With the dust now finally settling in Minnesota, one thing most definitely remains; the fact that The 2016 Ryder Cup at Hazeltine National provided three of the most electric, adrenalin-charged days in the history of golf – and that can only be a positive thing, writes RyderCup.com’s Will Pearson.
A baying, partisan crowd; frenzied, fiery, fist-pumping, eye-bulging celebrations; the screaming, the bowing, the finger wagging, the shh-ing,– it was golf, but not as we know it.
So long a game of quiet respectfulness, of time-honed etiquette and well-worn traditions, it is no secret now that the world’s golfing superpowers – The European Tour included – are deep in discussions about new quick-fire formats, about innovating, about making golf relevant and accessible in the ultra-competitive modern world of sporting entertainment.
The Ryder Cup, though? Don’t change a thing. There is no other atmosphere like it in the game.
And if you were searching for a prime of example of just how much this 89-year old transatlantic contest means to the gladiators involved in it, look no further than Rory McIlroy, an ever-present leader for Team Europe, and Patrick Reed, their opponent’s Captain America, both of whom were talismanic and then some in Minnesota last week.
With not a cent of prize money on the line, no individual title awaiting at the finish line, this was all guts and glory in the name of the team, the country or, in Europe’s case, the continent.
Someone once said, “No one can whistle a symphony, it takes a whole orchestra to play it,” and it is the altogether more altruistic, all-for-one nature of The Ryder Cup, when placed in the context of what is normally a thoroughly personal game, that seems to provoke this sort of a reaction from McIlroy and co. every two years, with last week’s showpiece even more pronounced than usual.
If every action has a reaction then McIlroy’s response to the voracious American crowds was a never-before-seen intensity and focus. Can you honestly say you have seen the Holywood native even half as animated at any other point in his glittering career as he was at Hazeltine – including during his four Major Championship wins?
With Darren Clarke unable to call on the services of injured Ian Poulter, so long Europe’s sparkling gem in this great match play colosseum, you got the sense that McIlroy was taking it upon himself to assume the Englishman’s mantle in his absence, to step up and lead from the front with iron fists, clenched teeth and a burning fire in the eyes.
Nowhere was this more evident than in the epic scrap between Messrs McIlroy and Reed on Sunday, an opening match-up which promised much and delivered all that and more.It was as sublime as it was ridiculous, an all-out, toe-to-toe contest that saw the pair match each other blow-for-blow, putt for putt, celebration for celebration.
Moreover, though, this was unbelievable sporting theatre. Before you could stop to say, “Is this really happening…in golf?” you were thrust into the next moment of carnage, the next stroke of brilliance.
On the eighth hole, the match came to a thrilling head, providing what will surely go down as one of the defining moments in the 2016 event.
Faced with a birdie putt all of 60ft, McIlroy rolled in a tram-liner to spark incredible celebrations. Legs bounding up the green, every inch of muscle in his upper body taut, head shaking side-to-side, mouth screaming out yet another “come on” – this was a different Rory, a raging inferno, on the edge of control, on the verge of imploding with pure, unadulterated delight.
“I can’t hear you,” he bellowed, cupping a hand to his ear to the thousands of red-clad fans gathered around the green, to the millions watching around the world.
Of course Reed, often somewhat of a divisive figure in golf but clearly at home on this stage of stages, followed his opponent in from 25ft.
Cue yet more delirium, cue a begrudging chuckle from McIlroy, cue a respectful fist-bump between the two warriors on exiting the green.
While some of the remarks and insults hurled in the direction of the likes of McIlroy, Garcia and Masters Champion Danny Willett were undoubtedly over the line, there are always going to be a few rotten eggs and, for the most part, the home support was raucous but respectful, passionate, and moreover, for the American side, energising as a tide of red, white and blue emotion carried Davis Love III’s side to a first victory in the contest since 2008.
There will be some that say things went too far at Hazeltine, but for the majority, for the masses, this is what sport is all about; passionate, exhilarating, tribal.
Hazeltine National, and the 41st edition of this biennial contest, will long be remembered as one of, if not the most intense, spine-tingling atmospheres ever seen in a golf event and to have the world experience the sport in such a way can only be a good thing for the growth of the game.
Whatever welcome new initiatives are introduced in golf over the coming years, one thing is for sure: There’ll never be anything quite like The Ryder Cup.