CHASKA, Minn. — Jaak Pieters traveled from Belgium to Minnesota to watch his son, Thomas Pieters, make his Ryder Cup debut.
Where he wound up during the fifth hole at Hazeltine National Golf Club during his son’s four-ball match on Saturday afternoon was hard to believe.
Brooks Koepka’s drive off the tee for the U.S. team strayed to the left and bounced in the rough, ricocheting onto the back of Jaak Pieters . The ball astoundingly stayed stuck there, nestling between the top loop of his backpack and the upper part of his back.
Course marshals quickly ordered him to freeze, so he stayed still, his knees slightly bent, while the situation was sorted out and several American fans tauntingly pointed at him. Koepka took a drop, and the Americans were able to salvage a par-4 birdie.
But Thomas Pieters eagled that hole to stretch the European duo’s lead to 2-up. He and Rory McIlroy cruised to a 3-and-1 victory over Koepka and Dustin Johnson, the only point the Europeans picked up in the afternoon matches while falling behind 9½ to 6½ entering the final day of competition.
Asked later about the lucky bounce onto his back, Jaak Pieters laughed as he animatedly re-enacted the sequence. He heard the forewarning of an approaching ball, so he turned his back away from the fairway and toward the crowd. That unwittingly lined up his black backpack with the trajectory of the ball and in just the right distance from the landing to catch the bounce.
“I heard nothing. I felt something,” said Jaak Pieters, who is just as tall as his 6-foot-5 son. “And then five or six people said, ‘Don’t move! Don’t move!'”
Friends across the Atlantic quickly bombarded him with tweets and text messages.
“They saw me. They said, ‘You’re there. OK, we know,'” Jaak Pieters said.
The backpack was filled just full enough with his belongings, including a pullover for the cool morning start and drinks to stay hydrated during the sunny afternoon, to allow the ball to nestle into his back. Otherwise it would have fallen back into the grass.
Jaak Pieters was talking with a reporter about this bizarre bounce onto the backpack while his son conducted TV interviews with partner McIlroy across the 17th green, after the duo clinched a victory on a par-3 birdie putt by Thomas Pieters. Jaak Pieters glanced over at one point at his father, who proudly pumped his right arm in the air in acknowledgement of the accomplishment.
“That’s why I’m here,” he said, “to look after my son.”