MEDINAH, Ill. – The ultimate team event in golf can be decided by a single player.
Jim Furyk holds a unique spot in Ryder Cup history as the only player to win and lose the decisive match. He knows euphoria as well as dejection. So when he talks about the possibil- ity of being in that position again Sunday at Medinah, he speaks in terms of accepting the role, not relishing it.
And while everyone wants to be the star, it’s a good bet every player at Medinah knows what he means.
“I think everyone playing in this tournament would love to be in that position,” Furyk said Tuesday. “You just have to be able to accept the fact that sometimes it turns out good, and sometimes it doesn’t.”
It’s not about having the skill to hit the clutch shot. It’s having the strength to cope with failure.
Furyk can handle the failure when he only has to answer to himself.
It’s a different monster when you answer to 11 teammates.
Who wants the ball?
“You wouldn’t wish to be in that position, I don’t suppose,” Paul Lawrie said. “But if you are, you would like to think that you could do what needed to be done. But you don’t know until you get there.”
Paul Azinger probably would have passed on such an opportunity. But he didn’t have a choice.
He had played in enough Ryder Cups to know that when it’s close going to Sunday, the clincher is likely to be anywhere from the seventh to 11th spot in the lineup of 12 singles matches. Azinger was a captain’s pick for the 2001 team, only to have the Ryder Cup postponed a year by the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. By then, he was out of form. He played poorly in the opening session with Tiger Woods and was inserted into the eighth match against Niclas Fasth.
“You put a guy in that spot when you have incredible belief in him, or he has it in himself,” Azinger said.
On that day, he wasn’t sure either was true. Europe was one point away from winning the cup, and Fasth had a 1-up lead playing the 18th. Azinger was in the bunker, needing a birdie to win, and he holed it.
“One of the greatest shots I’ve ever hit,” he said. “If I miss, we lose.”
A short time later, it came down to Furyk and Paul McGinley, who had pulled even on the previous hole with a 12-foot birdie putt. Furyk blasted out of the bunker to about 3 feet for a certain par. McGinley missed the green by a mile, and then hit a marvelous pitch.
He had to make the 8-foot putt to halve the match and win the cup for Europe.
“It’s kind of an empty feeling when you’re done and there’s nothing I could do to affect the outcome at that point,” Furyk said. “Watching it go in, seeing the place erupt and being on the green, you feel respons- ible. Even though it’s a team event, even though I didn’t lose my match, that half-point cost us the Ryder Cup. And that empty feeling stuck with me. You feel responsible. Every guy on the team will come up and put their arm around you and say, ‘Hey, man, it was all of us.’
“But it’s a bad feeling.”