CHASKA, Minn. -- I have covered the Super Bowl. I have covered the Final Four. I have covered the Masters. I have covered the College Football Playoff. I have covered the U.S. Open. They are all terrific events. The top in each of their respective sports. They are almost always tremendously competitive and ridiculously watchable. They are as good as sports get.
None of them are in the same league as the Ryder Cup.
Somehow this event has found the perfect elixir for its huge stage -- nationalism mixed with a pride in team golf that these guys almost never get to experience. They are not being paid to play. They don't earn anything if they win. It is backyard sports on global television for a trophy that is not even two feet tall. You're playing for bragging rights and for the ability for your trash talk to carry a little punch for the next two years.
There are myriad reasons why the Ryder Cup rocks like no other sporting event in the world, and all of them were on display this week. But four in particular stood out as the U.S. whipped Europe for 17-11 for its first win since 2008 and just its second since 1999.
1. There is no such thing as a blowout: The Ryder Cup lasts for three days. It is beyond intense for all three. And yet, because its format, the matches are never decided until the last hour or two of competition. Ever. That means the results legitimately hang in the balance for 95 percent of the actual time the golf is played. What other event can you say that about?
Even with a substantial lead on Saturday night at 9.5-6.5, the United States did not necessarily feel like it was in command of the tournament. Heck, that lead was one point less entering Sunday than it was when the Americans led in 2012 and eventually lost. Even if the United States did eventually win, which it did, it would not happen until one of the final few matches (it wasn't over until the ninth match finished on Sunday close to 5 p.m. Eastern with just an hour remaining in the event).
This is the secret genius of this tournament. All 28 points are on a swivel and nobody knows who they're coming from all week.
Nobody knew whose putter held the clinching putt. Nobody knew who Davis Love III or Darren Clarke would hug first. The tension ran thick deep into the Sunday afternoon because all it takes is a few bad holes to flip the red American rectangles to blue European ones. This tournament is breathtaking and captivating to the very end.
2. Proximity of fans to golfers: On Sunday morning, The Final Countdown blared over the loudspeaker as Rory McIlroy and Patrick Reed prepared on the range to do battle and thousands of people gathered in L-shaped bleachers around the first tee. They would be followed by 11 other matches to end the Ryder Cup.
McIlroy entered the arena to loud chants of "U-S-A! U-S-A!" He danced to European patrons who chanted "Pa-trick Reed is terrified, Rory's on fire! Rory's on fire!" Reed came next and worked the crowd into a complete frenzy. He then shushed the European contingent that was riding for McIlroy.
It was golf's version of a wrestling death match. Other more compelling chants and songs broke out on other days, and all were spectacular to see at a sporting event known more for its serenity than its roars.
I often wonder how more physical fights don't break out when golfers are within arms length of drunk fans. Never is that more under the microscope than at a Ryder Cup at which the PGA of America had to issue a statement warning fans to show respect to players. But it is also one of aspects that makes this event so grand.
A marshal between Nos. 1 and 2 gave Reed a Mickelson-ian thumbs up after he dropped a clutch par putt. Tiger Woods stood 10 feet away and laughed at Reed and McIlroy on No. 8 after the insane putt-for-putt performance they put on. Ian Poulter turned and gave a villainous glare at the crowd on No. 11 after McIlroy fist pumped at them on Sunday. Never do you see this many characters this close together with this combustible of an audience. It is absolutely perfect.
3. Individuals playing as a team: At one point on Sunday, Reed was walking up No. 14 en route to taking down McIlroy, and he passed Zach Johnson who was crossing over to another hole on the front nine. They low-fived and yelped at each other. It's a bizarre, disconcerting thing to see at a golf event where golfers are almost always stoic and alone.
In the post-event press conference, golfers talk about these teams like they are family members.
"To be around this team; this team is an amazing team full of amazing men," vice captain Tom Lehman said after the matches. "They are courageous, they are smart, they are fearless, they are compassionate, but most importantly, they love each other and they are a team. So to be a part of this team and in this state, my home state, two hours from where I grew up, it's a dream come true, and I am so grateful for this opportunity. I'm so proud of these guys."
We get to know these golfers as fully-formed individuals 103 weeks out of every two years. It is one reason I love golf. It is full of intriguing characters and engaging personalities. So when you mesh all of those characters together for a crazy week like this one, the dynamic is completely fascinating. Woods was chatting up Hunter Mahan as Notah Begay drove Darius Rucker around on a golf cart. Think about that for a minute. Niall Horan walked inside the ropes and took selfies with fans. The crowds notice intricate happenings like these, too, and it adds to the ludicrous atmosphere.
4. A huge stage for performance art: The moment of this year's Ryder Cup came at the eighth hole on Sunday. You all know the one. McIlroy drained a putt seemingly from Wisconsin and nearly came out of his Nikes. "I can't hear you!" he bellowed at a raucous audience. Reed answered and wagged his finger so hard I thought Dikembe Mutombo would appear on the walk to the ninth hole. They laughed at each other and bumped fists before moving on to the rest of the match.
Sports is ultimately just entertainment with humans who can run fast, jump high and swing hard. These two, more than any other two golfers at this event, know that.
"We were congratulating each other after playing some great shots," McIlroy said. "It was all played in the right spirit, which was great. I think that's the most important thing. We mocked each other a little bit and whatever, at the same time it was all in good fun. No problems with Patrick Reed at all. He's been immense this week."
McIlroy was obviously at the epicenter of the trash talking and heckling all week. He said on Sunday evening it was his goal coming in. He wanted the heat. He wanted to let rip and let his six rookies thrive.
"[Ian Poulter] wasn't playing this time, so we needed someone on the course to be doing what he does," McIlroy said. "I took it upon myself to take on that role. I tried my best at it. I learned from the best; I've played with Poults a few times before, and it's always fun and hopefully he's back on the team in a couple of years in Paris and we can do this all over again."
The moment of the week for me, however, might have come just off the 18th green on Sunday after the U.S. had clinched. The crowd was strangely silent after sewing up just its second Ryder Cup since 1999, and some of the European golfers were perplexed. Why were the fans not screaming their heads off? McIlroy stepped up and tried to get the "U-S-A! U-S-A!" chants roaring for his American pals.
He knew what I'm not sure the rest of the crowd figured out yet. The credits had rolled. The villain was gone. Regular Rory was back. He was letting the fans know that the show was over as the event ended.
And what a show it was.