My Five: Best Two-Man Teams

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My Five: Best Two-Man Teams

December 14, 2010

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Seve Ballesteros and Jose-Maria OlazabalIn the major of pairs golf -- the Ryder Cup -- they were by far the best team ever. In the four matches from 1987 to 1993, the Spaniards compiled a record of 11-2-2 for 12 points, twice as many as any team in the history of the matches. Neither was a particularly straight driver, but their tremendous scrambling abilities and clutch putting made them killers in match play. They seemed to relate as brothers, with the older Ballesteros the animated leader, the more stoic Olazabal the rock. As much as any two figures, their intensity, passion and inspirational play elevated the Ryder Cup to the premier spectacle in the sport.

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Arnold Palmer and Jack NicklausAlthough it's often overlooked because of their celebrated rivalry, Arnie and Jack were nearly unbeatable as a team. From 1963 to 1967, they combined to win the World Cup a record-tying four times, the last one by 13 strokes. They also won the PGA National Team Championships three times, in 1966, 70 and 71. In the Ryder Cup, the two giants were only paired together in the 1971 matches, when they went 2-1 in a U.S. blowout. When Palmer and Nicklaus channeled the great pride that made their head-to-head competition so compelling toward the same goal, their power play and knack for winning overwhelmed the field.

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Fred Couples and Davis Love IIIIf ever two gifted players were made for the more easygoing and freewheeling nature of team play, it was Fred and Davis. Though their high-risk games and suspect short putting could make them fragile in individual stroke events, their close friendship and mutual admiration seemed to create an ideal comfort zone when they paired up. They were each at the top of their games in the early 90s when they won four consecutive World Cups, the last two in 1994 and 1995 by 14 strokes each. They beat Nick Faldo and Colin Montgomerie at Oak Hill the only time they were paired in the Ryder Cup, and compiled a 4-1-1 record in three Presidents Cups.

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Lee Trevino and Mike HillTrevino and Hill were the best players on the Champions Tour in the early 90s, and essentially bullied their way to four Legends of Golf titles, combining to score a cumulative 73-under par in 1991 and 1992. Neither hit the ball a long way, but both their games possessed an old school completeness that avoided mistakes. Trevino provided the brilliance with his pure ball striking and brilliant putting, while the grizzled Hill, who had come off his Michigan farm after a middling career on the regular tour career determined to make the most of his last shot, was a gritty grinder who won 18 Champions Tour titles.

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Ray Floyd and Fred CouplesWhile this partnership was brief, it's probably the best example of elite-player-to-elite-player mentoring in golf history. After Couples was shattered by his crucial singles loss in the 1989 Ryder Cup under Captain Floyd, the steely four-time major champion went out of his way to pass along some wisdom and mental toughness to the mercurial Couples. At the 1990 Shark Shootout at Sherwood CC, they combined to shoot an amazing alternate-shot 57 and post a tournament record 182 that still stands. Then at Kiawah Island in 1991, the then 49-year-old Floyd used all his wiles to bring out Couples' best, as the pair defeated the teams of Woosnam and Faldo and Langer and James. Ever since, Couples has credited Floyd as his most important influence.

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