Sport has a wonderful ability to defy logic. Underdogs beating favourites and seemingly impossible comebacks all add to the reason we love the drama of sport. Golf is a great provider of drama. The 2012 Ryder Cup was one of the most incredible comebacks in sport. It was a comeback for the ages. That Ryder Cup Sunday may be the most emotional day in golf history. Today on the blog we will relive the “Miracle at Medinah”.
Team USA had won the Ryder Cup last time they played on home soil in Valhalla. Times were tough for the Americans as Europe had begun to dominate the event. Medinah was their chance to win a second home Ryder Cup in a row and show the visitors what they were made of.
Chicago is one of America’s great sporting cities. With teams like the Bears, the Cubs, the White Sox and the Blackhawks, sports are part of the fabric of the city. That week, golf would be a major part of the conversation. The Ryder Cup always has huge galleries. Everyone knew that this would be a rowdy crowd. Chicago was just 25 miles away from Medinah, after all. Davis Love III would be hoping to use those fans to help carry his team to a win. They needed one. Jose Maria Olazabal and his European team wanted a rare away victory.
Medinah Country Club
The 39th Ryder Cup was being held at Medinah Country Club. Having the Ryder Cup here was a real treat. This is one of America’s great country clubs. Medinah is a PGA TOUR course and a five-time major venue. It is a truly grand club. There are three courses at the prestigious Medinah Country Club of which, Course No 3 is the most famous.
Tom Bendelow designed the course originally then work from A.W. Tillinghast, Roger Packard and Rees Jones created the finished product we see today. In preparation for the Ryder Cup, a renovation project took place on Course 3 costing around $1.5 million.
The 7,657 yard par 72 was a wonderful host course for the Ryder Cup due to the nature of the course. Medinah is a classic American inland course. There are plenty of risk versus reward decisions to be made as you make your way around the course. The course is packed with hazards. Trees, bunkers and water hazards all punish errant shots but the shape of the course tempts you to take risks. The hostile atmosphere would be another hazard for Europe. The home fans hoped that this fortress would be the site of a victory.
The teams were published. Captain Olazabal started his Ryder Cup with a proven pairing. He went for Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell as they had played together three times at Celtic Manor in 2010. Team Northern Ireland. They faced Furyk and Snedeker, two of the steadiest golfers on earth, and would win 1up. Team USA took the next two matches with wins from Mickelson/Bradley and Dufner/Z. Johnson. The all-English pairing of Rose and Poulter gave a strong finish for Europe to end the session at two points apiece. The 2012 Ryder Cup was on its way. It was a tight affair.
The afternoon brought some troubling events for Team Europe. The Americans started with a huge 5&4 victory from Bubba Watson and Webb Simpson. This was a sign of a rough afternoon ahead. This emphatic win sparked a strong session for Team USA. That Mickelson and Bradley pairing that had worked so well in the morning worked again as they won 2&1. This would become a key partnership. Dustin Johnson and Matt Kuchar also worked well together for a win over Rose and Kaymer.
The first three matches brought red points, some resistance was needed from the visitors. Europe needed a point. Thankfully, Lee Westwood, a European Ryder Cup regular was in the final match with Nicolas Colsaerts. They put a blue point on the board with a last hole win over Tiger and Steve Stricker. Finally some blue. USA took the session 3-1 taking the overall score to 5-3 in favour of the US.
That morning the players warmed-up on the range. Would USA dominate the foursomes again? It was clear from the team selection that Captain Jose wanted to stop the rot with some blue points. He went with Ian Poulter. The European Ryder Cup hero would lead off with Justin Rose hoping to get an early point for his side. They did their job. They sealed a 1up victory over Watson and Simpson. This European point was overshadowed by a crushing 7&6 victory for Team USA in the second match. Davis Love’s men smelled blood. They wanted to put more pressure on their visitors. The crowd were getting more and more hostile and things were becoming tough for the Team Europe.
Wins from Dufner/Z. Johnson and Furyk/Snedeker would seal a second 3-1 session win for the home side. The momentum was firmly in the American camp as the score now at 8-4. Europe were in a bad place. The home side had a chance to set-up a fairly easy Sunday for themselves with another strong afternoon. They wanted to put the hammer down.
Saturday Four Balls
Things were looking bleak for Team Europe. The afternoon session continued on the same theme and yet more American points came in. Team Europe couldn’t stop the red points. Wins from Dustin Johnson/Matt Kuchar then Bubba Watson/Webb Simpson took the score to 10-4. There are 28 total points available in the Ryder Cup. The magic number is 14½. This meant that Team USA, with 14 points still up for grabs, needed 4½.
Thankfully, Europe took the next point. The score was 10-5 to the home team and there was only one match left out on the course. Thankfully, for the visitors, that match included Ian Poulter. One thing Poulter is known for is his passion during the Ryder Cup. He is this generation’s Seve and a Team Europe hero. He and Rory simply had to win their point. They would go all the way to the final hole to win 1-up against Zach Johnson and Jason Dufner. A rare European point. The importance of that point may never be fully appreciated. It was a vital glimmer of hope.
That Ryder Cup Sunday
10-6 going into Sunday isn’t good. There was no other way to look at it, a miracle was needed. A European win form here was surely impossible. As the holders, they only needed to get to 14 points to retain the trophy, but even that seemed like a mammoth task. Europe had a secret weapon. This was the first Ryder Cup that had taken place since the death of Seve Ballesteros in 2011. Seve is a Ryder Cup hero. He was also a close friend of Olazabal. Captain Jose Maria wanted nothing more than to honour his late friend with a win on US soil. He needed the spirit of Seve from his players.
It is hard to imagine the words that must have been said that morning to Olazabal’s team. These times show what leaders are made of. Losing a Ryder Cup is a painful experience for any golfer but this loss would hurt more. The team would have been well aware of the uphill battle that awaited them, but they were ready for the fight. They needed a fast start. Jose had no choice but to ‘front-load’ his team. Europe needed early momentum. Luke Donald, Ian Poulter and Rory McIlroy were the first three Europeans to the tee. Nothing short of a point from each of them would work.
The Police Get Involved
Rory was nowhere to be seen. As mentioned above, he was out third and by all measures, he was late. Thanks to a mix-up with time zones, Rory was an hour late in leaving for the course that day. Given that Rory usually doesn’t get to the course until about an hour and a half before he tees off, this made things really tight. Things were so tight that Rory needed a police escort to get there on time. His tee time was 11.25 and he was playing against Keegan Bradley. Olazabal later said, “All of a sudden we realised Rory was not here. My heart was beating quicker than expected.” With just ten minutes to spare, Rory rolled into the car park of Medinah in an unmarked police car. As he made his way to the tee, American fans chanted “central time zone” at him.
Luke Donald was first to put some blue on the board with a 2&1 win over Bubba Watson. That was the first test passed. Paul Lawrie was playing incredibly, he won his match second with a 5&3 win over Brandt Snedeker. So far, so good. Game three came in with a win for McIlroy. Just as well for him he brought in the point after putting the captain through the stress of the morning.
All of a sudden the score was 10-9. Momentum was firmly with Europe and the course was eerily quiet. Another European point came in. Ian Poulter took a 2up victory over Webb Simpson. The match was tied. It is often said in sport that if you believe in a cause that goes beyond just yourself then great things happen. There is little doubt that athletes draw on forces greater than themselves in order to do the great things that they do at times. That week, Europe had Seve. Team Europe had emblems of the great man on everything that week. He was on their bags, stitched onto their shirt and truly at the forefront of their minds. There is little doubt that the spirit of Seve helped drive the team back from the brink and into an incredible position.
The 5th point came in from this session, it was America’s of the day. Finally the European onslaught had been stopped, but it was just a short break. The 6th point was for Europe. Who could ever forget the putt that Justin Rose rolled in on the 17th to level the match? That set him up to take the match on the final hole and keep the comeback alive.
The Miracle at Medinah
The match was now 11-11. Things were getting tense. Neither team could believe the position that the match was in. Europe were still flying but at least the Americans had steadied the ship. The rest of the games out on the course were tight so it was really on a knife-edge.
The 7th point went to the US after a win from Zach Johnson over Graeme McDowell. Europe quickly followed that up with two points and were, unbelievably, in the lead. Olazabal’s team now needed just one point to retain the Ryder Cup. This was a situation that wasn’t supposed to be possible.
After Jason Dufner beat Peter Hanson on the last hole, the match was tied again. Two matches remained on the course, only two more points. Those last two matches both ended up on the 18th hole at the same time. Kaymer and Stricker were on the green, Molinari and Woods were on the fairway, Tiger was 1-up. Medinah was silent. Stricker made his par and forced Kaymer to make a 5-foot putt to win the match and that all important 14th point. The German had only played once that week so far, this was proper pressure.
He rolled the putt in! Europe had retained the Ryder Cup!
They could still win it though, if Molinari could win the last hole and get a half point, Europe would win it rather than just retain it. He did it. Europe had comeback from the dead to win the Ryder Cup and the Miracle at Medinah was complete! Then came the emotion. The players were delighted. This was a different kind of Ryder Cup celebration, this was one mixed with disbelief and emotion. Jose Maria Olazbal was in tears. He had managed to drive his team to victory and honour his best friend. He would later go on to say that it was the greatest day of his life and who could blame him. This was as special as sport gets.
The Ryder Cup is team golf at its finest. The 2012 Ryder Cup was a historical and emotional one. These are three days that will live forever in the golf history books and deservedly so. What that European team did on that Sunday was a sporting miracle. They did the impossible.