SAINT-QUENTIN-EN-YVELINES, France — The party broke out not with a bang but a splash. When Phil Mickelson’s tee shot disappeared into the water fronting the green on the par-3 16th, prompting the 12-time Ryder Cupper to concede the hole … the match … and the whole darn Ryder Cup to Francesco Molinari and the Europeans, roars tore around Le Golf National like cars thundering around a racetrack.
It was a joyous scene — Heineken cups in the air, grown men in clown wigs squealing like children, a pack of reporters, photographers and European players sprinting to Molinari, who was already lost among hundreds of revelers — but also an unusual one: As far as anyone could tell, for the first time a Ryder Cup hadn’t ended on a green but a tee box.
The unexpected finish was fitting, given the unexpected result. For months, if not years, leading up to this event, few observers — in the home of the free and the land of the brave, anyway — gave the Europeans much of a chance against what on paper was arguably the most loaded U.S. Ryder Cup squad ever. It wasn’t a question of if the Yanks would win but by how many.
But then Frankie Molinari morphed into Frank the Tank, Tommy Fleetwood summoned his inner-Samson, and on a rough-choked course with more water than a Six Flags the mighty Americans swung and missed. The proceedings culminated in a stunning seven-point smackdown and a fete dans les fairways so exuberant that at times it felt borderline dangerous.
In the belly of the bash, players, reporters and iPhone-flashing hangers-on were buffeted about like kayaks in a tempest. A beer-soaked Molinari, the first-ever European to post a spotless 5-0 record in these matches, had to be physically extracted from a swarm of fans to join his teammates, many of whom had descended on the 15th green. Tommy Fleetwood, Europe’s other newly crowned prince, enjoyed the ultimate hero treatment when the mob hoisted him onto its shoulders and regaled him with stirring chants of Tommy, Tommy / Tommy, Tommy / Tommy, Tommy / Tommy, Tom-MEE…FLEET-wood! With an English flag in his hands and his luscious locks flapping about, he wasn’t a golfer — he was the fifth Beatle.
Delirium was everywhere you looked. In the gorged grandstands by the 18th green, the crowds goaded an greying gentleman in a tam o’ shanter to leave his seat, hop a barricade and, if all went to plan, leap into the water hazard behind the green. In the laaaay-ke / in the laaaay-ke / in the laaaay-ke, they boomed. The man made it the edge of the water and began undressing before security put a regrettable end to the show. This is what Ryder Cup wins do to European fans: They lose their friggun minds and it is a wonderful, beautiful, glorious spectacle to behold.
Players from both sides escaped the madness in a secure area by the 15th green, which is connected by an isthmus to the 18th green; the whole area is surrounded by what is effectively a system of moats, which served as useful buffer between the deities and their adoring disciples. Ian Poulter and Fleetwood draped their arms over one another as they spoke to Sky Sports. Bryson DeChambeau, still playing in his now-moot match against Alex Noren, played through the revelry at 15. As the galleries serenaded the Euros, DeChambeau playfully waved his putter as if conducting them.
The true maestro of this week, though, was Molinari, who couldn’t walk more than a few yards at a time before a fellow player or one of his vice-captains would wrap their arms around him. Graeme McDowell, one of the European vice-captains, cradled Molinari’s head, leaned into his ear and said, “Five and ohhhhh!”
Despite the madness, quieter interactions between the players served as a reminder that this insanely-hyped event is, at least in part, still a friendly affair.
“Road games are road games,” Rickie Fowler said. He was chatting with his Jupiter Island pal Rory McIlroy, who was bouncing between television interviews by the 15th green. “It’s tough to win here.”
“I hope the crowds have been okay to you,” McIlroy said.
“Yeah, you know, just a heckle here or there,” Fowler said.
“We’ll see you tonight? Have a couple beverages?”
“One,” Fowler said with a smile that said more than one.
Moments later McIlroy was standing by the 18th green and raising his arms in a V shape as he readied to lead the crowd in a Viking cheer.
Padraig Harrington, one of Europe’s vice-captains, was calmly surveying the scene atop a mound to the left of the 15th green. The Irishman has played in six Ryder Cups and is among the frontrunners to captain the Europeans in 2020 at Whistling Straits.
“When you win them, they’re all exciting — I’m not going to pick one over another,” he said when asked where this scene ranked among the Ryder Cup celebrations he’s witnessed.
And what explained his serenity in this raucous atmosphere?
“I haven’t hit a shot, so I’m ok,” he said, smiling. “There’s a lot going on, I’m just taking it all in.”
He could have been speaking for about 20,000 or so delirious others.