The East Tennessee State golf team always has an international flavor, so when the Ryder Cup comes around every two years, it makes for some interesting interaction between teammates.
This year was no exception.
Justin Hulbert, a sophomore on ETSU’s team, had an insider’s view at Medinah Country Club. His father, Mike Hulbert, was a vice-captain for the American team that lost a commanding lead as the Europeans staged a dramatic Sunday comeback for an unlikely win.
The atmosphere at Medinah was electric, Hulbert said.
“In person it’s like being at a football game,” he said. “There’s like 20 rows of people standing, yelling and screaming. When somebody does something good, the crowd goes crazy. It wasn’t like any golf tournament I’ve ever been to. The players love pumping up the crowd and getting everybody into it.”
Hulbert spent some time inside the team’s family dining area and attended a bowling night for the American team on Thursday night. He also got to ride around the course on a golf cart with his dad during the final practice round.
“It was a lot of fun,” he said. “But it was disappointing they lost.”
Hulbert had to leave the course mid-afternoon on Sunday to get back to ETSU, so he wasn’t around for the dramatic ending that saw the Europeans rally from a 10-6 deficit to win 141⁄2 to 131⁄2 and keep the cup for the fifth time in the last six competitions.
“I thought it was OK, that they were gonna pull away with it,” Hulbert said. “When I left, (Phil) Mickelson and (Jim) Furyk were up. They were looking pretty good.”
It wasn’t until Hulbert landed in Charlotte that he learned that the unthinkable had happened. His first thought was he had to watch the replay to see how it came about.
“When Justin Rose was making those putts (against Mickelson), I was like, ‘He hasn’t made a putt all week outside of 15 feet and he made three in a row,’ ” Hulbert said. “It was insane.”
While Hulbert had a great view of the action, he wasn’t the only ETSU player with a vested interest in the matches. The rest of the Bucs had a little wager on the outcome.
Five European players are on ETSU’s roster. Rhys Pugh of Wales and Adrian Meronk of Poland had left for Turkey to play in the World Amateur Team Championships, but Tom Heggarty of England, Scott Gibson of Scotland and Gudmundur Kristjansson of Iceland represented their continent in front of the television at ETSU.
“It was pretty cool watching it with some of the guys,” Heggarty said. “It was pretty exciting coming down the stretch. There were some clutch putts from the Europeans.”
Gibson was watching Sunday’s action with teammate Chris Hickman, a freshman from Maryland.
“One minute I was cheering, the next minute he was cheering,” Gibson said. “It’s hard to restrain your excitement when your team’s doing well.”
Hickman said seeing the Americans lose the way they did was tough to take, especially given the present company.
“We were sort of nice toward each other,” Hickman said of his European teammates. “But you could tell there was some heat in the room.”
There was also a little something at stake. The Americans had bet the Europeans on the outcome, with the losers picking up balls at the ETSU practice range. Volunteer assistant coach Blake Howard and graduate assistant Ben Treadway joined Hickman in representing the United States on the range Sunday evening. Hulbert was still in transit, so he was exempt.
“We were so certain the Europeans would be picking the range,” Hickman said. “We ended up picking the range.
“It was disappointing to see them lose like that. I wasn’t even worried about it. I was pretty sure going into the third day we were going win.”