Europe’s players hailed the influence of Ryder Cup captain Paul McGinley as opposite number Tom Watson was embroiled in a public debate with Phil Mickelson.
McGinley’s side survived an early scare on the final day at Gleneagles to turn a 10-6 overnight lead into a victory by 16.5 points to 11.5 – their eighth win in the last 10 biennial contests.
And while McGinley was praised as “modern” and “meticulous”, the losing team’s press conference saw Mickelson call for a return to the captaincy style of Paul Azinger, who led the United States to their only win this century at Valhalla in 2008.
“Unfortunately we have strayed from a winning formula the last three Ryder Cups,” said Mickelson, who was left out for an entire day’s play for the first time ever.
Mickelson praised Azinger for ensuring the players were “invested” in the team and involved in decision-making, but added: “Nobody here was in any decision.”
Watson, who was captain the last time the US won on European soil, said he had read Azinger’s book on the 2008 contest, but added: “I had a different philosophy. It takes 12 players to win. It’s not pods – it’s 12 players.”
The contrast in the European team was pronounced, with players lining up to hail McGinley’s leadership style.
“He has been so methodical,” Sergio Garcia said. “Every single aspect he needed to touch on, he did. I’ve been fortunate to have a lot of great captains. Paul did things a little bit differently, but with great style.
“He has been a little bit more of a modern captain, taking care of every single detail. He knew what we had was good and working but improved it without changing it.”
Rory McIlroy added: “I can’t say enough about the captain. Paul has been absolutely immense this week. He has left no stone unturned. He has given this week a lot of thought over the last two years. I am just glad it worked out for him.”
McIlroy and Graeme McDowell, the target for American jibes earlier in the week, had led from the front as the home side recovered from an early wobble, with McDowell three down after five to rookie Jordan Spieth in the opening match and the unbeaten Justin Rose four down after six to Hunter Mahan.
At one point the United States were ahead in six matches, but McIlroy was an approximate eight under par in thrashing Rickie Fowler 5&4 to put the first European point on the board and fellow Northern Irishman McDowell won five out of six holes from the 10th to complete a remarkable 2&1 victory.
With US Open champion Martin Kaymer beating Masters champion Bubba Watson and Rose also fighting back to claim a half, Europe were within sight of victory and Welshman Jamie Donaldson delivered it in style, hitting his approach to the 15th to within inches of the hole to beat Keegan Bradley.
That prompted a handshake on the fairway between the captains and the usual curious conclusion as the remaining matches played out, Garcia beating Jim Furyk, Poulter halving his match with Webb Simpson, Lee Westwood losing to Jimmy Walker and Victor Dubuisson halving with Zach Johnson.
McIlroy said the win was the “icing on the cake” after winning the Open and US PGA Championship, adding: “I was just so up for it – more so than I was in the two majors I won,” he said. “There was no option other than to win. I played my best golf, six under through six and that built a comfortable lead that I was able to hang on to.”
McDowell, who was disappointed to have played just two foursomes matches before the singles, added: “I’m really proud of myself the way I played the back nine. I’m just relieved. The captain put a big role on me and I’m just happy I could deliver.”
Donaldson had already contributed two points from two foursomes outings with Westwood and was never behind to Bradley, moving four up with birdies on the 11th and 12th and making sure of the half point to retain the trophy with a par on the 14th.
It was only a matter of time before outright victory was confirmed, and Donaldson did not disappoint.
“I hit the wedge shot of my life to close the game out. I can’t really put words to it. It is unbelievable,” the 38-year-old said. “I knew it was getting tight there at the end and everyone was building on my group. I just tried not to spend too much time looking at the scoreboard.
“I was able to do it well enough to close it out. The lads have got on so well all week. There has been a great craic in there, it is an incredible week. It is hard to describe how good it is – there is nothing else like it in golf. It has been amazing to be a part of it.”