Inside Team USA’s raucous Ryder Cup celebration
HAVEN, Wis. — At one point in the drunken, ebullient, interminable winner’s press conference, Xander Schauffele looked down at his shirt, brushed cigar ash off the white stripe on his chest and delivered a particularly honest answer.
“I had no idea we had media after all of that,” he said.
All of that had begun some three hours earlier, when Schauffele was the first man off the course. He’d suffered his first loss of the week at the hands of Rory McIlroy, who channeled a week’s frustration into his final singles match. But theirs was the only early showdown that leaned blue, which guaranteed a European miracle was not in the cards. And so Schauffele became the first man to Team USA’s victory party, a mobile affair that criss-crossed Whistling Straits‘ back nine and ended up with 12 of the world’s best individual golfers on stage together, celebrating a record-setting victory.
With the Ryder Cup’s actual result wrapped up early, the afternoon’s focus turned to the minutiae. Who would have the honor of earning the U.S. team’s clinching point?
Behind Schauffele/McIlroy, six consecutive matches had red flags beside them. Depending on timing, any of the six would finish the deed. Information pinged around the course, from TV screens and radio earpieces and anyone lucky enough to load a page on their phone. Often the information came out of order — sometimes TV is real time, and sometimes it’s not! — but raucous cheers bounced around the final stretch of holes, suggesting birdies made and holes won.
It was fitting that Patrick Cantlay, Schauffele’s best friend on Tour, was the first to join him on the sidelines. When he finished off Shane Lowry 4 and 2 on the 16th green, the two shared a celebratory hug, while an emotional McIlroy consoled Lowry with an embrace of his own. To paraphrase Brooks Koepka, this thing has a winner and it has a loser. It’s better to be one than the other.
As every Ryder Cup draws closer to its conclusion, the inside-the-ropes VIPs — families, captains, handlers, etc. — condense as the number of remaining matches shrink. On Sunday, they tried to determine where the winning point would come from and they tried to get to that point. The scenes that came from that quest were a mix of contentment, excitement and relief.
There was a phalanx of navy, heading back down the 16th fairway to see Scottie Scheffler, who was finishing off Jon Rahm 4 and 3 in the day’s third match.
There was that same group, coming back down the 16th fairway to watch Bryson DeChambeau defeat Sergio Garcia in Match 4.
There they were on the hill overlooking the green. Cantlay cracked a Michelob Ultra. His girlfriend opted for a Michelob seltzer. Michelob was a sponsor of the event and a theme of the hours that would follow.
Satisfaction, thy name is holding an insurmountable lead at the Ryder Cup, reclining on one of Wisconsin’s finest grassy knolls and sipping on a light beer alongside your loved ones as your teammates finish their matches in front of tens of thousands of adoring fans. Cantlay clearly relished the moment. Soon he was joined by Scheffler. Phil Mickelson and his wife Amy cozied up at the front of the group. Then came DeChambeau, bounding off the 16th green, high-fives for everyone — the biggest for Scheffler. Not everybody loves DeChambeau, but Scheffler sure does.
There they stayed as Collin Morikawa and Viktor Hovland came through. This is where things got really interesting; Morikawa needed just a half-point to clinch the Cup, but Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka and Justin Thomas were each racing toward victory behind him. It was a good thing that the clinching match made it to the final hole; the fans who’d been staked out in the 18th bleachers all day deserved that. And although Morikawa technically guaranteed the team victory with a birdie at 17, his match needed to finish to officially record the point.
The party followed, celebration and chaos.
The celebration was for Captain Steve Stricker, who piloted his golf cart down the 18th fairway, his wife Nikki riding shotgun, showered in roars of approval from the crowd. The chaos came for George Washington — at least, a drunken man wearing a mask with his likeness — who was charging towards the 18th green when he took a dramatic faceplant down one of Whistling’s treacherous slopes, coming up bloodied and mortified.
There’s nothing shocking about Team USA winning the Ryder Cup. But there was something special about what happened when they did. No, not the celebration itself. (If you remember rockstar Tommy Fleetwood crowdsurfing in Paris, you’ll remember that the Europeans are far better at that.) Instead it’s watching the biggest names in the sport, singled-minded individualists, fully invested in the results of the same golfers against whom they battle every other week of the year.
The next wins came in quick succession. Brooks Koepka nearly aced 17 to close out Bernd Wiesberger. Justin Thomas finished out Tyrrell Hatton at 15. And despite Paul Casey’s glistening iron shot into 18 — “Nice shot, Paul! But it doesn’t matter!” yelled one American fan — his birdie try just missed, cementing the 5-0-0 man in Ryder Cup immortality.
When it came to post-round celebrations, the caddies stood out as the more-experienced low-handicaps. Austin Kaiser, Schauffele’s caddie, raced toward the crowd in the bleachers on 18, shotgunned a beer and spiked it on the ground to roars of approval. This was the show they’d been waiting to see. Schauffele, not typically a crowd-pleaser, followed with a chug of his own, which was impressive for its passion if not its speed.
Not everyone is a Mich Ultra fan, so some of the players, caddies, wives and girlfriends opted for High Noons, or Ranch Waters, or tequila. It was a convivial scene, with European pros and their American counterparts mixing behind the green. Kaiser, who’d acquired a bag of beverages, was a bipartisan celebrator, offering them to Team Europe’s assembled players, too.
Ian Poulter came off the course looking like he’d been through battle, and perhaps he had. The 45-year-old, possibly playing in his final Ryder Cup, finished off an inspiring 3-and-2 victory over Tony Finau and broke down afterward.
Hovland embraced him.
“The f— Postman!” he yelled. Rahm followed with a big bear hug. Wiesberger, too.
“We play a selfish sport week-in, week-out, and when we have this team spirit that we have…” Poulter explained later, choking up. The rest was implied.
There was still golf to be played. Daniel Berger and Matthew Fitzpatrick were deadlocked with four holes to go. Jordan Spieth and Tommy Fleetwood were tied, too. And then there was Lee Westwood, battling back against Harris English, desperate to earn a point after losing six consecutive Ryder Cup matches. Sergio Garcia set off up the 18th hole in reverse to find his friend. It was a poignant moment. They’ve been through plenty in these competitions.
Members of the U.S. team trekked back to watch the final groups come through, too. Justin Thomas, wielding a coffee cup filled with something clear, high-fived Spieth on his way to the 18th tee. Tony Finau flexed toward the assembled crowd and was shocked at just how loud the ovation was that he got in return. Harris English came through a gauntlet of high-fives like he was being introduced as the fifth starter at an NBA game. As the last group came through, spectators flooded the fairway. Chants of U-S-A bounced around the amphitheater behind the 18th green. All was well in American golf.
Eventually there was an official celebration. The U.S. team assembled on stage, where Stricker called them the greatest team of all time and called the win “his major” and wept at the magnitude of it all. They popped champagne and sprayed it on each other, on their assembled friends and family and particularly on Phil Mickelson. They were awkwardly far from the crowd, which took some of the juice out of the whole thing, but they didn’t much seem to mind.
After taking more photos than a wedding party — and doing more hugging, too — they wandered their way back to the media tent for that press conference, the one that surprised Schauffele.
Dustin Johnson, typically reticent, had the right combination of alcohol, adrenaline and exuberance that he became the star of the show. He showered praise on his playing partners. He offered to take the trophy to bed with Morikawa. “Grandpa got it done,” he said emphatically. And he asked one reporter if he’d like to try to keep up with him as the celebration continued throughout the night.
“You’ve got no chance,” he finished with a grin.
They jousted with the media, bouncing between joking and celebrating and occasionally earnest — at least, as earnest as you can be while balancing a giant bottle of Moet and Chandon on your lap. The questions went on and on. Thomas cracked a fresh beer. Cantlay yawned.
“I feel like I’m getting too sober right now,” Schauffele said. “Can we get off this stage?”
They did, but not before one final act: Thomas insisted that Koepka and DeChambeau hug it out in front of the assembled media.
Then it was time to leave. They walked out of the tent, through the clubhouse and onto a team bus. There was a 20-minute bus ride ahead, with the promise of an afterparty at Kohler’s American Club waiting on the other side. The U.S. team will be tired at the end of a long weekend, a long weekend that comes at the end of an extra-long super-season.
They’ll celebrate, the 12 individuals on the winning side and their caddies and their captains and their families and friends. They’ll likely mingle with the losing side, too. Beginning tomorrow, after all, they’ll all be colleagues again on the PGA Tour.
But they’ll never have a golfing afternoon quite like this one again.