Rory McIlroy fought back the tears after his singles victory at the Ryder Cup
(Image: Sky Sports)
However, anyone who questioned his motivation and desire in Wisconsin was emphatically answered on Sunday.
Sent out first by Harrington, Mcllroy gave his side a glimmer be rediscovering his best form in a 3&2 win over Xander Schauffele – but it was his interview afterwards which defined his day.
The Northern Irishman couldn't contain his emotions, or his tears, as he told Sky Sports Golf what the Ryder Cup meant to him and how much is below-par displays at Whistling Straits had hurt him.
It was one of the those rare moments where a global star is humanised, and was enough to soften the hardest of hearts.
Pundits and fans may have questioned Mcllroy the player this weekend, but no one should be questioning Mcllroy the man.
He cares. And come Rome 2023, he'll be back.
DJ's five-star show
Any pre-tournament perceptions that the inexperience of the American team – who had six Ryder Cup rookies involved – would count against them were blown away on the opening day.
However, ironically, it was their oldest player who made history by starring in all five sessions.
Dustin Johnson celebrates defeating Paul Casey
(Image: Getty Images)
Dustin Johnson hasn't had the 2021 that was expected of him after finishing 2020 by winning the US Masters, losing his no 1 world ranking to Jon Rahm.
Like Rahm, the 37-year-old went into Sunday having played all four sessions but whilst the Spaniard appeared to run out steam, Johnson held off Paul Casey to notch a perfect five points from five in Wisconsin.
He became only the third player to achieve the feat after Larry Nelson (1979) and Francesco Molinari (2018), and he did so thanks to three days of scintillating golf.
Look out in 2022 – as 'DJ' is back to his best.
Poulter's final fling
There is no age limit on Ryder Cup selection, Sergio Garcia has been ample proof of that.
But while the 41-year-old Spaniard was a rare spark over the first two days for Europe, playing some mesmerising golf as he won three points from three alongside Jon Rahm, Ian Poulter appeared a shadow of the man who once worked wonders in Medinah.
To his credit, he recovered on Sunday to beat Tony Finau and while it was futile in terms of the result, it did extend his unbeaten Ryder Cup singles record to seven matches.
The look in his eyes afterwards however, told you all you needed to know.
Like, Mcllroy, he struggled to hold back tears in front of the camera and at 45, he had the demeanour of a man who knew his time on this stage was up.
Poulter's struggles in Wisconsin won't harm his Ryder Cup legacy, his legendary status on that front has long been cemented, and he's certain to have future involvement in non-playing roles.
But barring a remarkable renaissance in form, the bulging eyes and frenetic fist pumps won't be happening on the greens in Rome – and boy will we miss them.
Fans are needed – home and away
It was Paul McGinley who said beforehand that he feared the lack of away fans would make Team Europe's task considerably harder.
"We usually have around 15% away, this time it will be less than 2%," he said, and his fears rang true.
No European player goes to an away Ryder Cup expecting a civil, mundane weekend, but the noise as the Americans got in the ascendancy on Sunday was deafening. Contrast that with the Europeans, whose successful putts or matches won were met with, at best, ripples of applause.
Atmospheres matter in a Ryder Cup. Roars, and chants, reverberate around the course and can often lift players who realise their team-mates are excelling elsewhere.
Let's not pretend a full away backing would have overturned a 10-point deficit, but it would have made for a considerably less lonely weekend for Europe's players.
It's a scenario we all hope we never have to analyse again.
Amazing Americans provide a chilling warning to Europe
Everyone knew the USA were favourites on paper. Everyone knew their team boasted nine of the world's top 12 players. Everyone knew Europe had a difficult task on their hands.
No-one knew, the scale of the one-sided massacre that was to come.
Team USA lift the Ryder Cup after their record-breaking win over Europe
The approach of Stricker's men on Sunday spoke volumes. This wasn't a side simply content to stumble to 14.5 points, this was a hungry group hell-bent on winning by a record breaking margin, and they duly did.
Stricker himself said afterwards this display should usher in a new era in the Ryder Cup, and it's one that doesn't bode well for Europe.
The age, ability, and desire of this American team has yielded the best team display in this tournament for many a year. Throw in the fact they seem to have finally got things right in their approach off the course, and be rest assured, they'll start favourites in Italy in two years time.
It's not yet clear who will be captaining Europe when they try and regain the trophy in 2023.
But whoever it turns out to be, will have a seismic job on their hands.