News & Opinion

‘Postman’ delivers in Europe’s Ryder rout

SAINT-QUENTIN-EN-YVELINES, France – The Postman doesn't deliver on Sunday unless, of course, it is Ian Poulter in Ryder Cup singles.

Before his Sunday singles match against Matt Kuchar at the 2010 Ryder Cup at Celtic Manor in Wales, Poulter was interviewed and proclaimed, "I'm going to deliver my point," and he did, routing his American opponent, 5 and 4, in a one-point European victory.

A nickname was born, and The Postman delivered on another Sunday, this time at Le Golf National, knocking off world No. 1 Dustin Johnson, 2 up, to improve his record to 6-0-1 lifetime in singles. After he went bug-eyed once more after holing a birdie putt to take the lead at 14, Poulter pounded his chest after clinching the match at 18. Then he donned a costume of a red post-office box – last collection Saturday, 12 Noon, it read – with a cutout for his face and took selfies with fans.

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Ian Poulter, dubbed The Postman, delivers again for Europe.

© GOLFFILE/DAVID LLOYD
Ian Poulter, dubbed The Postman, delivers again for Europe.

"I might go and deliver some letters around Lake Nona in it when I get home," he said, referring to his adopted U.S. home in Orlando, Fla.

The entire European team delivered, with every member contributing at least one point to a 17½-10½ victory en route to a ninth victory in the past 12 contests (scores). Fittingly, Francesco Molinari, secured the clinching point, defeating Phil Mickelson, 4 and 2, and became the only European player in history to win all five matches in a Ryder Cup. He did so without ever playing the course’s final two holes, which led to some good-natured ribbing from teammate Sergio Garcia.

"You know this golf course has 18 holes?" Garcia said.
"Really?" Molinari said with a straight face. "I think I played them on Tuesday."

The American team was touted as the strongest side ever assembled. Their average world ranking of just slightly higher than 11 was the best for a Ryder Cup team.

"On paper, they are incredible," Poulter said.

But for the sixth straight time on foreign soil, the Americans crumbled like paper Tigers, extending the team's winless streak on the road to 25 years. Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Johnson contributed to 10 losses.

The U.S. victory in 2016 at Hazeltine is now a distant memory. It was tabbed as a watershed moment that validated the sea changes implemented after the U.S. task-force meetings following Europe's 2014 smackdown of the American side at Gleneagles in Scotland. So, does a worse defeat this week, the third-most lopsided in Ryder Cup history, serve as an indictment of America's new blueprint? Does the U.S. need a task force for its task force? Phil Mickelson, who led the mutiny in 2014, doesn't think so.

"We were put as players in a position to succeed," Mickelson said. "If you put these players in a position to succeed, they most often will. Unfortunately, it didn't happen this week."

U.S. captain Jim Furyk, despite never hitting a shot, accepted the blame, saying he was outcoached, and there's some truth in that. Furyk has been second-guessed for playing Mickelson in foursomes on Friday, an alternate-shot format in which his crooked tee game was exposed, rather than fourballs, or better ball. "If I had to do it again,” Furyk said, “I would."

Then he sat Mickelson all day Saturday. Hazeltine and last year's cakewalk at the Presidents Cup established three go-to pairings among the core of his team: Patrick Reed-Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas-Rickie Fowler and Dustin Johnson-Brooks Koepka. Instead, Furyk paired Spieth with Justin Thomas in four sessions to great success, but Fowler and Reed were lost without their sidekicks, and Johnson and Koepka teamed only once and lost.

So much for continuity.

European captain Thomas Bjorn proved to be a master tactician, and his best move was sensing that the American side was strong but not straight. He neutralized the American power game off the tee by taking the driver out of their hands, narrowing fairways to the width of the aisle of a DC-10 and growing the rough longer than Tommy Fleetwood's flowing locks. The average rank of Furyk's team on the PGA Tour's driving-accuracy list is 131. Europe: 83. The captain would've been better off picking himself – he ranked 10th in fairways hit last season – or any one of his vice captains, notably Zach Johnson, Steve Stricker or Matt Kuchar.

As the longstanding home of the French Open, Le Golf National proved to be as friendly as the friendly confines at Wrigley Field is for the Cubs. According to a statistic cited on Sky Golf's broadcast, the Euros had a combined 233 competitive rounds there compared to just eight by the Americans. Among the U.S. Ryder Cup players, only Justin Thomas made the effort to play in the French Open this year. He just so happened to go 4-1.

But where Furyk shoulders the brunt of the blame is for his captain's picks. His four choices – Woods, Mickelson, Bryson DeChambeau and Tony Finau – earned two points among them thanks to Finau, who pummeled Fleetwood, 6 and 4, in singles (2-10-0). Bjorn's four – Poulter, Garcia, Paul Casey and Henrik Stenson – returned the faith with 9½ points (9-4-1 overall).

"They make the difference in the score," Bjorn said. "I think I got it right."

Garcia became the all-time winner in Ryder Cup points, securing point No. 25½ as he defeated Rickie Fowler, surpassing Nick Faldo’s record of 25.

"I promised you three. I got you three," said Garcia, who went 3-1-0 for the week.

Europe’s 10-6 overnight lead meant that the hosts needed just 4½ points from the 12 singles matches to regain the cup, but Thomas gave the Americans an early boost with a 1-up victory over Rory McIlroy in the opening match.

"It was a heavyweight pillow fight, if you will," Thomas said.

When Webb Simpson knocked off Justin Rose, Finau whipped Fleetwood and Brooks Koepka and Casey halved their match, the U.S. had closed the gap to 10½-9½.

“There’s always a moment when there’s a spark of light,” Furyk said, “and when that came from us, Europe hit the shots to put it out.”

Ryder Cup rookie Jon Rahm unleashed a primal scream after holing a 5-foot birdie putt at 17 to topple Woods, who is 13-21-3 overall and has tasted team victory in the Ryder Cup in only one of his eight appearances.

"I grew up watching that guy," Rahm said. "Last week, I was on top of the East Lake clubhouse making a video of his win."

Woods, who played in seven of the past nine weeks, looked gassed. It quickly became a matter of when, not if, Team Europe would win (even Dane Thorbjorn Olesen, who was benched all day on Saturday, earned a point by trouncing Jordan Spieth, 5 and 4). The U.S. was put out of its misery when Mickelson, the team's vocal leader, rinsed his tee shot at the par-3 16th and removed his hat and conceded his match to Molinari. A wild celebration ensued that included players spraying champagne grand-prix style and Fleetwood being carried through the crowd.

All that remained was for Sweden's Alex Noren and DeChambeau in the anchor match to play out the string and settle the final score. Noren delivered the exclamation point, sinking a 50-foot putt on the final hole to turn a likely draw into a full point for Bjorn's side. In the winner's press conference, Poulter let it be known that the team had extra motivation to regain the trophy -- namely, a promise by Bjorn to get a tattoo of the winning score. McIlroy said it would be on his head to which Rose cracked, "Plenty of real estate there."

“The worst decision I made all week,” Bjorn said of his deal with the devil.

When pushed to tell what part of his body he would ink, Bjorn said, "Let me put it this way: It's going to go on a part that only Grace [his girlfriend] will see."

Wherever that might be, it likely will sting for a while, but the butt-kicking that Bjorn's team gave to the U.S. surely will hurt worse and linger for the next two years.

Adam Schupak has written about golf since 1997 for the likes of Golfweek, Golf.com and The New York Times. He is the winner of the National Sports Media Association's "Golf Article of 2017," and the author of Deane Beman: Golf's Driving Force. Email: golfsdrivingforce@gmail.com; Twitter: @adamschupak