GLENEAGLES, Scotland – Jim Furyk is the only player in the last 25 years to experience both ends of emotion in that moment the Ryder Cup is over. He knows how empty it feels to lose the decisive game. And he has been soaked in a celebration of champagne.
Oddly enough, both happened in the same match.
It was in 2002 when Paul McGinley made an 8-foot par putt for a half-point against Furyk that won the Ryder Cup. Pandemonium broke out on the 18th green at The Belfry. European captain Sam Torrance was close to tears. McGinley was mobbed by his teammates.
“I’m trying to go over and shake hands,” Furyk said. ” Sam Torrance had a bottle of champagne in his hand and he was spraying everyone. He had his back turned to me. He saw someone come up from behind and he turned and sprayed me — and then he realized it was me. He immediately put the bottle down and said, ‘Oh my god, Jimmy, I’m so sorry.’ I said, ‘Sam, look, it’s OK. You all deserve to celebrate. I know it was an accident. You all have a good time tonight.'”
Furyk eventually got his day.
Six years later, he defeated Miguel Angel Jimenez on the 17th hole at Valhalla that clinched victory for the Americans. The winning putt was conceded, so the celebration wasn’t as spontaneous, though it felt just as good.
Furyk offered a sound piece of reality for whoever winds up in that position Sunday at Gleneagles.
“Losing hurts worse than winning feels good,” he said.
Losing is lonely in the Ryder Cup. Americans know that all too well.
“You feel like you’re stranded in the ocean,” Hunter Mahan said.
Mahan was lost in a sea of Europeans just four years ago at Celtic Manor . He never imagined the Ryder Cup would come down to the 12th and final singles match because it happens so rarely. He was down one hole to Graeme McDowell , needing to square the match for the Americans to retain the cup. That’s when McDowell hit 6-iron to 15 feet and made the birdie to go 2 up with two holes to play.
Too much is made of Mahan flubbing a chip short of the green on the 17th because he probably would have had to hole the chip to have any chance. But it made losing feel worse, and that much was clear when Mahan broke down trying to talk about it.
Mahan played a vital role in the American win at Valhalla in 2008 by making a 70-foot birdie putt on the 17th hole in singles, which secured a half-point at a time when his team badly needed it. He was looked upon as a scapegoat two years later. And while it’s unfair to say it was his fault, he just happened to be in the last match.
“The high of winning comes and goes,” Mahan said. “You win, it’s great, you move on. But you remember your losses. You remember the bad shots more than the good ones. The Ryder Cup has a longer effect. When you lose, it’s hard to stop and move on to the next thing.
“I remember winning in ’08. It was great. It felt awesome,” he said. “But losing lingers.”
Bernhard Langer showed the strength of his mind when he missed a 6-foot putt at Kiawah Island in 1991 in the final match that allowed the United States to win. In one of golf’s great bounce backs, Langer won the following week in the German Masters.
It’s one thing for players to lose as individuals. Losing the decisive match in the Ryder Cup brings an element of guilt. There are 28 points available over three days, and all anyone remembers is the one point that is the difference between losing and winning.
“I took it hard,” Furyk said. “I was upset by the fact it was my point. When I look back, we had 28 points to be won. I know it was my fault. No one on the team is thinking that. No one in the media is thinking that. No one is thinking that — except the person in that position. It wasn’t Hunter’s fault. But he’s going to feel bad because you’re stuck in that spot.”
Steve Stricker was in that spot two years ago, and the pressure was even greater as a captain’s pick who didn’t win a point all week. He tries to think back to that 10-foot par putt he made on the 18th hole that swung all the pressure over to Martin Kaymer. The most vivid memory is Kaymer making his 6-foot par putt to clinch another victory for Europe .
“Unfortunately, someone has to make the last out,” Stricker said. “You end up playing the game of what-ifs and what-could-have-been.”
Stricker said he talked with Tiger Woods about coping with the loss. Woods didn’t win a match that week, either. Furyk, Phil Mickelson and Webb Simpson all gave up late leads. But it stuck with Stricker, who said he was struggling to accept the loss two months later.
“Even as a kid in baseball, your team is losing 7-3, two outs in the bottom of the ninth. You don’t want to be the guy who ends the game,” Furyk said. “And that’s how the Ryder Cup is. It just (stinks) to be in that spot.”
But he wouldn’t mind another opportunity, even if the pain of losing can be just as great as the glory of winning.
“It’s cool to be in that position. How many guys get that chance?” Furyk said. “When you do something good, it’s a boost of confidence. When you do something not so good, I promise you learn a hell of a lot from it.”