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U.S. completes singles mission

Thursday, Oct. 14
Crenshaw's faith pays off

Associated Press

BROOKLINE, Mass. -- When his players wanted to be paid to represent their country, Ben Crenshaw scolded them. Then he let the matter drop and welcomed them back into the fold.

 Ben Crenshaw
Ben Crenshaw reached his ultimate goal Sunday night when he was handed the Cup.

When they struggled, he shuffled his lineup. And then, acting on nothing more than a hunch, he tweaked it one more time.

One thing the captain of the U.S. Ryder Cup team never did, though, was give up on his golfers. Not when they fell behind Europe 6-2 on the first day. Not when they failed to close the gap and trailed 10-6 after two. Not ever.

"I know how well these guys can play, and I know how determined they were, and I know how confident they felt under seemingly insurmountable odds," Crenshaw said Sunday after guiding the U.S. to an unprecedented comeback to take the Ryder Cup back from Europe 14½-13½.

"I couldn't describe it (Saturday) night. But when I left here I said, 'We're in good shape.' I did feel good about it. I felt confident. Darned if we didn't pull it off. Unbelievable."

No team had ever come back from more than two points to win on the final day. But Crenshaw combined an unwavering faith in his players with some deft strategy, and the Americans went 8-3-1 in the singles matches to cap off one of golf's greatest comebacks.

Justin Leonard sank a 45-foot putt on No. 17 to virtually clinch the Cup for the United States, setting off a celebration that traveled from the 17th green to the 18th, to the men's locker room, through a window and onto the balcony.

The players waved flags, sang patriotic songs, tossed souvenirs to the crowd and sprayed champagne on themselves, each other and the fans. But eventually the crowd called for their captain, and Crenshaw crossed the veranda until he was standing above the throng.

"Don't stop believing," the champagne-soaked captain said. Then, with a pump of his fist, he yelled, "Yes!"

The captain can't drive or putt for his players; he can't do much more than help them read the greens. And although much thought goes into finding complementary twosomes for the alternate shot and best ball matches over the first two days, everybody plays on Sunday.

That means Crenshaw had to find a batting order that would create momentum while remembering to save some ammunition for the later matches that will certainly decide the Cup. Crenshaw decided to send his best six players out first: Tom Lehman, Hal Sutton, Phil Mickelson, Davis Love III, Tiger Woods and David Duval, and hope they could set a tone.

The strategy paid off immediately.

"I've never seen such firepower going out in the first six groups. It ignited everybody," Crenshaw said. "When we watched those four groups go out there, that's what we needed."

Duval was making the turn in his match with Jesper Parnevik when he looked at the scoreboard and realized what was happening.

"I looked up and every match ahead of me was at least 3-up," Duval said. "We were just trying to show them some American firepower."

European captain Mark James had his own issues to worry about. He had seven players who played 72 holes already and three who hadn't played at all. That gave the Americans hope that everyone on the other side was either worn-out or rusty.

But James said he thought his team was outplayed, and nothing more.

"They came out screeching," he said. "That's what you've got to do in this game, ride a streak, and they rode the streak remarkably well today."

The Country Club has been the site of several memorable events, none more historic than the 1913 U.S. Open, when unknown American amateur Francis Ouimet beat English professionals Harry Vardon and Ted Ray in a playoff. The victory is considered the founding moment of American golf.

It was right on No. 17 that Ouimet -- a caddie who lived right across Clyde Street from the hole -- made par to beat Vardon's double bogey and go two strokes up; Ray had already fallen back.

That's what was on Crenshaw's mind when he told reporters on Saturday night, "I'm a big believer in fate."

"I have a good feeling about this," he said. "That's all I'm going to tell you."

Later, he invited longtime friend George W. Bush to a team meeting Saturday night, and the Texas governor read a quote from a soldier who was at the siege of the Alamo. Finally, something seemed to strike a chord with the American team.

"It didn't look like he was going to make it, but he was going to fight until the end," said Mickelson, who was one of four players who complained last month about not getting a share of the tournament's profits.

"It shows what a number of Americans have done for this country," Mickelson said. "We might not be soldiers who fight in wars, but this is something of its own and we need to fight as if we are."

Then Crenshaw sent his team out for the final day in shirts decorated with pictures of U.S. cup-winning teams from the past. Where will the picture of Crenshaw's team be if the next Ryder Cup captain chooses to follow suit?

How about above the heart.

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