isn't a loss people!). But Sunday's first match was a thing of beauty.
A Flight To Catch, A Cup To Win
I took in the 11:04 Sunday match of Reed vs. McIlroy from the comfort of MSP's "Champions Room" - basically a suped-up man cave dedicated to golf and the viewing of the Ryder Cup. After a hearty brunch, I kicked back in a massive easy chair, basking in the surround sound as the singles matches commenced - all while chatting up fellow Saturday spectators before we headed back to our respective hometowns. We traded stories, high fives and fist bumps. It was the perfect ending to the week, even though the final matches had just begun.
On the 3:00 p.m. flight home spotty GoGo Wi-Fi made it tough to track in real time, but as soon as we hit the tarmac my phone couldn't stop buzzing with Ryan Moore! and American flag emojis, and I knew Samuel Ryder's cup would stay on American soil, and Arnold Palmer's team were the ones who claimed it in his name.
And In The End
The matches took a markedly different tone than the gentlemanly classics of the late '60s. It was much more War By The Shore than The Concession. But just as Jack Nicklaus did in '69, the Europeans I spoke with knew a U.S. win would be good for future Ryder Cups.
I see the 2016 Ryder Cup as a personification of the way the game is changing. Granted, there's golf, and then there's the Ryder Cup. But when record crowds are bouncing to classic rock that's bumping at full volume behind the world's greatest players on the range, you know a shift is happening under your feet. I hope the 2016 Ryder will act as an awakening - a belief that the U.S. can win in Paris in 2018. But I hope we can win with the positive support of fans who are conscious that their words carry weight and consequences. And win with the realization that as golfers and golf fans, we are all ambassadors to a certain degree - tasked with carrying on the gentlemanly legacy of Ryder Cup champions like Seve, Palmer, Nicklaus and the greats to come.
Congrats to DLIII, Reed and cheers to the entire American and European teams and their true fans. The 2016 Ryder Cup was one of the U.S.'s best. Hopefully I'll be there to see a répétez ganger en Paris.
Take a bow, boys. You earned it.
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