Leonard returns to evoke the notorious spirit of Brookline

They were scenes from another century and, claim the protectors of the Ryder Cup spirit, from a darker age the game has left behind. The principal villain, however, has another idea and sees no reason why the spirit of Brookline should not be summoned. Yes, Justin Leonard has his regrets but the overriding memories of what occurred on that 17th hole in 1999 are ones of pride, joy and fulfilment. Indeed, emotions that no other American team-member has felt since that day they all danced on the green.

It was inevitable that Leonard would be asked to atone for his sins when, after a nine-year absence, he re-entered the confession chamber otherwise known as the media centre's interview room here at Valhalla Golf Club. Come on Justin, tell us how ashamed you are of triggering what Sam Torrance, the European assistant captain that afternoon, called the "most disgusting thing I've ever seen on a golf course". Tell us how you wish you had never kicked your heels across that sacred putting surface and jumped all over your team-mates as poor Jose Maria Olazabal was still sizing up his own 25-footer. If ever there was a chance for the older, wiser man to look back and tutt at that exuberant youth then this was it. This was Leonard's Morgan Freeman moment.

"I would do it differently now sure," said the 36-year-old, going at least some of the way to assuaging the critics. "But what I think you have to keep in mind is was how much emotion we had that day. We had so much momentum going on and unfortunately that spilled over. So yeah, I would certainly have done some things differently. But I know that for myself and for anybody that was on that team it didn't take away from our victory at all."

In many respects that is understandable, as their comeback did happen to be the most unlikely in the Cup's history. Leonard's own match was a microcosm of the resurrection as he turned around a four-hole deficit with just seven left to play against that year's Masters champion. Often forgotten amid the ensuing controversy was that Leonard did not beat Olazabal, but that 45-foot bombshell ensured the half-point that meant America had prevailed. Alas, it was also doomed to ensure that the success would be tainted. No matter how spectacular it had been.

But how about this: why should not America look back on that Sunday with all the satisfaction associated with achieving the impossible, particularly as they have the man back in the ranks who dug deeper than any to find the passion that the side has supposedly always been lacking? "Justin has been the link from our last winning Ryder Cup team," Phil Mickelson said . "He hasn't played since '99 and I think he's going to bring that winning inspiration." In other words, why not try to restage that unique atmosphere?

"I hope we are able to," said Leonard, unashamedly. "You know the last month or so, since the qualifying team was over I've been asked about it a lot and been able to relive it quite a bit. In Boston at the Deutsche Bank a few weeks ago, which is close to Brookline, I heard it at least once a hole and it was fun. And on Monday I woke up and flipped on the television and there was an hour-long special about that day. So it's been hard to escape, but I've enjoyed it."

Like most Americans, Leonard refuses to regard it as the blackest moment in his sport and also does not subscribe to the theory that the match's atmosphere was way over the top. He and his country like to recall it rather differently. Take Hunter Mahan. As a 17-year-old, this week's Ryder rookie was in the Brookline crowd on the Saturday and remembers not the rabble who singled out Colin Montgomerie, but a set of supporters who through their enthusiasm merely maintained that anything was still possible.

"I don't know if we were shouting 'USA, USA' but we were rooting hard for them," Mahan admitted. "It was unbelievable. I've never seen or heard anything like it. In golf you don't usually have kind of a home-court advantage – only in the Ryder Cup. To have all the fans pulling hard for them because they were getting down so early. Well, we were trying everything we could to help them out."

The players responded and their joy was unconfined and untempered. It was certainly a million miles from Mahan's remarks in a recent magazine article in which he claimed that the players felt like "slaves" at an event that earns so much for the organisers. The 26-year-old was quick to backtrack from those comments yesterday and no wonder. If America are to conquer against the odds, they need everyone on the same hymn sheet and none on the charge-sheet. Yet if they are to are to have a chance, respect should not be confused with submission.

Leonard, for one, has certainly not come this far to surrender meekly. The 1997 Open champion has missed out on the last three teams as his form nosedived but he never allowed himself to think that putt at Brookline would be his final Ryder Cup memory. "People around me wouldn't let me do that – Amanda [his wife] first and foremost," he said. "She always told me to believe in myself. When I wasn't playing well, I thought about the Ryder Cup and got myself back in that mindset. I really felt like I'd make another team."

Leonard is back, although it is not redemption he is after – it's a reprise. He and America both.

Sport
Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi during Barcelona training in August
footballPete Jenson co-ghost wrote Suarez’s autobiography and reveals how desperate he's been to return
News
newsMcKamey Manor says 'there is no escape until the tour is completed'
Voices
Hunted: A stag lies dead on Jura, where David Cameron holidays and has himself stalked deer
voicesThe Scotland I know is becoming a playground for the rich
News
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Architect Frank Gehry is regarded by many as the most important architect of the modern era
arts + entsGehry has declared that 98 per cent of modern architecture is "s**t"
Money
Welcome to tinsel town: retailers such as Selfridges will be Santa's little helpers this Christmas, working hard to persuade shoppers to stock up on gifts
news
Arts and Entertainment
Soul singer Sam Smith cleared up at the Mobo awards this week
newsSam Smith’s Mobo triumph is just the latest example of a trend
News
Laurence Easeman and Russell Brand
people
Sport
Fans of Dulwich Hamlet FC at their ground Champion Hill
footballFans are rejecting the £2,000 season tickets, officious stewarding, and airline-stadium sponsorship
News
Shami Chakrabarti
people
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch has refused to deny his involvement in the upcoming new Star Wars film
filmBenedict Cumberbatch reignites Star Wars 7 rumours
Sport
football
News
news
Caption competition
Caption competition
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

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker