Whatever you want to call it—The Meltdown at Medinah or The Miracle at Medinah, etc.—much has been said as to how the USA, with a 10-6 lead going into Sunday’s singles matches, lost the Ryder Cup.
Every commentator and pundit has examined and passed blame around like candy on Halloween. Blame Tiger Woods’ ego for wanting to be paired with Stricker. Blame Phil “Tits” Mickelson for wanting to sit on Saturday. Blame Davis Love III for not top-loading his squad against what surely would have been a top-loaded Euro squad. Blame the hyperactive Keegan Bradley. Blame the cop who helped Rory McIlroy get him to the tee on time. Blame D3 for picking Jim Furyk or any of the captain’s picks. Blame Tiger (again) and his ego for wanting to carry the torch as the last US singles player. Blame it on the Ghost of Seve. Heck, blame the U.S.’s nap-inducing outfits.
This all makes fun endless watercooler talk and fills talk show minutes and column inches. And while many of the things being said are valid and compelling, none of them guarantees that the outcome would have been any different. The important thing to keep in mind is this: In golf, you play the ball as it lies and the situation for what it is then execute the shot to the best of your ability.* On Sunday, the lineup was what it was, the lead was what it was and the only thing that would have guaranteed a different outcome was the execution—or, lack thereof—on two shots by Jim Furyk and Steve Stricker—with one caddy sharing some of the blame, as well.
JIM FURYK”S “TIN CUP” MENTAL COLLAPSE ON 18
Let’s just forget about Furyk’s terrible shot out of the bunker on 17. Fast forward to Furyk in the right fairway bunker on 18; Sergio Garcia’s in the fairway, looking pretty and has the first shot. The match is all square. Subtly, almost imperceptibly, Garcia makes one of the best physical and strategic shots of the day on 18: he comes up just short of the green and faces a putt or chip up the hill, all but guaranteeing himself a par and halve of the match. Furyk and his caddie, Fluff, have to see this. By now they should have also heard, or at least know from their hole notes, that being long on 18 is an incredibly difficult two putt. (Oh, and being right and long was an almost certain bogey.) What does Furyk do? He launches one to the back of the green. For you and me, we’d be happy with any shot out of a fairway bunker that found the green. But for a pro, this is a shot they can easily control, putting it where they want almost at will. So how did his ball ended up 50+ feet behind the hole? I have no idea. Could it have been adrenaline-caused physical error? Sure. So where was Fluff telling him to settle down and club down? Everything about that situation screams “be short, be short…guarantee par…Sergio’s virtually in the cup with his.” Again, where was Fluff? Again, i don’t know. But by God, Fluff should have been screaming at him and making him aware of the situation.
After missing his par putt on 18, Furyk, with both hands on both knees, stared into the ground in horror. But it wasn’t over the putt.
Years from now, when he’s sipping his billionth 5-Hour Energy Drink and watching the scene from “Tin Cup” where Romeo tells Roy McAvoy ,”You don’t need to be thinking immortality—you need to be thinking hit the 7 iron! (aka: lay up)”, Jimmy will nod his head and agree.
STRICKER’S SKULLED CHIP ON 17
Steve Stricker, who had been battling a resurrected Martin Kaymer all day long, made a terrific shot on the long par 3 17th that trickled just off the collar and into the primary cut—one of the best shots on 17 all day. Kaymer made an unglamorous but decent approach, leaving him with an uphill 50+ foot putt. Stricker’s lie was fine. For a pro, the backswing needed to go about 16-18 inches at most, making the shot a virtual shoe in to get within 2 feet of the cup. What happened next requires a bit of scathing honesty. His chip was just about the worst chip I’ve ever seen a pro make. Really, it was fucking horrendous. I nearly jumped off my buddy Nick’s couch, “Oh my god, he skulled it!” The shot zipped by 6+ feet—a putt that even the pros make only 70% of the time. The uphill putt had too much gas and rimmed out. But it was the horrid chip that lead to the missed putt. There’s simply no way around it.
Was Stricker, who was tied at the time with Kaymer, trying to make the chip? Possibly, it certainly was a chip pros make all the time. But in this situation is that really what you want to be doing? I’ll choose to second guess this decision for years.
That’s it. Two simple shots that could have overcome Bubba’s throttling at the hands of Luke Donald; Brent Snedekar’s disappearing act; Justin Rose’s insane final 3 holes against Phil Mickelson; and people, wrongly, second guessing Davis Love until the start of the next Ryder Cup—now two very long years out.
*Hell, you try to, anyway.