What the USA and Europe gave us in this year’s Ryder Cup captured everything that sport is meant to be, and then some. There was not a single player from either team whose body language suggested anything other than the deepest commitment to performing for their country and for an ideal that was bigger than themselves, and there were an astonishing number who used this belief to elevate their games to scarcely believable heights. Twice Phil Mickelson went ahead against Justin Rose in the closing stages of their crucial match with a fabulous putt and chip respectively, and twice Rose hit back by holing putts of his own that exploded the weight of probability and ensured their duel will be enshrined in golfing history. Mickelson’s applause of the first of his opponent’s two putts that kept him alive in the match was given with a sort of ecstatic relish that seemed to recognise that the manner in which each was pushing the other to ever greater heights amidst the cauldron of noise touched on the pure essence of their sporting lives in a way that could not be enjoyed in more lopsided contests, or those driven by prize money. There were delicious moments like this to savour all throughout the three days, including the manner in which Bubba Watson stirred up the crowd to fever pitch on the first tee of his fourballs match and then smacked his ball off the tee right in the middle of the roaring. These were golfers who hit previously untapped reserves of ability and mental strength in service to something greater than themselves, and the infectiousness of the occasion even touched Tiger Woods. Although he only garnered half a point, no-one should doubt the way the 14-time major champion was striving with every ounce of strength he had to find form and join the party. That he didn’t is beside the point, as it was his dedicated body language and complete commitment to a cause other than himself for once that so charmed.
Meanwhile the shots of magic raining down from golfers who became titans for seven hours on Sunday just kept on coming. Nicolas Colsaerts put ball after ball next to the pin from his approach shots. Cut to Jason Dufner holing an eagle putt and letting his sanguine façade slip to bust out a ferocious double fist pump. Jim Furyk’s passion was no less affecting for the fact that it came out most in his losing moments. First he too surprised everyone with an uncharacteristic show of euphoria that quickly turned to disbelief as a sweetly struck putt to close out his match against Sergio Garcia lipped out at the last second. His straining every sinew to hole his putts thereafter was palpable through the screen, as was his despair when an equally valiant effort went past on the last to lose a match he had come so close to winning and concede the initiative to Europe. To see him crouch down in dismay was to feel an intense sympathy that confirmed we were in the presence of a great sporting contest – the kind that holds the unique power to elicit every raw emotion known to man at the same time thanks to the lionhearted commitment of its contestants.
It was left to Jose Maria Olazabal to sum up the transcendent halo cast over this entire tournament by the willing efforts of its twenty-four participants most poignantly. Every ounce of effort they gave in embellishing the game recalled the spirit of Seve Ballesteros, and as he reflected on how he had honoured his dear friend’s memory by winning and through the greatness of his men’s play, Olazabal broke down repeatedly. There may not have been any prize money on offer this week, but the pureness of the Ryder Cup captures everything that is vital about the human spirit, and about golf’s recently passed great champion in Ballesteros. Olazabal, an intense and emotional man, confirmed as much when he spoke these words straight from his heart at the closing ceremony: “All men die, but not all men live. And you [the European team] made me feel alive again this week.” Bravo Europe, bravo Team USA and bravo golf for giving us something to inspire countless generations to come.