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6 October 2012

9:00 AM

6 October 2012

9:00 AM

That seems to be that then, the final episode of the best sporting year since, well, 1977 at least. That was another jubilee year, but Ginny taking tea with the Queen, Red Rum at the National, Liverpool winning the European Cup and England the Ashes is still no match for 2012. This is a year to get all Max Boyce about: I was there, that sort of thing. You don’t have to be literal about it, you simply had to be alive and own a television. The edge of your seat was the only place to be. And now we can bask in a warm European glow in the wake of the 2012 Ryder Cup.

Apart from the storage room at the EU headquarters in Brussels, it would be hard to imagine more Europe flags in the same place as on the final green at Medinah on Sunday. And apart from in the Vatican, it is hard to imagine a gathering of men with a more frequently stated belief in an interventionist afterlife than the European team. Thanks for that, Seve.

Post Medinah, a blue flag with 12 stars — of course the precise number of players in a Ryder Cup team — looks so much better than the Cross of St George that we tried to fly over Poland and Ukraine. But what is it about Samuel Ryder’s little gold trophy that makes Europe gel, that allows players and fans to get wrapped in a flag that usually does nothing for harmony? After all, the fellowship of the 19th green doesn’t see Martin Kaymer as a European but as an honorary Surrey boy and doesn’t rejoice in European harmony any more than Lee Westwood sang the words to Ode to Joy at the opening ceremony.

The answer lies not in Strasbourg or Brussels, or even the headquarters of the European Tour at Wentworth. The answer is America. Is there any nation that is more satisfying to beat than the United States?

The only game invented in North America and played worldwide is basketball, although they have laid claim to golf. Baseball might be the ‘national pastime’, but golf is the game of the bearded Floridian retiree and the bare-chested, thick-calved college boy. You don’t need to play Ode to Joy to give Europe’s golfers a common cause, just let them catch wind of that dirge of ‘U-S-A, U-S-A’ and you’ve got eight of your 14 points right there.

It shouldn’t be that hard for an American Ryder Cup to turn 12 into one for one week out of every 104, but it doesn’t come naturally to Americans. For Europeans, it is a different matter. Put Kaymer or Francesco Molinari in their national football shirts and they are devils incarnate, but tell them that the common enemy are 12 US golf professionals and they are the men you want alongside you.

It came down to a German and an Italian to retain the Ryder Cup on Sunday night and in that moment they were as much one of us as Poulter, Donald, Rose and Westwood. Kaymer’s reaction to rolling in a tricky five-footer (‘For you Steve Stricker, the war is over’), and Molinari’s refusal to back down in the face of an admittedly toothless Tiger Woods show just what powerful forces come into play at Ryder Cup time.

So what will America bring to Gleneagles in 2014? This year, on a bespoke course in Chicago and under a captain who couldn’t have done more, they found Europe too much. Perthshire in September can be a place of unceasing rain and 60mph gusts. It will be advantage Europe.

But please don’t make Darren Clarke captain. Great with a cigar, generous with the Guinness and a marvellous weeper, but he’d be a hopeless captain. Thomas Bjorn would be my choice. Roll on 2014.

Roger Alton is an executive editor at The Times

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