In those moments of sweet pandemonium after Tommy Fleetwood had sealed Europe’s Ryder Cup victory, it all got a little wild at the Marco Simone Golf Club. The crowd on the 18th hole asked Rory McIlroy for a song. He responded by swinging his cap around his head like a battle axe before leading a chant of “Raise your hands!” to the tune of the Cranberries’ Zombie. Then he sprinted 100 metres to bearhug Shane Lowry, even though his teammate was still playing. It was that sort of afternoon.
Before long thousands of fans were also breaking through the ring of steel around the final green to celebrate. At least three ended up falling in a bunker. Meanwhile Luke Donald’s team were hugging and high-fiving, telling jokes and sinking bottles of beer and champagne.
Those scenes of delirium and joy, however, were among the few unscripted moments in Europe’s preparations for this Ryder Cup. For this was a triumph months in the making. And one where Donald got the ABCs – analytics, banter and a culture that everyone bought into – spot on. “This wasn’t about revenge,” McIlroy said. “This was about redemption and showing what we could do.”
From the very start Donald urged his players to put the team first, stressed the importance of a fast start so the crowd got involved, and to think of the bigger picture. That was reinforced earlier in the week when each player was given a two-minute motivational video made by their family members.
“We are united by a culture and a generation of players that have come before us,” Justin Rose said. “Luke has been very clear on that. A good pairing on the European team doesn’t mean playing with your best mate. It’s about representing something bigger than yourself.”
McIlroy said a crucial moment had come when the team had “sat around a fire pit and got to know each other really well” on a visit to the Marco Simone last month.
“That was an amazing experience,” he said. “I thought I knew these guys for a long time, but I got to know something different about them. I think that really galvanised us as a team. But we also take the piss out of each other. We have a sense of humour.”
That was evident when the team was asked about their record on the first hole – which they won 10 times to the US team’s four victories. “It’s called playing for a hundred bucks in practice,” Rose said, joking.
Donald interjected: “As a team we knew getting off to a fast start was important.”
Rose replied: “Rory still hasn’t paid me by the way – sorry, Luke.”
Then Tommy Fleetwood piped up. “Rory actually never pays,” he said. “Can I just say that? Rory never pays.”
McIlroy, smiling, replied: “I didn’t win the FedEx Cup this year.”
Afterwards Donald also paid tribute to the statistical analysis from Edoardo “Dodo” Molinari, which had filled his players with confidence.
“Dodo’s extremely important,” Donald said. “The game of golf has really become dominated with statistics. It was about giving them the confidence so that when they stepped on that tee on Friday that they expected to win – and these are the reasons.”
Rose agreed: “Nothing was left to chance on that front. We got a lot of good information this week ahead of time, so it kept us all pretty calm.”
While Europe celebrated, the US team’s postmortem was beginning. This time, however, there was no public airing of grievances, as at Gleneagles in 2014 and Paris in 2018, where Phil Mickelson and then Patrick Reed lobbed hand grenades.
“This was the closest team that I think I’ve been on,” Brooks Koepka said. “We’ve got a great group of guys. This week, they just holed a lot more putts, a few more chip-ins. We fought hard, and I wouldn’t want to do it with another group of guys.”
That was a sentiment shared by Justin Thomas, who said the team had bonded by watching American football college games at 5am. “We truly all got along,’ he said. “There’s usually a couple misfits or people that just aren’t a part of the team, but we all were one.”
But while the US captain, Zach Johnson, insisted he would not change a thing about the US’s preparation, not everyone agreed. Jordan Spieth indicated that some of the US team may have been undercooked after not playing a tournament for five weeks.
“It’s really hard to come back in an away game when you fall so far behind,” Spieth said, reflecting on his team’s disastrous 6.5-1.5 start. “If you asked us when we would like to play the Ryder Cup relative to our schedule, I think we would probably say, give us a week or two after the Tour Championship and then go, instead of five.”
Spieth, however, also conceded Europe had been the better team. “They stepped on us early, and then the crowd was able to get behind them,” he said. “Their rookies were able to see that. It made it an easier transition for them. All of a sudden, we were in a hole.”