With European fans singing “Ole! Ole! Ole!” from all corners of Medinah Country Club, Ian Poulter battled back tears as he stood on the 18th green, mere yards from where several of his teammates dropped key putts to retain the Ryder Cup for his side Sunday evening.
Undefeated in his four matches, including a brilliant finish Saturday night, Poulter marveled at the influence of the late Seve Ballesteros, a five-time major champion from Spain, who embraced the Ryder Cup.
“I mean, we’re four points down. You’re not going to turn and say you’re going to go out and win,” Poulter said. “But we had that little chance and that tiny little glimmer of light — whether it was Seve up there looking down on us or Seve on the shirt.
“You know what? It was enough. It was enough for us.”
Ballesteros was on the 1985 European team that snapped the Americans’ streak of 13 victories, then Jose Maria Olazabal joined him in 1987 and formed the “Spanish Armada,” the most dominant Ryder Cup team ever, earning 11 wins and two halves in 15 matches. Ballesteros was a part of five winning Ryder Cup teams, most notably as the captain in 1997, when they won in his native country.
So Olazabal insisted Ballesteros, who died of brain cancer in May 2011, be a prominent part of his captaincy. Ballesteros’ silhouette was on each player’s bag, his picture was in their team room and, on Sunday, his favorite colors — navy blue and white — were the focal point of their outfits.
Olazabal, of course, believed in the spirit of Seve, but so did his players, who are from eight different countries.
“Seve will always be present with this team,” Olazabal said. “He was a big factor for the European side.”
Justin Rose, who admittedly struggled with his putter all week, nailed putts of 12, 35 and 12 feet on the final three holes to rally and defeat Phil Mickelson 1 up. On the 18th, with his hands shaking, Rose said he glanced down at his left sleeve, which had a silhouette of Ballesteros and his years of life.
“That’s the kind of thing Seve would have done, for sure,” Rose said.
Spaniard Sergio Garcia edged Jim Furyk, who bogeyed the final two holes, to win 1 up, as well.
“I have no doubt in my mind that he was with me all day because there’s no chance I would have won my match if he wasn’t there,” Garcia said. “It was amazing. It feels so good to be able to win it for him and for our captain.”
Added Rory McIlroy: “Knowing that Seve is looking down on us, it’s been one of the most incredible days I’ve ever had on the golf course.”
Mind over matter.
But for the Europeans to match the Americans’ remarkable four-point comeback in 1999 required a critical point Saturday night. Poulter delivered with four consecutive birdies to eke out a 1-up victory for himself and McIlroy over Jason Dufner and Zach Johnson.
“I think that was the key, to be honest,” Luke Donald said. “To get to 10-6, you can’t believe how much the optimism changed in our team room.
“We fed off that, and that was the difference.”
Added U.S. captain Davis Love III: “Ian’s hot streak at the end there gave them some confidence, and I know they built on that.”
On Sunday,Team USA needed to earn 4½ of 12 possible points, which left the Euros with a small margin for error. They started strong, winning the first five matches. But they were defeated in the next two, then witnessed a collapse by Furyk and, later, Steve Stricker, two of Love’s captain’s picks.
After his match ended, with a handful of others still being played at Medinah, Rose hinted at the influence of Ballesteros.
“It’s been an inspiration for this team all week long,” Rose said. “If something crazy happens, I know that we are going to be looking upwards.”