Cheers, jeers and overcoming fears in golf's ultimate contest

As the build-up to the 35th Ryder Cup intensifies, Andy Farrell selects 10 highlights from 78 drama-filled years of the professional game's transatlantic team challenge


1

1

'It felt a good stroke', Kiawah Island, 1991

The last putt on the last hole of the last match. Bernhard Langer playing Hale Irwin and Langer has a six-footer for Europe to retain the Ryder Cup. The line is left-edge but there are two spike marks in the way, so he hits a firmer but straighter putt.

"I prayed for courage, strength and a quiet hand," Langer said. "When I hit the putt, I felt it was a good stroke. I thought I had made it but, of course, it rolled just barely past the hole. There are photographs of me just after the putt has missed with a very pained expression on my face. It wasn't just because we had lost the Ryder Cup, but also because it had not gone in when the putt felt so good.

"It was a chance a golfer only gets once in a lifetime, to hole the putt for the Ryder Cup. As I walked off the green, I felt bad for my team. I could handle that I had missed the putt and I might be blamed for it. But I didn't want the other guys to suffer. Then as I walked into the team-room there was Seve [Ballesteros] giving me a hug and crying. He set me off."

2

The greatest shot ever hit, PGA National, 1983

Seve Ballesteros, whose whole career was a Ryder Cup highlight reel, was in a bunker for two on the last hole against Fuzzy Zoeller. He was 242 yards from the green, took a three-wood, aimed 50 yards left of the target, lifted the ball over the lip of the bunker and landed it on the fringe of the green. "It was one of the greatest shots I've ever seen," said Jack Nicklaus, the American captain.

Ballesteros got away with a half but America won by a single point, Nicklaus kissing the divot from Lanny Wadkins' shot to the last that clinched victory. Nick Faldo described the atmosphere in the Europeans' team-room: "We were feeling down and dejected. Half of us felt we should have won and the other half were not sure, but we all knew we had got mega close.

"Then in marches Seve. He had his fist clenched and his teeth were bared, just like he is when he's excited. He kept marching around the room saying to everyone: 'This is a great victory, a great victory.' Then he said: 'We must celebrate.' He turned the whole mood around. That was the spark, Seve in 1983. By 1985 we knew we could do it."

3

Those shocking Americans, Brookline, 1999

Whether it was those ghastly shirts, their golf in making the biggest comeback in the match's history from 10-6 down, or their celebrations on the 17th green, Europe were left stunned and shocked by their opponents. The maelstrom came to boiling point when Justin Leonard holed from 45 feet and was engulfed by players, caddies and wives, although Jose-Maria Olazabal was still to putt.

"We lost it," said the US captain, Ben Crenshaw. "Once Justin's ball hit the bottom of the hole, our whole team forgot where we were. Emotions took over and everyone raced towards Justin. Tiger [Woods] led the charge, leaping so high it was incredible. We were out of control. I was frozen. I knew fate would take care of us. Then Justin was snapping and shooing everyone off the green."

Olazabal, inevitably, missed his putt, although he won the last for a half. "It was very sad to see, an ugly picture," said the Spaniard. "The emotion I can understand but I still had a putt to make and that display should not have happened. You should show respect to your opponents."

4

Sam's the man, The Belfry, 1985

Howard Clark almost grabbed the glory as Europe won for the first time in 28 years but he missed his putt to clinch the match at the 17th. Up ahead, Sam Torrance was on the 18th with Andy North and the Scot had three putts for victory from 18 feet.

"The scene around the 18th was exactly as a film director would have choreographed the climax," said Torrance. "The huge leaderboard, the lake, the grandstands, the crowds, the captains, opposing team-mates. And in the middle, a hairy Scot with a red sweater at least two sizes too small.

"I did not want to take even two putts. It was the easiest putt of my life. I rolled it towards the hole, watched it start to take the gentle right-to-left break and raised my arms, putter erect in my hand, as it fell into the cup. It was, by some margin, the best moment of my career, until 17 years later on the same green on the same course."

5

Larry, Lanny, Lyle and Langer, Muirfield Village, 1987

Europe's first victory on American soil was a joyous occasion. The Saturday afternoon fourballs included some of the best golf ever seen under pressure. It culminated at the 18th with Sandy Lyle and Bernhard Langer one-up against Larry Nelson and Lanny Wadkins.

All four players hit good drives. Nelson hit the first approach and was on the green. Lyle then hit an eight-iron to three feet. Wadkins almost holed but it finished ten feet away. Lyle told Langer: "Get inside mine and we will be all right." The German's ball finished inches from the hole. Said Wadkins: "Larry hit a good shot; I hit a very good shot; Sandy hit a very, very good shot and Bernhard hit something special."

6

Irish tears again, The Belfry, 1989

Ireland's golfers are never far away from the Cup's vital moments and Christy O'Connor was all square on the last against Fred Couples. O'Connor hit a good drive, Couples hit a better one, but captain Tony Jacklin told O'Connor: "If you put him under pressure, I promise you will win the hole and the match. Just have a good swing."

"That's all I thought about," said the Irishman. "I had a big two-iron, I made a good turn, and just hit it." The 240-yard shot finished three feet away, accompanied by a tumultuous roar. Couples, with only a nine-iron approach, pushed it right of the green. The win secured a tie and Europe kept the Cup. O'Connor, in tears, offered thanks to the skies.

7

'There ain't no way you're going to beat me again', Laurel Valley, 1975

America won comfortably on home soil but Scotland's Brian Barnes enjoyed his day of days by beating Jack Nicklaus twice, 4 and 2 in the morning and then 2 and 1 in the afternoon. "I still, all these years on, have difficulty getting away from it," Barnes later recalled. "Whenever I attend a dinner I am introduced as the man who twice beat Nicklaus head-to-head. But I never did consider it as that fantastic. I enjoyed it at the time, but soon forgot it.

"I know how bloody mad Jack was, but he never showed it and congratulated me very warmly. He was responsible for pairing us again in the afternoon. America had won by then. I remember Jack saying to me on the first tee: "You've beaten me once, but there ain't no way you're going to beat me again." He started birdie, birdie and I didn't think I would. But I did."

8

'We've got them on the run, Guv'nor.' Lindrick, 1957

It was 24 years since Great Britain and Ireland had won until Dai Rees's team stunned the Americans in the singles, losing only one match.

Ken Bousfield was seven-up early in the afternoon of his 36-hole match against Lionel Hebert, but the American clawed his way back so that it was only with an 18-inch putt for a half at the 15th that Bousfield claimed the match and his team's victory.

Bousfield said: "Those were the days before scoreboards and walkie-talkies. All of us playing out there would have had no idea what was happening if it wasn't for Max Faulkner. He was marvellous, bringing news every time I saw him. 'Rees is winning.' 'Brown's four-up.' 'We've got them on the run, Guv'nor.' 'Go on! You can beat this boy.' We might have won without him but he was magnificent that day."

9

The concession, Royal Birkdale, 1969

Jack Nicklaus and Tony Jacklin, the Open champion, in the final match, all square at the last, scores level. "How do you feel, Tony," Nicklaus asked as they left the tee. "Bloody awful," Jacklin replied. "I thought you might but if it's any consolation, so do I. A bugger, isn't it," Nicklaus added.

Jacklin's putt came up two feet short. Nicklaus went four feet past and holed out. Then he picked up Jacklin's marker. "I don't think you would have missed it," Nicklaus said, "but I don't want to give you the opportunity." It meant the first-ever tied match. "I wouldn't have done it if we didn't keep the Cup," Nicklaus said.

Not everyone was happy. The American captain, Sam Snead, said: "When it happened, all the boys thought it was ridiculous. I wouldn't have given a putt like that - except maybe to my brother."

10

'Tell'em who I beat.' The Belfry, 2002

From the moment Colin Montgomerie launched a three-wood off the first tee - of its kind one of the best shots ever played - it was an afternoon of golden moments until Paul McGinley holed the winning putt on the 18th green.

"I was extremely nervous. I was apprehensive. I knew what it meant," said McGinley. "Every emotion was at its most intense: nervousness, excitement, adrenaline, wanting to do it so badly, and the fear of missing.

"But I stuck to my routine. Two looks at the hole and as I hit it I stayed down for a second or two. What a time to hit the best putt of your life. It came off perfect, right off the middle, and went into the middle of the hole. As I looked up the ball was a foot from the hole and when it was six inches away it looked right in the middle, perfect pace, couldn't miss.

"I can't describe that feeling, except to say it was like a champagne bottle. You shake it and shake it and shake it and that's how it felt inside until everything exploded. That's when I did the penguin jumps. I was shouting, 'Yes, yes, we did it, we did it'."

McGinley ended up in the lake. Later, Lee Westwood introduced all the players to the crowd and called upon Philip Price, who had beaten Phil Mickelson. "Tell'em who I beat, tell'em who I beat," were the last words the Welshman could be heard shouting.

Par for the course - high drama over 50 years

Worst chokes

1 Mark Calcavecchia, four-up with four to play, only halves, despite Colin Montgomerie's two double bogeys, at Kiawah Island in 1991.

2 Craig Stadler on the second day at the Belfry in 1985, misses from 18 inches.

3 Costantino Rocca, one-up with two to play, misses putts on the last two greens to lose to Davis Love at the Belfry in 1993.

Best rows

1 Americans on the green at the 17th at Brookline in 1999.

2 Seve Ballesteros and Paul Azinger, over a drop at the Belfry in 1989 and then over the ball-switching incident at Kiawah Island in 1991.

3 Eric Brown against Tommy "Lightning" Bolt at Lindrick in 1957.

Most memorable celebrations

1 Europeans on the clubhouse roof at the Belfry in 1985 as Concorde dips its wings.

2 Jose Maria Olazabal brings a Latin-American rhythm to Muirfield Village in 1987 by dancing on the closing green.

3 Costantino Rocca holes in one at Oak Hill in 1995 and jumps into the arms of a startled Howard Clark.

Crimes against fashion

1 Ben Crenshaw's final-day outfit at Brookline in 1999 which even the American media ridiculed.

2 Those Desert Storm hats worn by Corey Pavin and Steve Pate at Kiawah Island in 1991.

3 Any European outfit in the early Eighties.

Suggested Topics
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

The masterminds behind the election

How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

Machine Gun America

The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

The ethics of pet food

Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?
How Tansy Davies turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

How a composer turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

Tansy Davies makes her operatic debut with a work about the attack on the Twin Towers. Despite the topic, she says it is a life-affirming piece
11 best bedside tables

11 best bedside tables

It could be the first thing you see in the morning, so make it work for you. We find night stands, tables and cabinets to wake up to
Italy vs England player ratings: Did Andros Townsend's goal see him beat Harry Kane and Wayne Rooney to top marks?

Italy vs England player ratings

Did Townsend's goal see him beat Kane and Rooney to top marks?
Danny Higginbotham: An underdog's tale of making the most of it

An underdog's tale of making the most of it

Danny Higginbotham on being let go by Manchester United, annoying Gordon Strachan, utilising his talents to the full at Stoke and plunging into the world of analysis
Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police

Steve Bunce: Inside Boxing

Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police
No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat