Team Europe turned Sunday at the Ryder Cup into one long celebration as they took the trophy with a 17.5-10.5 win.
At the start of the week, before any shots had been hit at Le Golf National, the American team was considered among the strongest ever assembled for a Ryder Cup. It boasted 11 of the top 20 players in the world, so it was no surprise that Team USA came into the week as heavy favorites despite the fact they had not won on European soil in 25 years.
What those prognostications failed to take into account, however, is what the Ryder Cup means to Europeans. Under a flag that binds together an entire continent, Team Europe is more than a collection of talented players. They are a team in the true sense of the word, playing both for themselves and their teammates but also for the boisterous crowd that turned Le Golf National into one large party.
When play wrapped up on Sunday afternoon in the 42nd Ryder Cup, it was Team Europe that wound up on top, defeating the Americans 17.5-10.5.
Fittingly, it was Francesco Molinari who secured the winning point for Europe when he beat Phil Mickelson 4 & 2. The 35-year-old Italian, who won his first major at the Open Championship in July, won all five of his matches this week, the first European ever to collect five points in a single Ryder Cup. None of his matches even reached the 18th hole.
“Why don’t you ask Francesco how 17 and 18 played? Do you know this golf course has 18 holes?” joked Sergio Garcia at the winner’s press conference.
Molinari was quick to give credit to his teammates, especially his playing partner, Ryder Cup rookie Tommy Fleetwood. The team of “Moli-Wood” played the first four sessions together and won each time, beating Tiger Woods three times.
“Obviously I had an amazing partner in Tommy,” Molinari said. “It never felt like I had a rookie alongside me. Today it was just hard to get the energy, it’s been a long week playing five matches. But I stepped it up when I had to.”
For the Europeans, the Ryder Cup has a special meaning, “so much, so much more than majors, more than anything,” Molinari said.
Captain Thomas Bjorn, a veteran of three previous Ryder Cup victories as a player, says this team represents everything the tournament means for Europe.
“This is the best team room I’ve ever been in,” Bjorn said on Sunday with the trophy standing beside him. “It was calm, it was determined, it was focused, it was fun. Everything that this Ryder Cup was is what I think the Ryder Cup should be about for a European team.”
Rory McIlroy, who lost the opening match to Justin Thomas on Sunday that briefly revived hopes of an American comeback, echoed his captain. McIlroy says the atmosphere of the Ryder Cup brings all the European players together like nothing else in golf can.
“The togetherness of the team, the great camaraderie we have, that’s built up on the European Tour,” he said. “Obviously, we all have our separate lives going on. But once we get together in the Ryder Cup we all come together as one.”
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On the other side, Team USA is left to wonder what went wrong. Woods lost all four of his matches, dropping his record to 0-7-1 in his last two Ryder Cup appearances. Phil Mickelson, in what’s likely his last Ryder Cup, also didn’t win a point and sealed the Americans’ fate when he hit his tee shot at the par-three 16th into the water against Molinari. Patrick Reed, whose Ryder Cup heroics in 2014 and 2016 earned him the nickname “Captain America,” looked overwhelmed while playing with Woods.
The lone bright spot for the Americans was the team of Thomas and Jordan Spieth, who won two matches the first two days. Captain Jim Furyk recognized Thomas’ contribution by putting him in the first match on Sunday to spark an American comeback. While Thomas came through by beating McIlroy, the rest of his teammates could not.
The Americans were thus forced to make the journey back across the Atlantic without the cup once again. The Europeans, on the other hand, won’t stop celebrating until 2020.