The decisive putt went in and European captain Jose Maria Olazabal closed his eyes and looked skyward.
Seve Ballesteros has played a part in all his great Ryder Cup memories, and this one was no different.
”Seve will always be present with this team,” Olazabal said, his eyes watering as he spoke of Ballesteros, who died last May of a brain tumor. ”I think the boys understood that believing was the most important thing, and I think they did.”
Wearing Ballesteros’ trademark navy slacks and white polo shirt Sunday, the silhouette of the beloved Spaniard on their left sleeve, the Europeans won the Ryder Cup in an improbable comeback. Down by six midway through the Saturday afternoon session, the Europeans revived their chances by stealing the final two matches. They then came out Sunday and steamrolled the Americans, winning the first five matches and gaining more and more confidence with every blue point that went up on the board.
By the time Martin Kaymer and Steve Stricker got to the 18th green, an impossible victory had become inevitable. Kaymer delivered the critical 14th point to retain the cup, and Francesco Molinari gave it to the Europeans outright with a halve on the final match.
”We’re four points down. You’re not going to turn around and say you’re going to win, but we knew we had a little chance,” Ian Poulter said. ”Whether it was Seve looking down on us or Seve on the shirt, it was enough. Enough to bring it home.”
It was Europe’s fifth victory in the last six Ryder Cups, and seventh in the last nine.
Olazabal fought back tears again when fans chanted ”Seve! Seve!” at the closing ceremony.
”I’m very sure he is very happy where he is today,” Olazabal said.
Ballesteros was a five-time major champion, but he is remembered most for the Ryder Cup. His ”Spanish Armada” partnership with Olazabal remains the standard, and he is so beloved by the Europeans that the mere sound of his voice was enough to inspire them at Celtic Manor two years ago. This is the first Ryder Cup since his death and Olazabal was determined to see that his legacy endured.
He regaled his players with stories of their times together — they were a staggering 11-2-2 — and laughed as he recalled the countless times Ballesteros conjured up a shot to steal a match or reverse momentum.
And to ensure his mentor was with the Europeans ”every step of the way,” Olazabal embroidered their bags with a silhouette of Ballesteros’ reaction to winning the 1984 British Open at St. Andrews. Ballesteros adopted the image as his business logo, and even had a tattoo of it on his left forearm.
”There’s no doubt that (the victory) has been part inspired by him,” Sergio Garcia said. ”But also mostly from our captain, Jose. What an amazing guy. What an unbelievable captain.”
Olazabal kept his composure even as the Americans piled up the points the first two days, refusing to deviate from his plan. When Luke Donald and Poulter won those last two matches Saturday, he front-loaded the European singles lineup, sending out his strongest players first in hopes of building a wave of momentum that would lift the rest of the team. It was the same strategy the Americans successfully used to erase an identical deficit in Brookline in 1999.
Europe won eight matches Sunday, and the biggest points were delivered by Kaymer and Molinari, who had come up empty until then.
”It’s been a tough week,” Olazabal said. ”The first two days, nothing went our way and we struggled on the greens. This morning, I felt a little change in that regard. We started to make a few putts and the Americans started to miss them.”
As the tide began to turn, Olazabal remained stoic, shuttling between holes to watch the critical matches.
But when Kaymer’s putt dropped, Olazabal could no longer contain himself. Tears filled his eyes, and he looked up at the sky. He and his good friend had yet another Ryder Cup win.
”All men die, but not all men live. And you made me feel alive again this week,” Olazabal told his team.
And Graeme McDowell didn’t have a doubt about one thing:
”If Seve could have wrote this script, I think he would have wrote it just this way.”