Well, the Americans have managed to back themselves into the same corner they did back in the 1999 Ryder Cup at Brookline, down 10-6 and needing 8½ points (of 12) on Sunday to win back the Cup. It’s necessary to win it back because the Europeans were able to pull off the same feat two years ago at Medina, win 8½ points on Sunday.
This time it’s at Gleneagles in Scotland. Can the third time be the charm? U.S. Captain Tom Watson thinks it’s possible:
“It’s disappointing, but when all is said and done, it’s 10-6, and as I recall, there’s been a little bit of history with 10-6 comebacks, most recently the Europeans last year and of course in 1999 at Brookline. The players are already talking about that. They said that this is what we’re going to have to do. Every player right here is going to have to play their guts out, play their hearts out.”
“We are going to have to get off to a good start. I know that Paul’s put out some pretty heavy hitters right off of the bat there with McDowell, Stenson, McIlroy and Rose right in the first four.”
“I felt he was going to do that, so I think it was time to give the rookies [Spieth and Reed] a chance to see what they have got. I put them out first and second. I think if they can turn the tide right there, it would give us a boost that the rest of the team can handle.”
“I think the lineup here, I think it’s good. I think it’s very good. It’s hard to tell if there are mismatches there. But on the face of it, you look at our rookies, Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed playing Graeme McDowell and Henrik Stenson, they played against them. Then Jimmy Walker [the third very successful rookie] playing Lee Westwood. The rookies are the bright spot.”
“The team, there’s kind of an evolution going on I think. As I told the rookies, you could be the future soul of the Ryder Cup, these players who played so well. Jimmy Walker not so well this afternoon, but he played awfully well; and Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed.”
Now this is not to say that he is taking a flier on rookies at the expense of his veteran players. He’s merely playing his players with the best records:
“No. I did it strictly on their play. Look how they played. They won 2½ points, and it could have been three points, all three matches. You’ve got to go out — I knew that Paul was going to do the same thing. He’s going to put out his best players first. And that’s typical of what happens from the European captain in the Ryder Cup, they put the stronger players out first. I think we have got a good lineup starting right there.”
Spieth was quoted as saying that being out there in each of the matches was like playing on the back nine on Sunday in a major. Why was Watson so sure that they would be a good pairing, that they would be able to stand up to that kind of pressure? As it so frequently is, it was their intangibles:
“Because I like their attitudes. Bottom line, their attitudes. They have a great attitude, both of them. They are tough. They are fiery. I like the look in their eyes. There is no deer in the headlights in their eyes.”
Ben Crenshaw is famous for that video clip of him wearying from the relentless doubters in the media room at Brookline. He ended the session by simply saying, “I have a good feeling about this.” And then he walked out. So where does Watson fall on that scale of hoping for a miracle?
“(Chuckles). I have a trust in my players that they can get it done. I have an innate trust. I’ve gotten to really know them, and they have what it takes. They are just going to have to play better. They know that. They know absolutely what they have to do. We’ve got to smoke ’em. We’ve to take them out early.”
“That’s the whole point of the way we set this up. I have to give credit to the European Team. They played some marvelous golf. I watched Victor Dubuisson play some just wonderful golf today, and congratulated G-Mac on the 14th hole when they won their match 5&4. I said, ‘Congratulations.’ He said, ‘I didn’t do anything.'”
“That’s what you have, when you have a great partner like that. I remember partnering with Jack one time. I didn’t play very well, drove the ball in the rough five times in the heather and every time Jack extricated it out of the rough. This was at Walton Heath. Put it on the green four out of five times from the heather. I said, ‘Wow.’ We won pretty easily there, but it wasn’t because of me. That’s why it’s team golf here.”
“Tomorrow is individual. Let’s see what these people, what everybody has inside their heart.”
There is another little drama playing out here and it has to do Phil, and to a certain extent, Keegan. As all the world knows by now, Watson sat them all day Saturday, based on their poor play. What wasn’t so public was that while they accepted Watson’s authority, they lobbied hard for him to change his decision:
“[Phil] was exhausted [after playing two matches Friday]. And maybe that was the wrong choice for me playing him two rounds. But he wanted to play in the alternate-shot, and I had to give him his due. He says, ‘I’ve got a good record in the alternate-shot.'”
“Today I came back up to the clubhouse and talked to him and Keegan and Webb, and said they would be sitting in the afternoon, as well. I tell you, I expected exactly what Phil said to me. He said, ‘We can get it done, Captain. We want the chance.’ I said, ‘Well, I think the way this golf course sets up, the four teams I put out there gives us the best chance.’ He lobbied again. He texted me, he said, ‘Give us a chance.’ I had to tell him no.”
“I felt that we had the four best teams possible in the afternoon for alternate-shot. And again, we can talk about decisions on teams all you want. It’s the players that perform are the people that you have to talk about; who performed the best. I have to give credit to the Europeans in the afternoons, yesterday afternoon and this afternoon, they performed the best. And yes, you might think that it’s a given that the Europeans are going to win, but I sure as hell don’t.”
And lest we think that Watson has somehow given up on Phil and Keegan, in his front-loaded, powerhouse attack on Sunday, he has Phil in the number 5 slot behind Spieth, Reed, Fowler and Mahan, the birdie machines. And given that his horses just might deliver a predominately red scoreboard that needs to be finished off, he has Keegan in the 10th slot just is front of Jimmy Walker and Zach Johnson.
Because he knows it won’t take a miracle, just the possibility that his players will finally all come together and play great.
“Not a question. Not a question, looking down [the lineup]. You know, in the team room, there is — I have to say in the team room, there is a wonderful — not wonderful, it’s a special feeling that the players have for each other. What they exude is the belief that they can do this. I know that. I see it. I get that feeling from them. That’s all I’ve asked of them is that they have the belief in themselves, because I sure as hell believe in them.”
It is entirely possible…it’s been done before. So it won’t take a miracle.