Seve's presence felt at Ryder Cup

It's been a few days now since the United States Ryder Cup team's dramatic loss to the Europeans in the matches at Medinah, but Olé, Olé, Olé, Olé and Seve, Seve, Seve still rings in my ears. Oh how Englishmen, Spaniards, Italians, Germans, Irishmen and Belgians sang in unison, as the largely American crowd that soared to an estimated 50,000 on Sunday left the Medinah Country Club muted and stunned.

It will be a long time before many of us forget how Europe won the cup for the seventh time in the past nine matches: how Martin Kaymer's 7-footer for par at the 18th hole completed one of the greatest comebacks in Ryder Cup history; how Seve Ballesteros' legacy loomed over European captain Jose Maria Olazabal.

Few of us will soon forget the despondent faces of the U.S. players: the baffled expression that Phil Mickelson had after Justin Rose made a 12-footer to beat him 1 up in their match to put the Europeans in an 11 to 11 tie with the Americans or a dejected Tiger Woods standing in the 18th fairway as Kaymer made the winning putt.

It's for certain this Ryder Cup won't soon be forgotten. But how will these matches best be remembered? How should they be remembered?

The Europeans came back from a 10 to 6 deficit to win 8½ of the 12 possible singles points on Sunday to rip the cup from the grasp of the Americans. Led by an emotional Ian Poulter, who went 4-0 in the matches, and a comeback similar to the one that the Americans made at the Brookline matches in 1999, the Europeans played their most inspired golf of the week and beat an American team trying desperately not to lose.

That's one historical perspective.

Another popular viewpoint will be that the U.S. lost the cup in the singles with some very timid and mediocre golf. In this worldview, Kaymer should never have beaten Steve Stricker in their match. Jim Furyk should never have bogeyed the last two holes to hand his match to Sergio Garcia. The Americans should never have lost their first five matches.

Yet as Furyk reminded us on Sunday night, the team loses as a team. One man doesn't shoulder the burden for all 12 players.

Then there is the idea that the Americans lost the matches before they ever started when Davis Love III nabbed two forty-somethings, Furyk and Stricker, with two of his captain's picks.

Coming into the matches, Furyk had blown chances to win at the U.S. Open and Bridgestone with some shaky play down the stretch. For as great a competitor as Furyk has been in his career, he wasn't the guy you probably wanted standing over a 10-footer with the cup on the line.

Stricker went winless in three matches with Tiger Woods as his partner. Woods seemed to treat every match like it wasn't necessary to start making birdies until his team was two or three holes behind. But Stricker never had the ballstriking or the putting during the week to keep him fully engaged in any match.

But to call out Furyk and Stricker for simply being old and a bit nerve frayed is ageism, and unfair to the legions of forty-somethings who have fared well over the years in Ryder Cups.

My favorite explanation is that Love erred when he sat the turbo-charged team of Phil Mickelson and Keegan Bradley in the Saturday four-balls after the duo had won three matches in a row. When Love was challenged on this decision, Mickelson came to his defense, saying essentially that he, not the captain, had made the decision to sit Bradley and himself. Mickelson said that they didn't want to sacrifice two points for one.

Both Mickelson and Bradley would lose their singles matches on Sunday. I wish that they had rode the momentum and played all five matches. Their team needed them to play.

All of these perspectives and many more help explain the Ryder Cup matches at Medinah. But I will remember them most for how the European team and captain Jose Maria Olazabal paid homage to the late Seve Ballesteros.

The silhouette of Seve on the European team bags was a fitting tribute to the man who more than any modern player embodied the spirit of the biennial matches. There wouldn't be a Ryder Cup as we know if it were not for the Spaniard. There wouldn't be a Poulter or a Bradley without Seve, who taught us all how to care about the matches.

On Sunday, Seve's vision of the matches as a spirited, dramatic event with a dynamic cast of golf's best players was fully rendered before the world with his understudy, Olazabal, giving part of the direction.

As a U.S. fan you might turn away from Medinah with disappointment and shame, but if you understand how the matches got to this lofty place, you won't mind celebrating the symbolism of the event for Olazabal and the European team.

Since Seve's death last year at the age of 54 after a long bout with brain cancer, Olazabal had been waiting for Medinah to do his part to carry on what the five-time major champion had given to the game and to these matches.

Olazabal's look to the sky after Kaymer made that putt at 18 was all you needed to know about where his thoughts were at that moment.

In two years, the Americans will have a chance at revenge at the 2014 matches at Gleneagles, Scotland.
After what transpired at Medinah, the anticipation for those matches will be off the charts. That's just the way Seve would have wanted it.