Jubilant European celebrations in the Ryder Cup have become so familiar in the past couple of decades, with eight wins in the last 10 epic encounters, that the scars inflicted on the losers have become too uncomfortable to live with for some of the losers. What is said in the cauldron of emotion when the battle is won or lost often reveals far more about the gladiators who fight to the death than than the battle itself.
For me there were two overriding memories of yesterday’s demolition of the American dream. Firstly, the majestic winning shot by Jamie Donaldson on the 15th that sparked wild scenes of jubilation for the Europeans. Secondly, the dignifty and grace of the American captain Tom Watson as he congratulated his rival Paul McGinley.
Approaching McGinley on the fairway, hand outstretched, Watson conceded: “If we could have played four fourballs we might have had a chance. You killed us on the foursomes, man.”
Later Watson was big enough to admit: ” I may have made mistakes playing some players who were tired.” But there was nothing dignified or gracious about the bitter reaction of Phil Mickelson who clearly blamed his captain for the defeat as he reeled off a tribute to Paul Azinger, USA’s winning captain in 2008.
Mickelson, dropped by Watson on Saturday, blatantly took a dig at his beaten captain when he concluded: ‘Unfortunately we have strayed from a winning formula for the last three Ryder Cups and we need to consider maybe getting back to that formula that helped us play our best.”
While Mickelson blames Watson for defeat, the bottom line, in the captain’s opinion, was this: “We came over with expectations higher than the results. The obvious answer is our team has to play better.” The Americans also need to match Europe’s team spirit.
Nick Faldo dismissed Mickleson’s unconvincing insistence he was not being critical when he said: “Phil certainly doesn’t respect Tom Watson. He threw his captain right under the bus.”
If you have any doubt, just take a look at his team-mates squirming in embarrassment as Mickelson delivered his brutal verdict at the post event media conference. And there in a nutshell you have the reason why America’s divided team underachieved so badly. Crushed by five whole points – 16½ to 11½ – by a group of players inferior in the world ranking.
Compare that sight to the togetherness of the European team who have now won three in a row.
World No.1 Rory McIlroy led the praise for his triumphant captain McGinley when he declared: “He left no stone unturned. He was amazing. He couldn’t have done anything else. He was fantastic.”
The praise was universal for the European leader who modestly concluded: “I didn’t execute the plan. The 12 guys in the team did. I did the easy bit – and I really mean that.” And that is the difference between Europe and the USA. One is team united by an unbreakable bond of unity. The other is divided by the size of one man’s ego and the absence of a genuine togetherness.