Commentary

Meltdown at Medinah

Originally Published: October 1, 2012
By Rick Reilly | ESPN.com

Davis Love IIIMike Ehrmann/Getty ImagesDavis Love III, captain of the 2012 United States Ryder Cup team, will need a lot of time to ponder the what-ifs after his team gave up a four-point lead, allowing Europe to retain the Cup.

MEDINAH, Ill. -- America's biennial toothache -- the Ryder Cup -- was extracted without novocaine Sunday, leaving nothing but the usual bloodstains. It was the worst choke job in Cup history. They put the "die" in Medinah.

But it didn't have to be. The USA could have and should have won.

In fact, it would have if only ...

• Captain Davis Love hadn't let Phil Mickelson push him around like a wheelbarrow. Love admitted he was considering playing his undefeated star pairing -- Mickelson and Keegan Bradley -- in the afternoon Saturday, but Mickelson talked him out of it. "Do not play us this afternoon," Mickelson said. "We're giving you everything we have." But he and Keegan hadn't even been stressed in their three wins. They had played only 32 holes, total.

Mickelson's reason?

"Historically and mathematically, guys have not done so well in singles if they have played every session," he said. It's not even remotely true (they win about half the time). Two men played all five matches in this Cup -- Justin Rose and Rory McIlroy -- and both won Sunday. Rose didn't seem tired at all Sunday. In fact, he sank three huge bombs on the last three holes to beat -- wait for it -- Mickelson.

• That Chicago state trooper hadn't driven like Jimmie Johnson through the streets of suburban Chicago to get European star Rory McIlroy to the course with eight minutes to spare. "He was asking me, 'Do you get motion sickness?'" McIlroy said. "And I'm like, 'No, no! Just get me there!'" He got there and nobody threw up, except Bradley, who got 4 down before eventually losing, 2-and-1, to a man who hadn't even warmed up. Any way to give that cop a ticket?

• Someone named Nicolas Colsaerts hadn't suddenly become Jack Nicklaus at the worst possible time. In a best-ball match Friday that included a red-hot Tiger Woods, Colsaerts was hotter. Woods made seven birdies. Colsaerts made eight. And an eagle.

Then he issued the greatest quote in Ryder Cup history: "You have just got to go with what's in your pants." Then Colsaerts went out and did zip the rest of the week, losing every match. He'd already done enough. That point cost America the win.

• Love hadn't picked Jim Furyk. Said it at the time, saying it now: Furyk has heartache painted all over him this season after blowing two majors in the final holes. Sunday, he bogeyed the last two holes against Sergio Garcia (ugh!) to give away a point he had tucked in his pocket on the 17th tee box, when he was 1 up. He's been part of six losing Ryder Cup teams and only two winning ones. Why pick him and bring all that bad Ryder mojo back? What America needs in the Ryder Cup is new, fresh-faced leaders who don't have the Ryder Cup losing gene imprinted into their cells. It needs young guys who love it, aren't afraid of it and don't know we're supposed to lose in it -- your Rickie Fowlers, for instance. Love could've picked him. Instead, he dipped back into the weeping well.

•  Martin Kaymer hadn't made that 5-foot 20,000-fathoms-of-pressure putt on 18. That would've given Steve Stricker a half point. Then chaos wouldn't have erupted, and Tiger Woods could've had some quiet and made his simple par on 18 to win his match against one of the many Molinari brothers and win the Cup. Instead, it dropped and the V-E Day erupted.

It was breathtaking theater. As Kaymer paced around that putt, trying to get a deep breath, he thought about countryman Bernhard Langer's 6-foot miss that lost the Cup for Europe at Kiawah in 1991. He let that suicidal thought pop up in his brain and still buried it. "I said to myself, 'It's not going to happen again,'" Kaymer said afterward. "'You have only one option. You have to make it.' If you ask me how that putt rolled, I have no idea. I can't remember. But I'll be able to tell my grandchildren someday." Seriously, is sports cool or what?

• They've held it on a week when Tiger Woods was busy. The man is a golf god, but he's a human Ryder Cup jinx. He does not like sharing a golf ball. He has played in seven of these and lost six. Is it a coincidence that the last time America won, in 2008, he was on his couch? That team seemed lighter, looser. Nobody was having to step gingerly around the What Do We Do With Tiger? question.

Consider: Mickelson loves taking young bucks under his arm and showing them the way. In 2008: Anthony Kim. In 2012: Bradley. Do you ever see Tiger volunteering for that job? He always asks and gets to play with cronies he doesn't have to shepherd: Furyk and Stricker. It never works. He and Stricker just kept losing last week (0-7-1), yet Love just kept sticking with them. Lunacy.

• Love hadn't sent Woods off last on Sunday. Woods always seems to get sent off last, then gets stuck playing the 18th hole through a Macy's parade. "It was pointless to finish," Woods said Sunday night, not realizing he had made a very good pun. "Tiger likes to play late," Love explained.

Really?

Then why is he always playing his practice rounds at 6 a.m.? When you know Europe's only chance is to put their big howitzers out early and get some blue going, why not put your best player out early to fight them? Why not hope he puts some red on the board and inspires the troops behind him? Why not? "Because Tiger asked to go late," Love said. Remind me, who was the captain again?

• Europe didn't find some kind of slice vaccine in the team room Sunday morning. Three guys who had been playing like groggy wildebeests -- Kaymer, Paul Lawrie and Lee Westwood -- all came out of nowhere to win points. Kaymer and Lawrie had won squat in the first two days, and Westwood had been carried by his partner to win one point. Suddenly, they were all Byron Nelson. That was murderous.

• Love had an ounce of fire and brimstone in him. I was standing on the 18th green Saturday afternoon when play was over and the USA had forged a 10-6 lead. I overheard Mickelson trying to psych up starry-eyed rookie Brandt Snedeker. "Listen," he said, grabbing him by the arm, "we have to ball tomorrow. This thing is far from over. In 1995 at Oak Hill, Corey Pavin chipped in on Saturday night, and we had a two-point lead. We thought it was over. And we lost. We have to get out there and ball tomorrow!"

Compare that to what Love told his troops Saturday night: "Hey, let's have fun and keep doing what we've been doing." And then he asked them all where they wanted to play in the Sunday order. Who wants milk and cookies?

"In hindsight," Love said Sunday night, "I guess we'd have done a lot of different things."

Next time, can we get somebody with his own plan?

Nice looking outfits, though.

Rick Reilly | email

Columnist, ESPN.com