As the fans and teams gathered for the 2016 Ryder Cup, the pressure was firmly on Team USA. They had last won in 2008 at Valhalla, they needed a win. Team Europe had all the momentum and were flying high thanks to a strong win at Gleneagles in 2014 and other recent results. The last time the Ryder Cup was held on US soil was the so called ‘Miracle at Medinah’, that most dramatic of sporting comebacks. The 2016 Ryder Cup was held at Hazeltine National Golf Club in Minnesota. David Love III faced-off against Darren Clarke that week.
The Task Force
During the 2014 Ryder Cup, there was some trouble in the US ranks. Tom Watson was captain of Team USA but some of his team didn’t agree with how he managed the tournament. As questions were raised over his selections, the results added to the pressure on Watson. At the end of that week, the American players decided they had had enough of losing. Phil Mickelson was at the centre of the Team USA Task Force and vowed to improve how the team worked. The 2016 Ryder Cup would be the first time that this team had competed since the work of Mickelson’s taskforce. The pressure would be on him to show that his mutiny was worth it.
Just before the Ryder Cup started that week, Arnold Palmer died. This was an incredibly sad moment for the world of golf as they lost a true legend. ‘The King’ was one of the real greats and a true gentleman. Arnold Palmer was one of the first golfers from the ‘municipal’ course background, and he brought golf to a wider audience for the first time. In honour of the great man, his bag from the 1975 Ryder Cup where he was the US captain, was placed on the first tee.
For years, Team Europe had been fighting for the memory of Seve, and he had helped them from the golfing heavens. Now the Americans had a late hero to dedicate a win to. Would it be the event that helped galvanise their efforts? All the players were clearly moved by Palmer’s passing and this week became a celebration of his great life.
Hazeltine National Golf Club
The arena for that week was one with great heritage but it wasn’t so well known when it was announced as the host course. In April 2002, Hazeltine National was selected as the host course for the 2016 Ryder Cup. Later that year the course held its first major, the PGA Championship.
The 7,678 yard par 72 course was designed by Robert Trent Jones and was first opened in 1962. In 1970, the US Open was held at Hazeltine and was won by Tony Jacklin. The course is a lush setting for golf with grand trees and large water hazards to avoid. The greens at Hazeltine National are as much a part of the protection of the course as any other features. They are slick and contoured, if you put the ball on the wrong portion of the green you could be in trouble. This is a wonderful golf course that all golfers will love.
That morning, it was clear that even under the pressure of the first tee of the Ryder Cup, the players were taking a moment to reflect when they saw Arnie’s bag. They were taking a moment to think of the great man and pay silent respect to him before the battle got underway.
In a wonderful twist of fate, not for the Europeans, the Americans came out and won the first session 4-0. This had not happened since 1975. Yes, the year that Arnold Palmer was the Team USA captain. That bag and what it represented had helped give the home side the perfect start.
This session saw some great matches and none better than the Rose/Stenson vs. Spieth/Reed match-up. In recent Ryder Cups, these groups had been stand-outs. This was like an all-star match and an incredible group to open the event with. The Americans would take the tie 3&2 sending a message that even their golden boys weren’t safe. A 5&4 win for DJ and Kuchar in the last match of the session was another signal that Europe was in for a tough week.
Europe were left reeling, things had definitely not started to plan but it was only the first session, they could turn it around. In what seemed like a gutsy move, Captain Clarke went for Rose and Stenson to lead the team out again. As the teams were announced, they saw they would be facing Spieth and Reed again, payback time.
The Europeans came out to show strength and send a message. A 5&4 win. This was exactly what the visitors needed during the second session. A big early statement win over the special pairing of Spieth and Reed. The fight had begun. That win was quickly followed by a 3&2 win for the all-Spanish pairing of Sergio Garcia and Rafa Cabrera-Bello. That week, Europe had six rookies in their team. Without doubt, this would be challenging for Darren Clarke, but he had plenty of experience in there to balance it out too. That win for Garcia and Rafa would settle some nerves for sure.
Team USA had only two rookies that week. One of them, Brooks Koepka, took a big win in this session with a 5&4 win over Martin Kaymer and Danny Willett, another one of the European rookies. Clarke got another point on the board from a rookie with a win from McIlroy and Thomas Pieters. The session would end 3-1 in Europe’s favour bringing the overall score to 5-3. This must strong afternoon must have been a huge relief to Captain Clarke and his team.
There must have been some tension for Europe knowing that Saturday would start with foursomes. Having been swept on the day before, they needed to make amends. They had momentum though, the afternoon session had brought that. Clarke even decided to start-off exactly where they left. Pieters and McIlroy would be the lead-off pair. They would reward the captain for his faith with a big 4&2 win over Mickelson and Fowler.
The next game up would see that unstoppable American rookie, Brooks Koepka, partner with Brandt Snedeker for a point. The session would end in favour of Europe again and made the match incredibly tight after three sessions. A halved match for Reed and Spieth was another momentum-booster for the visitors. They were putting on the pressure. That 4-0 lead had shrunk to 6 ½ — 5 ½.
Clarke had a good thing going. He went for McIlroy and Pieters to lead-out the fourth session, it was working well. If Europe could put in another strong session, the match would be tight going into the singles and Europe would feel great about that. They won the first match. Pieters looked every bit as mature on the course as his experience partner, he wasn’t a typical rookie. They took that tie 3&1 and, what’s more, they defeated Koepka in doing it. The undefeated American rookie had his first taste of Ryder Cup defeat.
The remaining games on the course were tight. This was probably the tensest session of the match so far. Yet another win for Europe meant that that huge US lead had completely gone. The home crowd were clearly wary that this could be yet another Ryder Cup disappointment.
Then the red started to fill the leaderboard. The second game came in, Holmes and Moore came in with a 1 up win over the all-English Westwood and Willett. Then Kaymer and Garcia fell to Mickelson and Kuchar 2&1. The American crowd was starting to find its voice again. The final pairing out there for Europe was Rose and Stenson. This must have helped Clarke, he knew that his strongest pairing of recent Ryder Cups could help steady the ship before the final day.
It wasn’t as easy as that though, they were up against Spieth and Reed again. The American duo were as good as ever and took that final match 2&1. There was a reason that the Americans had been so annoyed not to see those two playing together more at Gleneagles, this was it. They got results.
The final score of the session would be 3-1 to USA. They were taking a good chunk of momentum into the final day with a lead of 9 ½ — 6 1/2. Europe had shown at Medinah that they would never come out without a big fight. The US had learned from that same Ryder Cup that the match wasn’t over until it was truly over. Everything was set-up for another great Ryder Cup Sunday.
This Ryder Cup will forever be known for one of the most incredible battles in the history of the tournament. Two of the younger members of each team playing the most incredible golf as they fought for a point. First out that day was Rory McIlroy and Patrick Reed. It was electric. During that match there were some ridiculous shots and the crowd were in a frenzy watching it. Who could forger those putts on the par 3 8th? Reed had put his tee shot on the fringe about 15 feet left of the flag. McIlroy was at the front of the green and had a long putt over fifty feet.
The Northern Irishman seemed to know as soon as he hit the putt. It was tracking. He took a step back to watch it. The ball hit the back of the cup and dropped then he erupted. Rory cupped his ears and yelled to the crowd “I can’t hear you” as they booed him down. It was an incredible putt. Reed had gone from a good chance of winning the hole to needing this putt for half. Of course, in true Ryder Cup style, he drained it. Reed put his index finger up to McIlroy to let him know it wasn’t going to be that easy. The crowd went wild. McIlroy waited at the side of the green and gave his opponent a fist bump. That green and those moments there summed up the Ryder Cup perfectly. This match would eventually end with a 1up victory for Reed. It was a truly incredible tie.
Although that was the first match out that day, the first points came from the second tie. Stenson was playing Jordan Spieth. They call Henrik Stenson the Ice Man, there’s a reason for that. Knowing that in the number two slot you need a point for momentum, he’s the perfect man to take that role. He would take a 3&2 victory over the steady Spieth and reduce the US lead to just two points. The third match also came in with a victory for the European rookie, Thomas Pieters. That week the Belgian played in all five matches and brought in four points for his team. He was incredible and was clearly loving wearing the blue and yellow. He broke the record for most points scored by a European rookie.
We will never know, but had McIlroy managed to take a point from Reed, Europe would have won three points at the start of this session. They would have been flying. Rafa Cabrera-Bello won his match against Jimmy Walker as the fourth point to come in. The Spaniard, another rookie, had been equally impressive that week. He won two and a half points out of three. The home team now had only a one point lead.
Things were looking good for another possible away victory for Europe. They had fought hard all week after a crushing loss in the first session. Then they lost another point. Brooks Koepka, who had had a great week, defeated Danny Willett 5&4. A big win for the red team. Garcia and Mickelson halved their match. That took the score to 13-10, the US needed just a point and a half to take the trophy back. Was momentum shifting again? That was quickly followed up by another American point as Brandt Snedeker beat Andy Sullivan 3&1. Team USA were just half a point away. The scoreboard made for tough reading as the Americans were leading in a few matches now.
The question now shifted to that classic one on a Ryder Cup Sunday, who will get the point that wins it? That year, in a 1up victory over Lee Westwood, it was Ryan Moore. The US rookie played immaculate golf and Westwood just ran out of holes in the end. Team USA had won the Ryder Cup back after an eight-year wait. Then the red points started stacking up. Only one more European point would be won as Martin Kaymer defeated Matt Kuchar on the 18th. This was a huge win for the US, the final score was 17-11.
The US win Again
The crowd is the thing that makes the Ryder Cup special, having that ‘them and us’ atmosphere really helps golf. Having not won in a long time, the interest in the event from Americans was dropping. This win was so important for them. More importantly, the mini-mutiny at Gleneagles had been vindicated. Mickelson and his motley task force crew had delivered. Many disliked how he handled the situation with Tom Watson in 2014, but it worked.
This was a great win by the Americans. The crowd that week were as ferocious as expected and it really added to the event. There was a lot for this match to live up to after the incredible emotion and drama of the 2012 match at Medinah. It was a fantastic Ryder Cup and the win was dedicated to Arnold Palmer. The great man would have been proud of his countrymen that week. They deserved the win.