"We are not trying to find an excuse. The fact is they played better and won the match. Next time, I think it would be to the benefit of the game of golf if we manage to behave just a little better, every one of us."
It would be wrong if the magnificence of Justin Leonard's putt on the 17th green at the Country Club, the scene of so many American triumphs over visitors from across the Atlantic, is overshadowed by the premature celebration by the United States players that followed. It was inappropriate not for its excitement but the timing, with Olazabal still having a putt to halve the hole and delay momentarily a seemingly inevitable first American win in three matches.
When the top Americans finally discovered how to play with passion - the usually understated David Duval being a complete revelation - Mark James's inexperienced team, featuring only two players who had previously played a match on American soil, were likely to be in trouble. The Americans only won by a single point, as Europe had done in their wins in 1995 and '97, but it was Europe's worst singles performance for 20 years.
Needing only four points to retain the Cup, they managed only three and a half. "We came here as massive underdogs and what we did for the first two days was unbelievable," said Colin Montgomerie. "We can take great heart in the performance as a team to get four points ahead. It wasn't enough but we gave America a hell of a fright." It is hard to argue with James's policy of sticking with his top pairings on the first two days but Montgomerie, whose singles match was ultimately meaningless, might have been better off at the top of the order.
The way the draw worked out, with three European players coming in cold for their first game in positions three, four and five, Europe looked vulnerable in the top half, from where the momentum could build for the States.
"The decisions we took, we pretty much took as a team," said James. "I think they were the right ones. I'd do exactly the same again. If you had said we'd have a four-point lead going into the singles we'd have lied by the pool for two days.
"I don't think we were outmanoeuvred, we were outplayed. The way they played, stuff was flowing into the hole from all angles, so I don't think tactics would have made much difference. They came out screeching and when I thought it was about time they must stop holing and we must start, they holed a lot more. They rode the streak tremendously."
With Lee Westwood, Darren Clarke and Jesper Parnevik also losing in addition to Andrew Coltart, Jean Van de Velde and Jarmo Sandelin, the Americans got on a roll. Parnevik, beaten 5 and 4 by Duval, said: "I have to admit my focus was not what it was on the first two days but whether that was because of fatigue or something else, I don't know. The momentum was definitely building. You could tell from the first few matches. They were not even close."
And they were over early, allowing the American victors to join those of their team-mates who were trailing in the later matches. At the point most of the top-six matches finished, Europe still looked in position to gain the points they needed. In the face of the onslaught, Padraig Harrington, in beating Mark O'Meara at the last, and the Open champion, Paul Lawrie, gained much credit for their wins.
Once O'Meara had lost, the match between Leonard and Olazabal became pivotal. Leonard had putted so badly on the first two days that Johnny Miller, on American television, said he should go home and watch on TV. But just as in winning the '97 Open at Troon, Leonard holed putt after brilliant putt down the stretch to come back from four down with seven to play.
"It wasn't a pretty picture," said Olazabal. "I made two mistakes on 12 and 13, he made a lovely birdie on 13 and then a huge putt on 15 and a huge putt on 17. Nothing you can do against that."
The Spaniard, knowing the match was over, birdied the last himself for a half but the shame was that Montgomerie's classic match with Payne Stewart became irrelevant. The American conceded the win to the Scot on the last but the magnificent way in which Monty performed must surely have endeared him to a few of the American gallery, at least those not hurling insults at him.
While Montgomerie said he treats it as a "compliment because I must be good at this game and a motivating factor", Lawrie, his partner for two days, was outraged. "Some of the things the American public said to him were disgusting," he said. "He played fantastic so if they think it hurts him, it doesn't. Some of the things they say to him are ridiculous. Those people should not be allowed to go to golf tournaments."
Stewart had several people ejected from the gallery during the match. "All I can say to Colin is I'm sorry for some of our fans. I, too, was disgusted with some of the heckling that goes on with Colin. He doesn't deserve it. I don't know if he's got a big bull's-eye on his back but it is not fair. I said to him periodically if he had a problem I'd get security to take care of it. I didn't want fans who were out of control to influence one of his shots. This is a golf event for pride and honour. It's not life and death."
Europe's seven rookies will be better players for the experience and should be around for a long time, especially the 19-year-old Sergio Garcia, who lost his voice after all his excited shouting on the first two days. "Once you play in a Ryder Cup, you realise how big it is," he said.
"Sergio certainly has been a fabulous find for our side," said James. "But all the guys gave such commitment and enthusiasm." Sam Torrance, one of his assistants, is the favourite to take over as captain at The Belfry in 2001 after James, whose relaxed nature and dry sense of humour engendered such remarkable team spirit, confirmed he had no thoughts of continuing in the role.
"There is absolutely no chance of me reconsidering," the 45-year-old said "I'm stepping down. It is a once-only job and there are a lot of people who deserve the honour and privilege of leading the team." He added: "I have every intention of making the next team. Although having seen some of the guys here, I'm going to have to put on 20 or 30 yards."
RYDER CUP RECORDS
In order: Played Overall Overall
won-halved-lost 1999 Foursomes Fourballs Singles Total record points
C Montgomerie 5 1-0-1 1-1-0 1-0-0 3-1-1 P23 W12 H4 L7 14
L Westwood 5 1-0-1 1-0-1 0-0-1 2-0-3 10-4-0-6 4
C Dlarke 5 1-0-1 1-0-1 0-0-1 2-0-1 7-3-0-4 3
J Sandelin 1 --- --- 0-0-1 0-0-1 1-0-0-1 0
J Van De Velde 1 --- --- 0-0-1 0-0-1 1-0-0-1 0
A Coltart 1 --- --- 0-0-1 0-0-1 1-0-0-1 0
J Parnevik 5 2-0-0 1-1-0 0-0-1 3-1-1 9-4-3-2 51/2
P Harrington 3 0-1-1 --- 1-0-0 1-1-1 3-1-1-1 11/2
M A Jimenez 5 0-1-1 1-1-0 0-0-1 1-2-2 5-1-2-2 2
J M Olazabal 3 --- 1-1-0 0-1-0 1-2-0 28-15-5-8 171/2
S Garcia 5 2-0-0 1-1-0 0-0-1 3-1-1 5-3-1-1 31/2
P Lawrie 5 1-0-1 1-1-0 1-0-0 3-1-1 5-3-1-1 31/2
T Lehman 3 0-0-1 1-0-0 1-0-0 2-0-1 10-5-2-3 6
H Sutton 5 2-0-0 0-1-1 1-0-0 3-1-1 14-6-4-4 8
P Mickelson 4 0-0-1 1-0-1 1-0-0 2-0-2 11-6-2-3 7
D Love 4 0-1-0 0-2-0 1-0-0 1-3-0 17-6-3-8 71/2
T Woods 5 1-0-1 0-0-2 1-0-0 2-0-3 7-3-1-3 31/2
D Duval 4 0-0-1 0-1-1 1-0-0 1-2-1 4-1-2-1 2
M O'Meara 2 0-0-1 --- 0-0-1 0-0-2 14-4-1-9 41/2
S Pate 3 1-0-0 0-0-1 1-0-0 2-0-1 7-4-1-2 41/2
J Leonard 4 0-0-1 0-2-0 0-1-0 0-3-1 8-2-3-3 31/2
P Stewart 3 0-1-1 --- 0-0-1 0-1-2 19-8-2-9 9
J Furyk 3 0-0-1 0-0-1 1-0-0 1-0-2 6-2-0-4 2
J Maggert 4 2-0-0 0-0-1 0-0-1 2-0-2 11-6-0-5 6Reuse content