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Pressure cooked Americans at Ryder Cup

Steve Stricker

Steve Stricker

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Davis Love III was right. The Ryder Cup isn’t war. But whatever it is — golf match, cruel pressure experiment, flag-waving contest — Team USA conscientiously objected to it Sunday. The commanding lead it had over Europe turned to dust and constricted breathing passages.

All that’s left now is the wait to see if Canada grants our lads asylum.

Martin Kaymer rolled in a six-foot putt on the 18th hole at Medinah Country Club to beat Steve Stricker 1-up and help the Europeans retain the Ryder Cup in a 14½-131/2 victory. Team USA came in with a four-point lead.

The gagging reflex is a very real thing, especially when a large portion of the world is watching. Some of the U.S. team’s most experienced players couldn’t come through when they were needed most. Jim Furyk went to pieces in the last two holes, losing to Sergio Garcia and hastening the Americans’ journey to its stunning end. He twice stepped away from a six-foot putt on No. 18 before missing it along the left edge.

A while later, Stricker missed a similar putt on No. 17, giving Kaymer a one-hole lead. On 18, the German watched Stricker sink an eight-foot putt for par, made his own putt to tie the hole and win his match, then raised his arms in victory. European fans serenaded him with boisterous choruses of “Ole-ole-ole-ole-ole-ole,’’ which would be on a continuous loop long into the night here and overseas.

“I am disappointed that I let 11 other players down,’’ Stricker said.

Furyk and Stricker were captain’s picks of Love, Team USA’s leader. So go ahead and put him in your rogues gallery.

“I know I’ll get second-guessed,’’ Love said. “I hope they put it all on me.’’

Jose Maria Olazabal, Team Europe’s captain, made Ian Poulter one of his picks. Brilliant move. The Ryder Cup might have been won Saturday, when Poulter displayed his bug eyes and banshee scream for an international audience. His five straight birdies helped Europe win a late four-ball match, energized his team and seemed to immobilize the Americans, the way poisonous snakebites do.

Everything went against Team USA on Sunday. Everything. Rory McIlroy got his time zones mixed up and arrived 11 minutes before an 11:25 a.m. tee time he thought began at 12:25 p.m. He didn’t seem fazed by the chaos or the lack of practice time, beating Keegan Bradley 2 and 1.

The Euros won the first five matches of the day. Afterward, they credited Seve Ballesteros, the great Spanish golfer who died last year of brain cancer, with guiding them. If he did, he must have been walking in the Americans’ putting line, making the wind blow their shots into traps and standing on their chests.

No, you can chalk this up to a total collapse by the Americans. As the horror played out, they couldn’t believe what was happening over the rolling hills of Medinah. This was supposed to be a victory march. Even the Euros thought so.

“We are in shock,’’ said Justin Rose, who beat Phil Mickelson 1-up. “We wanted to believe, we really did want to believe, but we had no illusions of how hard that day was going to be.’’

Wanting to believe is the first small step toward believing, and once there, given a little momentum, belief can turn into big things. It usually happens in corny movies, but sometimes it happens in real life.

“We just felt there was a little glimmer of hope,’’ Poulter said.

The American team set up the course to be easier than normal for a big event. Sprayed tee shots weren’t hole-killers. They were inconveniences. Even so, you had the distinct feeling that whatever Team USA had thrown in the Europeans’ way, they would have handled it.

They certainly handled the crowd well. Three days of patriotic fervor can be tiring. Most of the fans were great most of the time. But beer and nationalism isn’t a good doubles team. You know all those knuckleheads who show up every year at the NFL draft in New York, the ones who arrive in face paint and full throat, and leave drunker than when they arrived? They spawned and showed up at Medinah.

But that’s quibbling. It was a good week for Chicago. It was a rotten finish for the American team.

The Ryder Cup is about drama and grace. It’s also about caving in to pressure. If there was any question of that before, there isn’t anymore.

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