Well, that was a lot of fuss wasn’t it? The Ryder Cup is a strange old creation, only fractionally less momentous than D-Day, judging by some of the hoo-hah, but it can turn even Nigel Farage into a proud European. The Little Englander agreed, very gamely, to appear in a Paddy Power advert, for which I’m told he didn’t get paid a bean, and urge everyone to ‘swing for Europe’. Mocking Americans called Hunter, Webb and Bubba — ‘those aren’t names, they’re noises’ — Nige sighed for heroic European names, such as Henrik, Sergio and Justin. Sometimes you think it is all going the way of football, with ugly tribalism, shaved heads, ‘banter’ and lunatic chest-pumping celebrations. (Step forward Ian Poulter.) Please guys, what’s wrong with a quiet round in a silly pullover, followed by a modest handshake and a gin and tonic (not slimline) in the clubhouse?
Well, it is the Ryder Cup, I suppose. Justin Rose was the main hero last weekend, undefeated in five matches and forming a fine partnership with Henrik Stenson, the greatest Anglo-Swedish love-in since Abba. But wherever you looked there were Europeans stepping up and doing a job. Graeme McDowell, of Ulster, and the enigmatic Victor Dubuisson, of France, were undefeated together; Sergio Garcia was the heartbeat of the side; Rory McIlroy played and led like a world No. 1; and Wales’s Jamie Donaldson, who won his first professional tournament at 36 and was less than a household name even in his own household, delivered the killer blow.
The 12 good men and true of Team Europe represented nine nations (-Better Together, whatever your political feelings about the EU) but they had one goal: to keep the US in their place. Europe have won eight of the past ten Ryder Cups and the Yanks can’t understand why.
Keegan Bradley’s caddie had one view, allegedly. A caller to BBC Radio 5 Live said that he had been walking back after the match alongside the bag carrier, who was grumbling that Tom Watson, the US captain, was ‘a dick’. He was still sore that Bradley had been benched from Saturday’s matches. But when your boss, a major champion three years ago, has just lost his singles match by 4 and 3 to an unheralded Welsh journeyman, you have to wonder who the ‘dick’ really is.
Europe have built a structure that guarantees repeated success, just as Liverpool did with their fabled Boot Room. Paul McGinley, the winning captain this year, had played three times and been vice-captain twice. You can guarantee that the next leader will have the Ryder Cup flowing through his veins. Darren Clarke and Padraig Harrington, the likely contenders, have both been vice-captains.
McGinley built team spirit long before they assembled in Gleneagles. He asked the organisers of European Tour events to make sure that players in his thoughts were paired together, so they got to know each other better in the build-up. Watson, by contrast, invited the top 20 players on the US money list to visit Gleneagles after the Open Championship in July and only two accepted.
The US will come again. Enjoy our success while it lasts. But what last weekend reinforced is how much more fun the match play format is than four rounds of stroke play. Taking it hole by hole, where a loss is the same loss whether it’s with a par or a 12 on your card, creates a proper duel, a thrilling narrative. Since the US PGA Championship moved to stroke play in 1958, all four majors have been played as mass-field 72-hole events. What a shame that no one had the imagination to make the Olympic golf competition, which starts in 2016, a match play event. Just imagine the drama of McIlroy v. Rose for the gold medal.
Roger Alton is an executive editor at the Times.