Steve was where he was in the Sunday lineup, in the second-to-last group, because of his exceptional putting. We loved our Sunday lineup. I say we because this team functioned as a group. I was a players' manager. I listened to my assistants, the caddies, the wives and most particularly the players. We reached a consensus on every big decision we made, from the four players I handpicked for the team (Furyk, Snedeker, Stricker and Dustin Johnson) to our Sunday order. Tiger said, "Put Strick and me at the end. I don't think it will come to us, but if it does, we'll be ready." Tiger has won three times this year. He's the greatest match-play golfer ever. He's the greatest golfer ever. Hearing those words from him was enough for me.
I believe the soul of Seve Ballesteros, José María's mentor and the greatest of all Ryder Cuppers, who died last year at age 54, truly inspired Europe on Sunday. There were tributes to Seve, who played golf as an artist and a matador, in the sky, on the yardage books and on the golf bags and uniforms of the European players.
I know such inspiration is possible because I played with Payne Stewart on that '99 team at Brookline, the only other team to make up four final-day points in Ryder Cup play. Ben Crenshaw, our captain, in some indirect way made us feel his spiritual connection to his late teacher, Harvey (Take Dead Aim) Penick, and to Francis Ouimet, the Country Club caddie who won, improbably, the 1913 U.S. Open at the Country Club.
When we gathered in the team room at the Westin last Saturday night, we weren't taking anything for granted. President Bush 41 was around, and so was 43. I told people about the keep-up-the-good-work call I had received on the course that day from President Clinton. "You guys are playing good," Clinton told me. You know the voice. I can actually do a pretty good Clinton because my father was an Arkansan.
When we made plans for our Friday and Saturday pairings, we often started sentences with, "In a perfect world." In a perfect world we wanted to play each of the two-man teams we established before we arrived at Medinah three times over the four sessions. Golfers tend to be creatures of habit. We like order. I was trying to provide order.
After three sessions we had a considerable four-point lead, with the team of Keegan Bradley and Phil Mickelson winning three times. Fred Couples, another of my four assistants, said to me, "Man, that Keegan Bradley is on fire. Ride him all the way to the house."
In other words, he wanted me to play the Bradley-Mickelson team again on Saturday afternoon in Session IV. I know a lot of fans and commentators were thinking the same thing. But Phil told me he was tired after three matches and wanted to rest for the Sunday singles. There was no reason to play Keegan with a partner with whom he had not practiced. There was no reason to mess with order. Things were going according to plan. In Session IV, Europe, and most especially Ian Poulter, caught fire late and won two matches. Still, everything was good. A four-point U.S. lead. Enter Seve.
I'm going to carry this defeat with me for the rest of my life, but the loss will not drown out all the good memories I have from the week. Like trying to get Fred to carry a walkie-talkie. Fred's not good with walkie-talkies, but he has other, less tangible skills, like making guys feel cool by simply being in their presence. That helps your golf.
There was the inspirational Greatest Hits film that Michael Jordan played for the team. It showed the Bulls winning one title after another. It showed Scottie Pippen making treys and Dennis Rodman losing skin in the name of loose balls. It never showed the man who brought the film doing anything all that special. Michael made his point without ever saying a word: The job of the player was not only to win matches but also to make your teammate a better player.
There was Bill Murray, trying to convince us that "A-MER-I-CA" was a catchier chant than "U-S-A, U-S-A!"