On Sunday, he made a believer out of everyone.
|Davis Love III||1-1-3||2|
|Jose Maria Olazabal||0-1-2||2|
|Miguel Angel Jimenez||1-2-2||2|
|Jean Van de Velde||0-1-0||0|
At end of a wild and delirious day at The Country Club, Justin Leonard, Hal Sutton and the rest of the Ryder Cup stars sprayed champagne over a balcony and sang the national anthem with thousands of fans still trying to grasp the magnitude of the victory.
Then, Crenshaw stepped onto a stone wall and held up a prize far more valuable than the $63 million in revenue that threatened to divide his team.
The Ryder Cup is staying in America.
"What transpired is a moving experience," Crenshaw said. "I do believe in fate."
The Americans won 8½ points from the 12 singles matches Sunday, giving them a 14½-13½ victory and their first Ryder Cup win since 1993.
"We came up short," European captain Mark James said. "We gave it our best shot."
As much as Crenshaw believes in fate, he played a part, too.
He sent out his six best players to create a chain-reaction of momentum, and it paid off with six decisive victories that swiftly turned the tide. He cried with joy when Leonard delivered the decisive blow, a birdie putt on the 17th hole that was as long as the Americans' odds of winning the Ryder Cup.
"I never stopped believing," a choked-up Crenshaw said. "I'm stunned. This is so indescribable."
That victory came on the 17th green was only fitting. Across the street is the house where Francis Ouimet lived when he won the 1913 U.S. Open on this course and made golf popular in the United States.
Leonard's 45-foot birdie putt unleashed a torrent of emotion that had been building throughout an electric day at The Country Club, where fans cheered every American victory and every missed putt by the Europeans.
Although one match was still on the course, the putt -- followed by Jose Maria Olazabal's miss -- guaranteed the Americans 14½ points, the amount they needed to win, but an amount few believed they would get.
"This was history being made today, and we all wanted to be a part of that," said Hal Sutton, the rock-solid star of the U.S. team who contributed 3½ points. "This is the greatest moment in golf right now."
The Europeans didn't think so. They took exception to the player celebration after Leonard's putt because Olazabal still had a 25-foot birdie putt to tie the match and keep alive Europe's fading hopes.
"It was very sad to see. It was an ugly picture," Olazabal said.
"It's about the most disgusting thing I've ever seen," said assistant captain Sam Torrance. "This is not sour grapes. The whole American team, and spectators ran right across the green over Olly's line. He still has a putt to tie the hole. We could still take the Ryder Cup home. It was disgusting."
The Americans overwhelmed Europe in the first six matches, closing all of them out before the 17th hole.
"When you get the first matches that easily, the crowd is going to get more involved, and that's all it takes," Jesper Parnevik said. "They just got huge momentum going."
Even David Duval, who referred to the Ryder Cup as an exhibition, showed how much it meant by repeatedly shaking his fists and cupping his hand to his ear, asking the gallery for even more noise -- maybe too much noise.
Despite a 10-6 deficit going into the final round, despite the fact no team has ever come back from more than two points on the last day, Crenshaw refused to give in.
"I've felt it all week," Crenshaw said. "I know how these guys can play. I know how determined they are. Darned if we didn't pull it off."
Crenshaw had that feeling once before. He won the 1995 Masters after the death of his longtime teacher Harvey Penick. The victory came out of nowhere, and Crenshaw said at the time he felt it was Penick's spirit guiding him along.
Leonard had never won a Ryder Cup match, and looked as if he had no chance against Olazabal when he trailed by four holes with seven to play.
Leonard won the next four holes to square the match, the last one a 35-footer on the 15th that gave the Americans another chance when Mark O'Meara faltered.
The cup was clinched on No. 17 when Leonard's 45-foot birdie putt banged into the back of the cup and dropped.
Olazabal birdied the 18th to halve the match, but by then the American celebration was well under way. Leonard led the U.S. team in spraying champagne around the 18th green where the Stars and Stripes was waving.
The Americans wound up winning 8½ points out of 12 singles matches, its biggest margin since 1979. The Americans won by a rout that year, but this was different. They needed every point, every putt.
Europe, which looked so dominant in building what appeared to be an insurmountable lead, ran out of gas. Parnevik and Sergio Garcia, 3-0-1 while paired the first two days, were beaten back by Duval and Jim Furyk.
It was the first time all week the 19-year-old Spaniard, the youngest player in Ryder Cup history, couldn't muster a smile.
Crenshaw hammered home his belief in fate during an emotional team meeting Saturday night in which every player spoke passionately -- even Duval.
"I told them to go out and kill 'em," Duval said. He did his part, winning six of the first eight holes against Parnevik in a 5 and 4 victory.
Sutton was holding back tears after he crushed Darren Clarke.
"My only comments last night were if we do down, let's go down with all our oars in the water," Sutton said.
They pulled with all their might, tugging against history in waters thickened by pressure unlike any other in golf, perhaps in all of sport.
It was the seventh consecutive Ryder Cup that was decided by no more than two points, dating to the 1985 matches that signaled the switch over to European dominance.
|Players, wives and officials celebrate after Justin Leonard's putt on the 17th hole.|
The Americans have won the singles matches all but five times in Ryder Cup history, and all but twice since 1957.
The roars that rocked The Country Club, from Sutton's first birdie on the second hole of the second match to Leonard's clinching birdie putt in the afternoon, carried the Americans to their stunning charge.
"I never knew how good it feels to win the Ryder Cup," Tiger Woods said.
The 30,000 fans could see it up. The gallery was a dozen deep around tees and green, not an inch of space along any fairway under brilliant blue conditions.
All of a sudden, the Americans had the look of a winner, not a team afraid to fail once again. Instead, muscles tightened on every European face, the players celebrating with charged-up emotion instead of the childlike joy they exuded the first two days.
"An amazing experience," Tom Lehman said.
Duval, Sutton, Lehman, Love, Woods and Phil Mickelson led a ferocious charge that made Crenshaw's lineup look like a brilliant move.
Lehman, who has never lost a singles match in the Ryder Cup, never missed a green in his 3 and 2 victory over Lee Westwood.
Sutton never blinked when Clarke chipped in for birdie on the first hole. He looked over at his wife and winked, hit to 20 feet on No. 2 and sank the birdie putt, the first of three straight holes he won in a 4 and 2 victory.
Jarmo Sandelin, Jean Van de Velde and Andrew Coltart made their Ryder Cup debut under the most intense pressure. James did a nice job hiding Europe's weakness for two days, but they failed to survive their baptism by fire.
"I think we were outplayed, I don't think we were outmanuevered," James said. "I don't think tactics would have made much difference."
Mickelson, Love and Woods set them down in order without so much as working up a sweat. Only Woods had something that resembled a struggle. He didn't take a lead until the seventh hole, but buried Coltart with a 40-foot chip-in on the next hole.
Still, the improbable comeback was still very much in question. Montgomerie, Olazabal and British Open champion Paul Lawrie had control of their matches, and O'Meara was struggling against Padraig Harrington.
Needing only to halve his match, O'Meara made a crucial par putt on the 17th, then chopped the 18th hole to lose his match -- the first win for Europe all day.
But Leonard, who never led in his match, showed the kind of clutch putting that carried him to the British Open at Royal Troon in 1997, and The Players Championship a year later.
The 17th hole was the final blow of the greatest comeback. Ever the historian, Crenshaw took Leonard into the clubhouse and showed him a photo of the 17th green, where Ouimet all but clinched his U.S. Open victory over British stalwarts Ted Ray and Harry Vardon.
Now, there's another piece of history to add to The Country Club. The United State is a Ryder Cup winner once again.