by Jeff Skinner
The Ryder Cup can be a huge stage for great drama. It can also be over by Saturday. Many cup matches have been real snoozers by the time Sunday’s singles matches roll around. But over the years there have been many exciting and memorable Ryder Cup Matches. Here are my top five Ryder Cups all selected for distinct reasons.
5. The 1991 Ryder Cup was billed as the “War on the Shore” and it lived up to its nickname. With the U.S. not winning the Cup since 1983 (two losses and a tie) it appeared that The Europeans had found a secret formula to retain the cup. The U.S. held the early lead but the Euros battled back to within half a point at the start of Sunday’s matches. It was nip and tuck with some memorable collapses coming down the stretch. Mark Calcavecchia blew a four up with four to play lead to settle for a half with Ryder Cup stalwart Colin Montgomerie. Hale Irwin let Bernhard Langer back in his match after a one up lead with two to play and it all came down to a six foot putt by Langer on the eighteenth. When Langer’s putt slid by the right edge the U.S. had finally won back the cup. Bernard Langer was reduced to tears but handled the defeat with as much dignity as anyone could. For one man to bear the burden for his team and a continent is a difficult task. Langer acted like a sportsman.
4. The First Ryder Cup Matches, 1921, 1926 and 1927. There were unofficial matches by U.S. players and Great Britain in ‘21 and ‘26 where they shared a few beverages at a party afterward. It was at these matches that Samuel Ryder, an amateur golfer and seed merchant was so taken with the matches that he took great pains to start an official match. His dream came true in 1927 at The Worcester Country Club in Massachusetts. Walter Hagen led the U.S. to victory on the course and in partying off the course. It was a golf exhibition in the true meaning of sportsmanship.
3. The 1999 match at The Country Club in Brookline could have been remembered for those ugly shirts if it wasn’t for Captain Ben Crenshaw’s eerie prediction and Justin Leonard. With his team being soundly beaten and facing a three and a half point deficit going into Sunday’s final matches he still had faith. He left his Saturday press conference when he said, “I’m a big believer in fate. I have a good feeling about tomorrow. That’s all I’m going to say.” It seems his team were believers also as they went out with a fervor and executed the greatest comeback in Ryder Cup history. When Leonard’s monster putt fell and all hell broke loose on the 17th green Crenshaw’s faith in his team proved right. His team had comeback when no one thought they had a chance. It was one of the most memorable moment in Ryder Cup history.
2. The 1969 Ryder Cup Match at Royal Birkdale not only was one of the closest matches ever, it also displayed the true spirit that the cup was intended to foster: sportsmanship. Sam Snead had a powerful team but Great Britain & Ireland proved a worthy opponent. 17 of the 32 matches went to the last hole and the teams were tied entering the last day. In a bit of theater that is rarely seen at the Ryder Cup it came down to the last hole of the last match with two of the biggest names of the day. Jack Nicklaus and Tony Jacklin were tied going into the eighteenth. The U.S. needed a tie to retain the cup as the two surveyed their birdie putts on the green. Jacklin’s first putt stopped two feet from the hole and Nicklaus blew his 30 footer four feet past the hole. Nicklaus dropped his putt and as he retrieved his ball from the hole he picked up Jacklin’s marker conceding him the hole and halving the match. “I am sure you would haved holed,” he said, “but I was not prepared to see you miss.” Nicklaus’ gesture the match a draw with the U.S. retaining the cup. Nicklaus said that Snead wasn’t very happy with his decision but Nicklaus thought it was the sporting thing to do. Golf writer Michael Williams described it like this, “Thus ended with one supreme gesture a match that will forever stand as a memorial to all that is best about the Ryder Cup.” He was absolutely right.
1. The 2006 Ryder Cup Matches at The K Club may not be on many Americans lists of great matches. The U.S. was soundly beaten 18 ½ to 9 ½ but it still tops my list. Good competition and emotional stories are what intrigues me. Even though the overall match lacked the thrill of a neck and neck competition the emotion of that weekend outweighed anything in recent memory. Darren Clarke was one of Ian Woosnam’s captain’s picks and is a popular as any player can be in Europe. He was playing in his home country and the circumstances couldn’t have been more emotional. Clarke had just lost his wife to cancer six weeks earlier and was playing with the heaviest of hearts. He was buoyed by his teammates, the fans and even his opponents all week. The sound on the first tee for his introduction was deafening and there were few dry eyes to be found. As fate would have it, on Sunday Clarke stood on the 16th green with a three hole lead over Zach Johnson. Clarke had lagged up to the hole and waited for Johnson to sink his putt. When he missed his birdie he conceded Clarke’s putt which gave Clarke a 3 & 2 win and gave the cup to Europe. To say it was emotional would be an understatement. Clarke let loose the emotion that he played with all week and the fans and everyone surrounding him felt the same. Ian Woosnam hugged his captain’s pick as did U.S. Captain Tom Lehman all with tears on their cheeks. Clarke was worried about his play but was certain he could help his team. He did more than help his mates. His presence solidified the team behind him and their captain and it was a week of a lifetime for Clarke and the Europeans. Even in the most difficult of times good things can still happen to good people. It was Darren Clarke’s week and one few will ever forget.