by Steve DiMeglio, USA TODAY Sports
MEDINAH, Ill. - What can the USA do now?
After losing the Ryder Cup on Sunday at Medinah Country Club, when Europe pulled off a miracle of its own to erase a 10-6 deficit on the final day by winning 8 of the 12 singles matches, the Stars & Stripes have lost seven of the last nine of these biennial bouts.
And it definitely has lost its mojo at home. Once so dominant that the USA didn't even give it a thought that it could lose on home soil, Europe has now won four times in America since the initial victory at Jack Nicklaus' place in 1987, where Jose Maria Olazabal played in his first Ryder Cup. His debut as a captain this year went well, too.
So did Davis Love III's. The U.S. captain watched his troops storm out to a 10-4 lead the first two days and still held a 10-6 lead heading into Sunday's singles after Europe pulled out two late wins on Saturday. All week his plan to build chemistry in the team room - ping-pong was a huge hit - and on the golf course was playing out perfectly. The players bonded - then pounded the golf course and Europe for two days.
All was well on the red, white and blue front. Then Europe, who last won the singles competition in 2006, pulled off the upset as their players won the 18th hole four times to pull out wins. Jason Dufner was the only U.S. player to win the 18th hole, and the 18th was halved in one other match.
So as panic buttons are being pushed from sea to shining sea, should a new blueprint for success be drafted? Should a call be made to Captain America, Paul Azinger, who changed the qualifying process and playing format and crafted the pod system in 2008 to help get the USA's lone victory since 1999?
The USA had 11 players on this year's team who had at least one win this season. Two reigning major champions were on board. The greater Chicago-area crowd was loud and lively. They built up a 10-6 lead. And then as the famous saying goes, blank happens.
"A lot of guys played great and just got beat by a guy that played a little bit better," Love said. "Give credit to Europe. They played great."
Love will be second-guessed for a long time, for his captain's picks (his four went a combined 5-8-0), his lineup on Sunday, his decision to sit Keegan Bradley and Phil Mickelson Saturday afternoon after they had destroyed Luke Donald and Lee Westwood, 7 and 6, in the morning to win their third consecutive match.
Love said he'll second-guess himself. But funny things happen in golf - and especially in the Ryder Cup. And occasionally, miracles happen. And the unexplainable happens - the greatest player of this generation, Tiger Woods, has a losing record in the Ryder Cup and has played on just one winning team in seven tries.
It's golf, and it's sport.
"I can't be more proud of this team," Love said. "They conducted themselves with class all week. They inspired the fans to get behind them. They showed the fans what golf is all about and how to act. I said this is one of the most powerful teams ever put together. But it's also one of the classiest teams put together.
"We had a great time in the team room. We had a great time on the golf course. They did everything we asked them to do, and I can honestly say that I've been a part of a lot of teams and I've never seen a team of golfers like this.
"Could I have done things differently. In hindsight, I guess."
But what would Love have done?
When Europe front-loaded its lineup Sunday morning, with Donald, undefeated Ian Poulter, world No. 1 Rory McIlroy and Justin Rose, USA had two major champions - Bubba Watson and Webb Simpson - and Bradley and Mickelson, the hottest players through the first two days, out 1, 2, 3 and 4. And all lost.
And as far as sitting Bradley and Mickelson?
"You need to hear something," Mickelson said after the matches. "Keegan and I knew going in that we were not playing (Saturday) afternoon, and we said on the first tee, we are going to put everything we have into this one match. And when we got to 10, I went to Davis and I said, 'Listen, you're seeing our best; you cannot put us in the afternoon, because we emotionally and mentally are not prepared for it. And I know you're going to get pressure, because we're playing so good. But we have other guys that are dying to get out there, and we have mentally put everything into this match; we won't have anything later, and so you need to stay to our plan. So you cannot put that on him; if anything, it was me, because I went to him 10 and said that to him."
Now it's on to Gleneagles in 2014. U.S. captain candidates include David Toms and Justin Leonard. It's unlikely the qualifying process will be changed, and considering this year's team that was loaded with winners, it shouldn't be. The USA has lost the last two matches by one point. A putt here, a chip-in there, a point or two from some underachieving veterans, and it could have been different.
"I'm sure there's a lot of great plans in a lot of sporting events that sound really good the night before, before the game starts, and then there's a fumble or a turnover or something happens and it doesn't work," Love said. "What didn't work (Sunday) is they played a little bit better than us and got some momentum and made it tough.
... When you end up with the power and the excitement that we had in those first groups, and we had what we felt like was the steady-Eddie guys in the back (Tiger Woods, Steve Stricker and Jim Furyk), we thought it was a great lineup. Again, a few putts they made, a few putts we missed, and it would have been a huge difference."
Chip-ins: With its victory this year, Europe has nine victories to seven for the Americans since players throughout all of continental Europe first became eligible to compete in the Ryder Cup in 1979. There has been one tie. ... Mickelson, who set the U.S. record this week with his ninth appearance in the Ryder Cup, also passed Billy Casper for most matches played among Americans. Mickelson has competed in 38 matches.