10/3/2016

If the Grim Reaper had a forehead tanline, he might dress as Patrick Reed this Halloween. Then again, he couldn’t match the ferocity necessary for the costume. No one could. Not even Rory McIlroy on Sunday.

The Americans won the Ryder Cup for the first time in eight years this weekend with a 17-11 rout of the Europeans at Hazeltine National Golf Club. All 12 members of the United States team contributed to the victory. Phil Mickelson’s task force worked. Brandt Snedeker, one of the goats from the 2012 collapse, went 3-0. Last man in Ryan Moore delivered the clinching point on 18. There was a lot to like from an American perspective. But it was Reed’s singular performance—his presence—that will reverberate for years to come.

There was a lot to like from an American perspective. But it was Reed’s singular performance—his presence—that will reverberate for years to come.

He was nothing short of a monster sent to torment the Europeans. Reed developed some sort of Randian concept of golf in Minnesota; the best way for the Americans to succeed was if the 26-year-old embittered, egotistical Texan—a foil for Jordan Spieth if there ever was one—pursued his own glory.

It worked. Spieth played the role of the sidekick as he and Reed went 2-1-1 in their matches, the only loss coming to Justin Rose and Henrik Stenson in the Friday afternoon four-ball session. No matter, the pair avenged the defeat on a crucial Saturday. Reed’s hole-out for eagle on the par-5, sixth shook Hazeltine to its core. When the sun set on October 1, the Americans led by three, 9.5-6.5 and Reed carded six birdies and an eagle.

On the other side, Rory McIlroy was fanning the flames. He famously bowed to close out Friday after sinking a match-winning eagle on 16. As if the last month didn’t already show us, he was here to put on a show. The fans hurled insults at him, often breaking decorum in the most sensitive of sports. McIlroy fumed and strutted down the fairways. The chubby-cheeked phenom was now a stone cold killer. Each putt that dropped was fitted with a yell. All the while, McIlroy boosted the play of his partner, captain’s pick and Ryder Cup rookie Thomas Pieters. Pieters finished the competition 4-1, a record point haul for a European first-timer.

American captain Davis Love III sent out his two biggest guns, Dustin Johnson and Brooks Koepka, against the suddenly formidable duo of McIlroy and Pieters. The Europeans won 3&1.

When Sunday’s single draw was announced, we had a dream matchup to start: McIlroy vs. Reed.

It didn’t disappoint. For a five-hole stretch from four to eight, the two leading men engaged in the greatest heavyweight bout golf has ever seen. Reed carded an eagle and four birdies—and won just one hole. For each haymaker he threw in the form of a long putt, McIlroy matched and vice versa. Reed bowed and wagged his finger. McIlroy shushed the crowd and his opponent. On the par-3 eight, Rory drained an impossibly long birdie then shook with rage on his way to the hole. He held his hand to his ear and shouted, “I can’t hear you.” The match was all-square, but the Northern Irishman was ready to take it by the throat.

Reed, however, wouldn’t be outdone. He sank his 15-footer. McIlroy, for all intents and purposes, was licked. Reed was one-up at 12, two-up at 16. Rory made par to pull one back at 17 then unleashed a monstrous drive to set up a dramatic close at 18. But Reed sent one more tremor through Chaska with a birdie. One-up. Advantage, United States. Game, United States.

The Americans went 7-4-1 in singles to turn a close match into the most lopsided result since 2006. The Europeans simply couldn’t recover from a 0-4 deficit they faced after Friday morning, especially not with six rookies and two out-of-form captain’s picks in Lee Westwood and Martin Kaymer. The Europeans built their run of dominance off depth. In 2016, they had none. McIlroy, Sergio Garcia, Henrik Stenson, Pieters and Justin Rose shouldered as much of the load as they could, but no golfer can press for two-and-a-half days and succeed. With the exception of the young Belgian and the stalwart Stenson, the Europeans looked worn out by Sunday. The rookies, with a notable exception, looked green.

McIlroy faded badly down the back nine against Reed. He was emotionally and physically spent.
Credit the Americans, too. Mickelson grabbed this Ryder Cup by the scruff of the neck way back in the infamous press conference following the Gleneagles disaster. He lived up to his word.

In an epic battle against Garcia, Mickelson birdied 10 holes, Garcia nine. The result was the most spectacular halve in memory and somehow a fitting ending. Both men have spent their careers as also-rans. It’s just another round where they played brilliantly without winning.

After it was all over, the Americans were more giddy than relieved. They didn’t just win. They won decisively. The legacy from 2016 will be one of leadership—Love, Tiger, Phil and Bubba Watson, who solicited a vice captain’s slot after being passed over as a player—and Reed.

It’s unlikely that either team will enjoy a stretch like the Europeans from here on out. There’s too much talent to go around. But the Americans, and the Ryder Cup, are back as we know it.

This week the United States played in memory of the King, Arnold Palmer, and less than five miles from where Prince made his home. We shouldn’t be surprised the Americans delivered a royal beating.