Team Europe, which won the Ryder Cup Sunday with a stunning comeback from a 10-6 deficit, was about ten minutes from losing it by default. With 25 minutes left until his match with Keegan Bradley, Rory McIlroy was nowhere to be found. As captain Jose Maria Olazabal was panicking, McIlroy ultimately was whisked onto the grounds of Medinah in a police cruiser ten minutes before his tee time, took a few practice putts, and slammed his tee shot into the right rough. McIlroy went on to beat Bradley, the American Golden Boy the first two days who went 3-0 paired with Phil Mickelson. So much for the importance of warming up.
If McIlroy had shown up at the first tee late but within five minutes of his 11:25 tee time, he would have forfeited the first hole. If he had shown up more than five minutes late, he would have been disqualified and forfeited the match. That one point would have swung the result in favor of the United States.
I find it mind boggling that McIlroy could have come so close to what would no doubt have been the worst gaffe in Ryder Cup history. The Ryder Cup is the most meticulously planned and highly structured event in golf. Each team has a captain, several assistant captains, many other ad hoc support personnel, and in addition has at its disposal the vast resources of the PGA, which runs the event. Virtually every hour of the day is planned out. The players are housed in quarters where they are free from distractions of fans and the media. They literally practice, play, eat, and sleep as a team. (Well, maybe not sleep.)
McIlroy’s story is even more preposterous. He claims that he was watching television Saturday night and saw that his tee time was 12:25, but didn’t realize that it was stated in Eastern time, not Central time. Seriously? I can just imagine Olazabal announcing back at the team quarters after dinner: “We haven’t seen tomorrow’s pairings yet, so keep an eye on the TV tonight to see who you’re playing and when.”
When asked about the incident at the Team Europe press conference, McIlroy said he thought the tee time was 12:25, and received a call at 11:00 to be on the tee in 25 minutes. “I’m like, oh, I’ve never been so worried going to the golf course. [The understatement of the weekend.] Luckily there was a state trooper outside of the lobby of the hotel that took me here and got me here a lot faster than we would have normally. [I wonder if this trooper has received any threats from ardent U.S. golf fans.] I just had enough time to put my shoes on, have a couple of putts and go to the first tee.”
I have been known to annoy golf partners by showing up at the last minute, throwing on my shoes, and rushing to the first tee with no warm-up. But ordinarily it is only a $5 Nassau, not the Ryder Cup, that is on the line.
Surely everyone on the team knew the pairings and times as soon as they were announced early Saturday evening. Surely Team Europe must have procedures in place to ensure that players arrive at the course well ahead of their tee times. What are all those assistant captains for? To make McIlroy’s story more palatable, team officials explained that Europeans are not accustomed to time zone changes. As if McIlroy has never travelled outside of Ireland? He played on the PGA Tour this year. Can you imagine Tom Brady missing a game on the West Coast because he was watching Boston TV?
Perhaps the European Ryder Cup team manual will be revised for 2014 to include an appendix: “Procedures for Notifying Team Members of Tee Times and Facilitating Transport to Course. “ Maybe they will add an additional assistant captain with this sole responsibility. While they’re at it, they might also consider incorporating new guidelines on consumption of alcoholic beverages prior to press conferences. They could call it the “Garcia Rule.”
We might never know the real story behind McIlroy’s dramatic police escort to the first tee. The Europeans can take comfort, however, from the fact that the 2014 Ryder Cup matches will be played in Scotland. So, if McIlroy learns his Sunday tee time by watching U.S. television Saturday evening, he’ll show up five hours early.