My Five: Best Ryder Cups
September 26, 2010
1991The Ocean Course, Kiawah Island, S.C. Score: USA 14 ½, Europe 13 ½1991Three days of the most sustained pressure ever felt in golf. Led by feisty captain Dave Stockton, the Americans came in desperate, facing a fourth straight failure to win the cup and a definitive loss of world dominance. With both teams taut and testy, the competition turned into pitched battle along the sands of Kiawah Island, complete with some U.S. players wearing camo caps to reference Operation Desert Storm. There were plenty of heroics, but it's the meltdowns that continue to haunt, particularly Mark Calcavecchia's. Four up with four to go, Calcavecchia lost all feel, finishing triple bogey, bogey, triple bogey, bogey to give Montgomerie a half. With newly turned analyst Johnny Miller getting a perfect opportunity to make his point about the power of pressure in professional golf, even tough guy Hale Irwin confessed it all became too much in the final singles, which fittingly would determine who won the cup. After Irwin scuffed a chip and wished his approach putt to just within gimme distance, stalwart Bernhard Langer missed the mother of all six footers, and it was finally over. The aftershock is still felt, and remains the strongest foundation for the Ryder Cup's claim as the most dramatic spectacle in golf.
1999The Country Club, Brookline, Mass. Score: USA 14 ½, Europe 13 ½1999Having lost two straight competitions, the U.S. was again backed into a corner. With the clash taking place in the land of the American Revolution, the Boston crowd added a raucous intensity that at times went over the top, in particular in the catcalls toward European lightening rod Montgomerie. For two days, the US was an unworthy challenger, falling behind 10-6 going into the singles. But then seemingly loopy captain Ben Crenshaw wagged his finger Saturday night, and Europe counterpart Mark James sent out a bottom weighted lineup that started an American landslide. Phil Mickelson dismissed big mouth Jarmo Sandelin, David Duval was humanized, and Tom Lehman stomped out celebrations. Europe rallied late, but then "The Putt" by Justin Leonard slammed into the back of the 17th hole, Jose Maria Olazabal missed a 25-footer, and the most emotional Ryder Cup ever was suddenly over. The U.S. contingent charged around the green before Olazabal putted, prompting an acknowledgement by both teams to quell the fervor going forward.
1987Muirfield Village, Dublin, Oh. Score: Europe 15, USA 131987The turning point in terms of a new competitive balance. Yes, Europe had won in 1985, but that was at the Belfry, and besides, they were due. But Muirfield Village was an entirely different story. America was out to reestablish its dominance. Jack Nicklaus was the captain on his home course. The big guns were aimed, and order would be restored. Instead, American ran into a juggernaut led by what would come to be known as the Big Six -- Seve Ballesteros, Nick Faldo, Sandy Lyle, Bernhard Langer, Ian Woosnam and Jose Maria Olazabal (all but Woosnam multiple major winners). The U.S. vexed Nicklaus by showing a striking inability to win the 18th hole, but mostly they just got outplayed. It was America's first loss on home soil, but in retrospect, it was no shame. Clearly, and probably never again to the same extent, the Europeans were better.
1969Royal Birkdale, Southport, England. Score: USA 16, Great Britain and Ireland 161969To be forever known as "The Concession." After Jack Nicklaus, playing in his first Ryder Cup, drilled home a pressure packed 5 foot par putt on the 18th of the last match, he bent over and picked up Tony Jacklin's coin, conceding a two footer that would have looked much longer. Nicklaus, who has always believed the matches should be about goodwill, seemed to intuitively realize that because GBI hadn't won since 1957 (and only two other times since 1927) another loss would have been devastating, while the first tie in Ryder Cup history would invigorate the event. "I don't think you would have missed that putt, but in these circumstances I would never give you the opportunity," Nicklaus told Jacklin as he put his arm around him. Some U.S. players and captain Sam Snead seethed with disagreement. The heat of the matches was rising.
1995Oak Hill, Rochester, NY. Score: Europe 14 ½, USA 13 ½1995The most heartbreaking loss ever handed to Americans, who gave it away late Sunday. It looked like was over on Saturday evening, after Corey Pavin ended the session with a chip in on the 18th hole for a four-ball victory that gave the U.S. a 9-7 lead. The Sunday singles had long been considered meat for the U.S., but the Europeans seemed to take inspiration in the first match when the ball-striking impaired Seve Ballesteros hung on with short game magic before succumbing to Lehman, 4 and 3. America led 11-8 when Brad Faxon, Ben Crenshaw, Loren Roberts and Curtis Strange successively lost their matches. Strange, one of captain Lanny Wadkins' picks, bogeyed the last three holes to lose 1 up to Nick Faldo. Finally, Jay Haas made a mess of the last hole against obscure Phillip Walton (left), putting European captain Bernard Gallacher on the winning side for the first time in 10 Ryder Cups. By whatever nickname -- Heartbreak Hill or Choke Hill -- none have ever hurt more.