Inside Golf's Greatest Comeback
Behind the scenes of the final 24 hours at the Battle of Brookline
From the start, this American team had been branded as greedy and self-centered, most notably by captain Ben Crenshaw, who had admonished several of his top players six weeks earlier for their comments regarding Ryder Cup revenue. The Europeans were proving once again that heart and soul could carry them past any ensemble of U.S. superstars. Come Saturday night, the deficit facing Crenshaw's troops appeared insurmountable.
No Ryder Cup team had ever rallied from four points down in the Sunday singles, a fact not lost on anyone as the players gathered on Saturday night. What follows is a comprehensive oral history of the final 24 hours as told by the players and their confidants, including previously unpublished accounts and behind-the-scenes anecdotes that offer diary-like perspective to the greatest comeback in golf history.
Golf Digest spoke at length with 37 key figures: all 11 surviving members of the U.S. team, European captain Mark James and members of his team, players' wives and caddies, Ben and Julie Crenshaw, and U.S. assistant captains Bruce Lietzke and Bill Rogers. President George W. Bush provided his reflections as well.
THE DEPTHS OF DEJECTIONDavis Love III: On Saturday night, we finished right before dark and had a little meeting to decide where everybody should play.
Bill Rogers: The picture is still very clear in my mind: The mood was dejection, but Crenshaw was at his absolute finest at that moment. Everyone gathered in the locker room and Ben began to walk back and forth -- he wasn't without a cigarette the whole time. As he got a little more dramatic, I noticed everyone was looking right at him. Tiger, Mickelson -- every one of them.
Tom Lehman: Ben, Lietzke and Rogers had put together this lineup, and they had Tiger second to last. We all said, "Hey, if we're going to win this thing, we're gonna have to get on them early and get on them hard."
How the U.S. Ryder Cup team rallied from a 10-6 deficit at Brookline to defeat Europe, 14½-13½ (with starting tee times):
10:38 a.m.: Tom Lehman (U.S.) d. Lee Westwood, 3 and 2
Steve Pate: I was putting pretty well that week, but I couldn't hit the clubface. Ben wanted to send me out early -- I told him early wasn't the right plan. I wasn't going to shoot 65, but I could certainly par it to death.
Mike Hicks (Payne Stewart's caddie): There were seven or eight captains around the table that night. Guys were saying, "I should play here." Mickelson said, "I think I should go off first." It was very unlike other Ryder Cups. It easily could have led to chaos.
Ben Crenshaw: It was a collective effort. Like putting a recipe together, you throw in a little of this, a little of that.
Mark O'Meara: Mickelson and Davis were really talking about strategy, what they wanted to do and what they thought would work. The rest of us just kind of sat around. I kept my mouth shut, because I'd played in only one match and got beat.
David Duval: Our best guess was that they were gonna go from strongest to weakest, period. We thought their guys who hadn't played [Jarmo Sandelin, Jean Van de Velde, Andrew Coltart] would be in the last matches. Then we saw their lineup a while later, and that wasn't the case.
Crenshaw: I just could not believe Mark James sent them out three in a row.
James: The decisions all week were not made by me talking to one or two guys in a corner. If anyone didn't agree, they didn't say so at the time.
Jean Van de Velde: I didn't want to be in one of the last groups. Having not played, having no competition whatsoever, I didn't want the responsibility, if it was close, to win or lose the Ryder Cup.
Love: It always seems to fall on the wrong guy anyway, no matter how you do it.
Bruce Lietzke: Those were like three automatic points to me -- they were going against Mickelson, Love and Tiger. That put the real pressure on Lehman [against Lee Westwood] and Sutton [against Darren Clarke] in the first two matches. Those two points became critical.
Andrew Coltart: I was in my room watching The Golf Channel and saw the singles draw. That was the first I knew about playing Tiger. I thought it was fantastic. I had nothing to lose, obviously. I slept very well that night.
Paul Lawrie: Some of our team felt the job was done. There was a little bit of celebrating. A few of our players were happier than they should have been.
Colin Montgomerie: We'd done a hell of a job to get 10-6 up. Mark had done a hell of a job. Yes, we'd left the three guys out, but at that stage, it didn't matter. I'm sure if we were on the Concorde on the way over and Mark stood up and said, "Look, we're going to be 10-6 up Saturday night, but there are going to be a few guys who haven't played," I'm sure we all would have said, "Doesn't matter. It's a team game. We've got four points to win? Thank you very much."