by Jeff Skinner
So the best golfers in the world gather in South Carolina at Kiawah Island this week. It wasn’t too long ago when 24 of the best golfers in the USA and Europe met there for the 1991 Ryder Cup. It was named “The War at the Shore” and it set the tone, for good or bad, of all the Ryder Cups to follow.
The US team was still smarting from consecutive losses in 1985 and 1989 and a tie in 1989 and there were a few Americans on that team that took in personally. The Gulf War had just ended and feelings of patriotism were running unchecked. When members of the US team showed up with camouflage hats the gauntlet had been thrown down.
What started as an exhibition between golfers with camaraderie and sportsmanship in mind was transformed into an ultra competitive, nationalistic, win at all costs death match. It’s not what Samuel Ryder had in mind back in the 1920’s when he donated the first official trophy for the matches.
Today the Ryder Cup has evolved into one of the biggest events in sport. It’s difficult for today’s players not to get caught up with all the hype that The Ryder Cup brings. They play for no prize money, no individual awards and to a man you’ll hear them all say there is no pressure like Ryder Cup pressure.
Guy Yocum has an amazing piece in Golf Digest, “The Rowdy Ryder Cup at Kiawah.” All the players, caddies and captains offer their memories of the match that truly changed the nature of the Ryder Cup.
Corey Pavin got a hold of some camo hats and said it was to support the troops. But it was interpreted as something more than that and the bad blood continued between the two teams.
Hale Irwin: At Kiawah, you’re in a part of the world with a lot of military installations, and the environment was just charged up. The whole thing went too far. It went beyond a golf competition. Having said that, the objection about the camo hats from the Europeans was a stretch. They could have worn something to support their troops if they wanted. British troops wear camo, too. Last I heard, they don’t wear bright-yellow jumpsuits.
An American pairing was found to be using two different balls during alternate shot and were called on it. Billy Foster [Ballesteros’ caddie]: We were on the seventh hole when Jose noticed that Azinger and Beck would play either a 100-compression or a 90-compression ball depending on the wind. So Seve and Jose called for Bernard Gallacher. He appeared after the ninth hole [which the Americans had won to go 3 up]. The argument broke out on the 10th tee. It got a bit heated at times. And a bit nasty.
Bernard Gallacher: I had to go to the referee and get him to explain the one-ball rule to the Americans. I didn’t want my players involved. I wanted the referee to take responsibility for applying the rule. But it kicked off when the Americans denied it. Of course, they changed that story when it was clear there could be no penalty [for completed holes]. That was disappointing. I said to Paul, “If you didn’t know the rule at the seventh, how come you knew it at the ninth?” Funnily enough, he didn’t answer that.
Billy Foster: At first, Azinger was denying that they were switching balls. But when he realized that they weren’t going to be penalized, he changed his story. I can still remember the look of contempt on Jose’s face.
Paul Azinger: When they called us on it, it was on the heels of them taking a scary-bad drop on No. 2 and a poor ruling at No. 4. So at No. 10, when they brought up our playing the wrong-compression ball, I was mad from the stuff that had happened earlier, and the whole episode just made me madder. They didn’t claim we were cheating, only that we’d made a mistake, but still I was upset. It changed the whole momentum and dynamic of the match.
Jose Maria Olazabal: We were very clear that we didn’t think Paul and Chip were cheating. But they did break the rule. And when it was clear that there was no penalty, we played on.
This is where Seve proclaimed, “The American team has 11 nice guys… and Paul Azinger.”
Paul Azinger: The pressure on Bernhard was just too much. It was almost unfair to ask someone to perform in that kind of situation. At the 1993 Ryder Cup, Tom Watson, our captain, and Lanny Wadkins, who was co-captain, pulled me off to the side and asked me if I’d like to go out last. I said, “Hell, yeah, I’ll take that.” But I lied. [Payne Stewart, interviewed by Guy Yocom for a June 1999 Golf Digest story, was asked if he would have wanted to be in Langer’s position with that final putt: I would like to tell you yes, but I’m glad I didn’t have it. I wouldn’t have wished that on anybody. But I will tell you who would have liked to have been in that position: Jack Nicklaus. Ballesteros, interviewed that final day at Kiawah: I wouldn’t have made that putt under those circumstances. Jack Nicklaus wouldn’t have made it. Nobody would have made it. Incredible pressure.]
Bernhard Langer: I knew what it meant. I knew I had to make this. I read the putt with my caddie. I asked him, “What do you see?” He said, “Left edge.” I said, “That’s what I see.” Then he said, “Do you see that spike mark?” I said, “Yes, I see it, too.” This spike mark [one of two] was about 10 inches in front of my ball, exactly on my line. It was tall, about half an inch, and it was crusty Bermuda. It was a sunny, windy day, and the grass was not soft. It definitely would have deflected my ball if I’d hit it. He said, “Maybe we should play it straight to miss the spike mark.”
Bernhard Langer: We looked at the putt again and agreed that playing it straight was the best thing to do. Perhaps it would hold its line. I hit a good putt, but it did break and go to the right of the hole. But I did as well as I could.
Take a minute to read Yocum’s article, it’s well worth it to re-live “The War at the Shore.”