U-S-A! U-S-A! U-S-A!
Golf has rules and etiquette that can sometimes feel stuffy and elitist. It is a gentleman's sport sometimes referred to as the sport of kings, a title usually reserved for horse racing, and it's approached with a similar reverence. Crowds are asked to be quiet when a player addresses the ball. Sure you get cheers for a great shot -- after it's hit. You'll never hear fans chanting or taunting chants at a golf tournament like you would at a football or baseball game.
That all changes at the Ryder Cup. The Masters may be "a tradition unlike any other" but the Ryder Cup is unlike any golf tournament out there. Chicago's Medinah Country Club provided a raucous atmosphere for this year's event. Fans fills the grandstands and lined the fairways waving American flags and chanting "U-S-A! U-S-A!" When Bubba Watson teed off at the first hole on Friday, he urged the crowd to get loud while he took his shot. Instead of complaining and trying to quiet the crowds, the other players played along. On Saturday, the crowd at the first tee was chanting and cheering, trying to shake European Ian Poulter. Instead of waiting until they quieted down, he urged them on. It looked a little like a scene from Happy Gilmore.
Between the chants of "USA! USA!" you may have heard a "War Eagle!" from the crowd. That's because former Auburn golfer Jason Dufner was on the team representing the United States. Following a solid year in 2011, Dufner was ready to break out in 2012. He played well at Augusta and notched his first career win a few weeks later at the Zurich Classic of New Orleans. He won again two weeks later at the HP Byron Nelson. At season's end, Dufner was 14th in the FedEx Cup final standings. On the heels of his breakout season, he was selected to his first Ryder Cup team.
On Friday morning, the teams played a foursome format. Davis Love III, the U.S. Team Captain, paired Dufner with Zach Johnson against Europe's Lee Westwood and Francesco Molinari. Dufner and Johnson went back and forth with the Euros on the front nine before they found their groove on the back. They ended up winning 3 and 2, giving the USA a point to start the morning. The U.S. team ended the morning session tied 2-2. While Dufner and Johnson sat during the afternoon four-ball session the U.S. pulled out to 5-3 lead.
Saturday again saw Dufner paired with Johnson for morning foursome session against Sergio Garcia and Nicolas Colsaerts. The American duo got up early and never fell behind. They ended up getting the point for the U.S. by winning 2-up. The USA held a solid lead heading into the afternoon session of four-ball where Dufner and Johnson were matched up against Poulter and Rory McIlroy. The U.S. pair held the lead, carried mostly by Dufner, up until the 15th hole when Poulter sank a birdie putt to pull all-square. The Euro pair pulled ahead on the 16th with another birdie from Poulter and ended up winning the match 1-up.
Sunday means singles matches, and it's when the Ryder Cup is won and lost. Dufner was matched up against Peter Hanson and played well. He extended his lead to as much as 4-up through nine. Hanson battled back on the back nine and got as close as 1-down heading into the 18th hole. A par on 18 was all Dufner needed to win his matchup 2-up. Dufner carried three of four possible points in the tournament. He did his part. Unfortunately, he was one of the few Americans who won their singles match on Sunday, as the USA suffered a monumental collapse. Europe retained the Ryder Cup, 14½-13½, by winning eight of 12 matchups on Sunday.
For his first Ryder Cup, Dufner handled it well. His performance at Medinah capped off a strong year. We look forward to watching Dufner continue his success on tour and hopefully help the U.S. win the Ryder Cup next time around. In the meantime, wouldn't it be nice if all golf tournaments embraced the wild fanaticism as well as the Ryder Cup does? Can you imagine taunting fans chanting "Away, away away away away. Away. Away." when players approach the green at Augusta? As fans accustomed to raucous SEC atmospheres, we sure can.