When Thomas Bjorn arrived at Le Golf National at the start of last week, Europe’s captain could not have dreamed he would be reflecting on a landslide victory, nor imagined what a pain in the backside it could become.
After Europe swept to an 17½ to 10 ½ humbling of the strongest American team to cross the Atlantic since world rankings began to regain the gold trophy lost at Hazeltine in 2016 and complete a remarkable weekend of team golf, Ian Poulter revealed that the skipper’s forfeit for the win would be a tattoo of the score on his behind.
“We had an extra bit of motivation this week,” captain’s pick Poulter said last night as European celebrations began in Versailles. “You might all see, I don’t know when it’s going to get done, but we had some extra motivation this week to make sure we put our hands back on that trophy, as little or big as that number is going to be; it will be a very interesting number to see.”
Rory McIlroy added: “There could be a visit to a tattoo parlour coming soon for Mr Bjørn, on his head,” while Sergio Garcia was still hoping to add the initials of the 12 players to the design.
Bjorn was less keen on the actual position of the tattoo, adding: “Let me put it this way, it’s going to go on a part that only Grace (his partner) will see. I might have to send (the players) a picture, well, then you’ll all see it as well, I guess. It was the worst decision I made all week.”
How USA captain Jim Furyk will wish that was the least likeable outcome of his decision-making, but the well-respected American was gracious in defeat, admitted his opposite number had been the better captain.
And so Bjorn was, with the better players as well.
Europe had slept on a 10-6 lead, the same margin that had separated the teams at Medinah and Brookline in 2012 and 1999 respectively and produced Ryder Cup legends of the teams which had overhauled that four-shot lead during yesterday’s 12 singles matches.
There would be no heroic fightback this time. The required eight points to retain the cup were never under threat. Instead, the team that had fought back from a 3-1 deficit to the USA after the opening fourballs session on Friday morning and led through the three succeeding sessions up to Saturday night, did not merely hold off an American rally, they pulled away at a canter, winning the session 7-4 with one match halved.
There had been nervous moments for Bjorn when American lead-off Justin Thomas struck the first blow of the day with a last-hole victory over McIlroy, as Brooks Koepka led Paul Casey in the second match’s closing stages and Webb Simpson was building a healthy lead over Justin Rose in the third. Koepka settled for a half with Casey while Simpson beat Rose and when Tony Finau landed a 6&4 hammering of new European hero Tommy Fleetwood, red was suddenly replacing blue on the scoreboard.
But it was a passing phase and Europe’s middle order calmed the nerves of both the captain and the massed ranks of home fans who turned Le Golf National into a very loud but good-natured stadium.
Thorbjorn Olesen stunned everybody with a 5&4 besting of US kingpin Jordan Spieth and Jon Rahm knocked over Tiger Woods, wins for the two rookies who had had difficult weeks ensuring every one of Bjorn’s players had contributed points to the European cause.
And when Poulter delivered yet again in the singles, stretching his unbeaten record to five and a half points from six matches in the format with a win over world number one Dustin Johnson, Europe were on the brink of a famous victory.
Garcia and Molinari guaranteed at least halves in their matches against Rickie Fowler and Phil Mickelson respectively to ensure victory and it became official on the 16th tee of Molinari’s match. Not with an ace at the difficult par three nor even a killer tee shot from the Open champion but a terrible one from Mickelson, the out of form captain’s pick sending his ball to the lake and handing the Italian the point that made him the first European to win all five points in a single Ryder Cup.
Garcia would follow into the record books as he sealed his victory over Fowler, the point edging him past Nick Faldo as the all-time leading points scorer with 25 and Le Golf National turned from a golf course into a festival of celebration.
“How do you sum that up?” Bjorn wondered as the sun went down.
The whole team has been part of this. And I think it’s very easy to sum it up: Some play five matches and some play two matches, but they all contribute, and when you sit in this situation at the end of it; you know, I’ve played in my Ryder Cups, and I don’t care how many matches I play in as long as we win and I think that’s what it’s all about.
“I think we all feel that way now. We got it right this week. We worked as a team and we knew we were up against very strong opponents, but we went out on the golf course and believed in ourselves and what we stand for as a team. We never ever looked towards their team or what they were about. We were about us as a team and what we do.
“This is the best team room I’ve ever been in. It was calm. It was determined. It was focused. It was fun.
Everything that this Ryder Cup was is what I think The Ryder Cup should be about for a European Team.
It certainly was a validation of team spirit over reputation as team with world rankings from two to 45 and an average of 19.01 defeated and demoralised an American group with a record high average ranking of 11.17.
Furyk disputed the idea that more of his players should have played competitive rounds at the course by following Justin Thomas’s example and playing this year’s French Open in July and there will also be questions asked of his four wild cards, three of whom - Woods, Mickelson and Bryson DeChambeau - failed to contribute a point.
Yet there was no blood-letting as had been the case after Gleneagles in 2014 when Mickelson turned on captain Tom Watson and the PGA of America. Instead, Furyk’s players roundly endorsed his captaincy and it was left to him to praise the victors.
“Hats off to what they accomplished this week. Thomas did a great job as captain. Players on their team, class acts, and gritty. When we put some heat on them early this afternoon, they responded. And they played some great golf this week, and I take my cap off. Thomas was a better captain, and their team out-played us. And there’s nothing else more you can say. They deserved to win. They played well.”