The Hacker: Story of how we won the Ryder Cup leaves me floating on air
Sunday 19 June 2011
I don't get to play against heroes very often but I recently encountered one who has a genuine claim to our admiration as the man who prevented the Ryder Cup from floating away last October.
Jim McKenzie is course director at the Celtic Manor and without his efforts Europe's spectacular victory over the United States might not have been possible – even worse, the US team could have won.
Jim's achievement in making play possible after the monsoon was recognised last weekend with the award of an MBE in the Queen's Birthday Honours List.
He didn't mention the gong when I played with him in a Ryder Cup legacy match at Royal Porthcawl a few days earlier, and only since then have I learned how close that historic event came to a sad anti-climax.
Torrential rain disrupted play from the first day and it was decided the final session of 12 singles would be moved to Monday. But on Saturday night there were still six foursome and four-ball matches unfinished.
Jim, whose staff had been toiling night and day to try to keep the course playable, met Europe's captain Colin Montgomerie on Sunday morning with the rain still hammering down and the course awash.
Monty glumly told him if there was no play that day the six matches – Europe were up in each – would be declared halved and the Americans would take a two-point lead into the singles on Monday.
Jim recruited an army of 110 staff and volunteers, including his wife and son, and gathered them together to say that not only could they ensure the Ryder Cup was played to a finish, they could help Europe win it.
"They nearly knocked me over in their rush to get out there," said Jim, who had less than 11 hours' sleep over the four days. Tons of chip bark were laid to keep the spectator areas safe, bunkers were drained and lakes of water were squeezed from the fairways and greens.
It was a minor miracle but play was possible at 1.30pm and Europe finished the day three points ahead. It was a lead the USA did their best to whittle away but finally Graeme McDowell won his match to give Europe a 141/2-131/2 victory.
Jim has recently produced the same course in excellent shape for the Wales Open under slightly different conditions – they had more rain on each of the first three days of the Ryder Cup than during the entire months of April and May this year.
Such are the vagaries of green-keeping, it is also a job in which you spend your life on a course but rarely with a club in your hand. Jim plays off nine but our match was one of the few he has played over the last year.
It was organised by Ryder Cup Europe as part of the legacy they want to leave in Wales in memory of the event and involved some of those, like Jim, who helped in its success.
The Ryder Cup team of 12 included director Richard Hills and other European Tour executives plus the Walker Cup captain Nigel Edwards and rugby legend Gareth Edwards. The home team were led by Royal Porthcawl captain and professional Peter Evans with representatives of the Welsh Assembly, Newport Council and the media, which is how I got in.
I played in the final match with David Thomas, treasurer of Royal Porthcawl, against Jim and the Celtic Manor PR man Paul Williams. It was blowing a gale with the odd squally shower and I leaned heavily on my partner. At the last we were one down and I won with a five-nett four.
That result meant the home team won the match but no one seemed interested in the result or that it was my Graeme McDowell moment. However, we had an excellent dinner.
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