STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Those who think golf is a boring sport to watch saw otherwise at the end of the Ryder Cup yesterday. A team of 12 European golfers staged the greatest comeback ever seen in this event that dates back to well before World War II. Those 12 European golfers left a dozen American golfers stunned and embarrassed in a team event on their home course, Medinah Country Club outside Chicago. NPR's Tom Goldman has barely recovered from the shock. He's with us this morning.
Tom, good morning.
TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: Hi.
INSKEEP: How did this happen?
GOLDMAN: How did it happen? Well, I'll tell you what. The U.S. went into this thing ahead, 10-6 on points.
GOLDMAN: They had the lead. They built the lead over Friday and Saturday in matches where golfers are paired together. And they were ahead 10-6.
Sunday there were 12 singles matches. All the U.S. had to do was win four and a half, or get four and a half points. U.S.A. traditionally does very well in these singles events, being rugged individualists, but the Europeans turned the tables. They won the first five matches on Sunday. Suddenly a comeback seemed possible. The Americans started missing key putts. The Euros started making them.
And it came down to German Martin Kaymer, who hadn't been playing very well this year. He sank a 6-foot putt-of-his-life on the 18th green to clinch the winning point and help Europe retain the cup, which it won in 2010.
INSKEEP: So this is like a series of tennis matches. You had one-on-one play on the golf course and again and again under massive pressure the Europeans won. And there was an awful lot of emotion on the course.
GOLDMAN: Tremendous emotion. There is always emotion in the Ryder Cup. You know, when you mentioned that people think golf is boring, well, usually we see these golfers with their steely nerves masking their feelings. The Ryder Cup is about high-fiving, fist-bumping, primal screams after sinking putts.
And there was an extra big of emotion for the Europeans this time. You could see it on their shirts, on their golf bags. It was the printed silhouette of the late Seve Ballesteros. The great Spanish golfer died of cancer last year. He was a legendary Ryder Cup player. His daring style of golf, you know, was a perfect fit for the event. This was first Ryder Cup since his death.
European captain Jose Maria Olazabal played in Ryder Cups with Ballesteros and said that Ballesteros' memory was very much a part of the team's meeting on Saturday night when they were down and they're trying to figure out how to win on Sunday. This is a quote from Olazabal, "Saturday night, I think the boys understood that believing was the most important thing." And they did that.
INSKEEP: And at the very end, really before the matches were even done, the cup had been clinched though, you saw Europeans leaping into each other's arms. You heard people singing songs on the golf course. But I was thinking, Tom Goldman, because this was a close match, how nearly it could've been another way. Because Rory McIlroy, one of the key European players, almost missed his tee time on the final day.
GOLDMAN: He was watching on TV the night before. And he saw his tee time listed. But it was in Eastern Time. And he was in the Central zone.
GOLDMAN: Chicago. Lucky for him, and team European, he found an Illinois State Trooper who sped him to the course, siren blaring. Didn't have time to warm up. He hit a few putts and then went out and teed off against American Keegan Bradley as he was serenaded by the Chicago crowd chanting: Central Time zone. And he beat...
INSKEEP: He got them back though.
GOLDMAN: Yeah. He beat Bradley. Had he not found a sympathetic state trooper, missed his tee time, he would've been assessed a penalty, maybe even disqualified, meaning one less extremely critical point for Europe. So yeah, big moment possibly there.
INSKEEP: Tom, thanks very much.
GOLDMAN: You're welcome.
INSKEEP: That's NPR sports correspondent Tom Goldman on this stunning European win against the United States at the Ryder Cup, played at Medinah Country Club outside Chicago. This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.