Spirit of Seve key to glory

Belief is a valuable asset in any walk of life and golf more than most.

Spirit of Seve key to glory

You can compare all the money lists you want, digest the world rankings and analyse the strokes gained in putting but sometimes sport simply boils down to moments and feelings.

Sunday night’s victory for Europe over the United States saw Jose Maria Olazabal’s team stage an unprecedented comeback. Sure, they overcame the same four-point deficit that the Americans had done at Brookline in 1999 but Ollie’s boys did it on foreign soil and it is all the more impressive for that.

In ’99, on the night before what would become, for Europeans, a beer-fuelled day of infamy in Boston, US captain Ben Crenshaw had walked into the media centre with his side trailing 10-6 to Mark James’s team and declared “I have a feeling about this, that’s all I’m going to say.”

Back in the American team room, a downtrodden bunch of players had seen their captain make his cryptic declaration and decoded the message. “He thinks we can win this,” Davis Love III recalled of the moment and suddenly the US team had belief.

Ian Poulter and Olazabal both worked similar magic on Saturday night in Chicago. Poulter, ranked lower than every American on the US team, had conjured his alchemy on the golf course at Medinah No 3 by following a Rory McIlroy birdie at the par-three 13th hole with five of his own, in a row, to seal a 1-up fourball win over the previously undefeated Jason Dufner and Zach Johnson.

It had followed Sergio Garcia and Luke Donald’s 1-up defeat of Tiger Woods and Steve Stricker to turn an impossible to overturn 12-4 deficit into a possibly achievable 10-6 heading into the final-day singles. Europe, in fact, would win 10½ points of the final 14 available and the combination of Poulter’s blistering play and vociferous passion in the twilight zone on Saturday had made his team-mates sit up and take notice.

There was now a glimmer of hope and Olazabal later vocalised it, telling the media: “It’s not over. Simple as that. We have a tough task ahead, but I believe it’s not over.”

The message was received loud and clear and the effect it had on the European team on Sunday as they recorded an 8½ to 3½ session win to not just retain the trophy they had won at Celtic Manor in 2010 but win the 39th matches 14½-13½ is already the stuff of legends. Was it a Medinah miracle or a meltdown? The Americans had played so brilliantly and dominantly over the first two days in team play to establish their seemingly commanding lead on Saturday night. Yet as captain Love admitted, his team were just simply outplayed by the better players on Sunday, and particularly on the final two holes where his team let slip 4½ points by losing either the 17th or 18th or both. Garcia was one of four Europeans on the team, along with his captain, Lee Westwood and Paul Lawrie, who had experienced that defeat at Brookline 13 years previously and he agreed that being in such a dominant position overnight had the effect of easing the pressure on the trailing side and piling it onto those in the box seat.

“Some of us were in this position in ’99, and you know, we knew what happened there,” Garcia said. “We knew if we got going early, we needed to put the American team in a situation where we wanted to see how they felt with a bit more pressure on.

“Everything was going their way throughout the whole week. You know, they were making the putts, they were getting the good breaks here and there. We were just waiting to change that a little bit and see if we could do the same thing they did to us in ’99 and see how they could react against that.

“Obviously a lot of the matches were won because some of my team-mates played amazing and some others, you know, we took the possibility or the opening that they gave us.

“[We were] in that position in ’99, and we know how it feels, and it’s not easy. So we wanted to see how they would react and see if they could hold it; and it was a combination of playing great and maybe then that little bit of pressure getting to them.”

There was also the Seve factor. The iconic image of the late European hero Ballesteros celebrating his 1984 British Open win at St Andrews had been on every player’s bag and the silhouette was stitched onto their sleeves on Sunday. More meaningfully, he genuinely appeared to be in the hearts of Olazabal’s team.

The great magician, Ballesteros had guided Olazabal through their Ryder Cup triumphs and he moulded the captain his fellow Spaniard would become, the pity being he did not live to see it come to fruition. It is not a trump card to be played again but the spirit of Seve will live on in the European team. Ballesteros gave them a focus at Medinah. It gave them the belief that anything was possible and so it proved.

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