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Sleepless Nights for Davis Love

The Players succumbed to the European Momentum

Posted Oct 24, 2012 by Dermot Gilleece

davis love 2

And so the American recriminations go on, with skipper, Davis Love, enduring sleepless nights in a vain attempt at figuring out what went wrong at Medinah.

It’s one of the great injustices of sport, that leaders are expected to carry the can while culpable foot-soldiers seem to breeze through the whole experience, unscathed.

Looking at Love’s reaction is reminiscent of the way Tom Lehman attempted to come to terms with the crushing defeat at The K Club in 2006.  But instead of beating themselves up, the two men should have noted the Ryder Cup experience of the greatest player the game has seen.

It is widely acknowledged that the seeds of Europe’s first Ryder Cup triumph were sown at Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, in 1983 when they came within a point of defeating a home side which contained such luminaries as Tom Watson, Lanny Wadkins, Raymond Floyd, Ben Crenshaw and Fuzzy Zoeller.  Though he had predicted a tight match, US skipper, Jack Nicklaus, couldn’t have been pleased at quite how tight it was, given that he lived only 20 minutes’ drive away and actually entertained both teams to dinner at his home, during the build-up to battle.

Whatever about his later thoughts, however, the Bear gave no indication of any sense of disappointment.  And there were certainly no feelings of guilt about how he had led the American team.  This was even more pronounced four years later, when he had the doubtful honour of captaining the side which lost for the first time on American soil.

One imagines that Nicklaus would dearly have loved to lead a victorious line-up at Muirfield Village, the course he had designed and built at considerable cost to himself.  Indeed it was rumoured that the exercise almost broke him, financially, despite his commercial prominence in the game.   In the event, instead of quietly thanking good fortune for the narrow escape of 1983, he now had to confront a decidedly unpalatable reality: his side were roundly outplayed for much of the three days.  After being level on 2-2 after the opening foursomes, the Americans were whitewashed 4-0 in the afternoon’s fourballs to end Day 1 with a deficit of 2-6.  This was increased to 5 ½ - 10 ½ by the end of the second day and only a singles rally by the Americans managed to close the eventual margin of Europe’s victory to 15-13.   

And how did Nicklaus react?  He praised Europe for their competitive strength, highlighting the importance of having players in the side who were used to winning. “It doesn’t matter if it’s the Hong Kong mixed foursomes, winning breeds winning,” he famously said.  Needless to remark, there were no reports of sleepless nights in the Bear’s abode.

Nor should there be any in the home of Davis Love.  Granted, he could be criticised for not sending Phil Mickelson and Keegan Bradley out for a fourth pairs match.  And with a four-point lead going into the singles, it seemed wasteful to place Tiger Woods at number 12.  Neither of these would have mattered, however, had his players done their stuff.  The truth is that the Americans were overwhelmed by momentum on that fateful Sunday.

I’m reminded of the way Liverpool came back from 3-0 down at half-time in Istanbul to eventually beat AC Milan in the final of the Champions League.  One could just imagine the Italians being no more than a little disconcerted when the first Liverpool goal went in.  But anxiety would undoubtedly have begun creeping in when the second was scored and, ultimately, raw panic would have been the dominant emotion when Liverpool equalised.

Jonny Sexton, the Leinster out-half, witnessed the same sort of reaction from the Northampton rugby team in the final of the Heineken Cup at the Millennium Stadium.  Down 22-6 at half time and in an apparently hopeless situation, Leinster fought back to gain a highly improbable victory by 33-22.

After watching the final day of the Ryder Cup on television, Sexton said of the European fight-back:  “I saw passion and self-belief.  And momentum became massive, like it did for us against Northampton. When you get on a roll like that and everything is going your way, it’s like you’re unstoppable.  And seeing the way things were building through Sunday for Europe, I sensed they were going to do it.”

In the final analysis, Love’s position was probably best summed up by the great soccer manager, Brian Clough, who once remarked with typical succinctness: "Players, not tactics, lose games."  Indeed.

- Dermot Gilleece

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