In 1999, while standing on the green and looking over his putt, Jose Maria Olazabal was swarmed by a gaggle of American players and wives as they celebrated a bomb made by Justin Leonard. Olazabal still had a putt to play, but when he missed, it clinched the biggest comeback in Ryder Cup history.
Eight points down, the Americans won.
It took 13 years, but Olazabal got a chance to get that one back. In what has to be an even bigger comeback because it was on foreign soil, the European team took eight and a half of a possible 12 points on Sunday to keep the Cup.
“The first two days, nothing went our way. We struggled on the greens, and this morning I felt a little change in that regard and we started to make a few putts,” Olazabal said. “The Americans started to miss them. And winning those few matches was the key.
“You know, as you said, I've been under pressure hitting shots, but today tops that.”
On Saturday night, Ollie had one simple message for his troops: believe. Believe you can win, believe you can come back, and believe that it can happen. Buoyed by two big points late on Saturday, the team took those words to heart and showed up on Sunday.
Wearing blue sweaters and white shirts, the signature wardrobe of the late, great Seve Ballesteros, the European team won its first five matches, including one from Rory McIlroy who arrived at Medinah via a police escort just 11 minutes before his tee time after mixing up time zones.
Olazabal received help from some unlikely players too. Paul Lawrie, playing for Europe for the first time in 13 years crushed Brandt Snedeker 5 and 4. Lee Westwood, who'd struggled all week, won 3 up over Matt Kuchar, and the winning putt was made by Martin Kaymer, who was given so little faith by Olazabal that he'd only played one previous match before Sunday.
On the American side, the second-guessing has already started. Why did Davis Love pick Jim Furyk, a guy who missed a key putt on the 18th hole to lose to Sergio Garcia? Why did he rest his hottest team, Phil Mickelson and Keegan Bradley on Saturday afternoon? Why did he not try to predict the European singles lineup and matchup instead?
But really, it comes down to a simple fact that the Europeans played better than the Americans on Sunday. They just played better golf.
“My job is to get second-guessed,” Love said after the round. “Those guys tried their hardest, and we could have put out a whole bunch of different plans, but if we don't play well and the team plays like that, you're going to get beaten.”
Of course 24 hours earlier, Love was lamenting his biggest difficulty: that too many of his team were playing so well. He didn't know where to play them all.
And he was right.
Somehow the team stopped hitting great shots, stopped making key putts and stopped getting the crowd going. There were a few bright moments, but not enough, and instead of U-S-A, U-S-A, it was Ole, Ole, Ole, Ole.
The Americans will leave Chicago stunned and defeated. The Europeans will depart with headaches and Samuel Ryder's trophy. The event will record another epic chapter.