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Wednesday September 26, 2012

The Best Five Ryder Cup clashes

The Ryder Cup is so hotly contested that even its humble beginning is the subject of debate.

One side has the president of Inverness Club in Ohio as the first to raise the idea of a match between professionals from America and Britain. Most historians lean toward Samuel Ryder, the wealthy English seed merchant, as helping to organize matches at Wentworth in 1926 at a time when Americans were coming over for British Open qualifying. As the story goes, Ryder promised a cup to the winner - even though a cup was never awarded. But ever since continental Europe was added in 1979, the Ryder Cup mostly has lived up to its reputation as the biggest spectacle in golf.

No other list in golf is more subjective, but here’s one take on the five most relevant Ryder Cup matches in history:


It was Jack Nicklaus who in 1977 made the recommendation that all of continental Europe be included in the Ryder Cup, and in his first year as captain, it almost came back to haunt him. The opposing captain was Tony Jacklin, and just like the time Nicklaus and Jacklin first squared off as players in the Ryder Cup, the matches were tied at 8 going into the Sunday singles.

The first singles match produced what many consider to be the greatest shot ever hit in the Ryder Cup. Seve Ballesteros played his first two shots so poorly on the par-5 18th at PGA National that he was in the bunker, near a lip, and still had 245 yards to clear the water. Amazingly, he pulled out a 3-wood and hit it so flush that it narrowly cleared the lip and came just short of the green, allowing him to halve the match. “The greatest shot I ever saw,” Nicklaus said. The US won, 14-13.


The United States owned the Ryder Cup in this era, winning the previous five matches by at least five points, so not much was expected of Britain & Ireland in 1969 at Royal Birkdale. It turned out to be as close as a match and the tie resulted in a putt that was conceded. Jacklin had made a 40-foot eagle to square the match, and he and Nicklaus came down the 18th. Nicklaus faced a 5-footer, while Jacklin was just inside 3 feet. Nicklaus made it for 4. Jacklin now had to make his to halve the match.

Nicklaus instead picked up his coin and conceded the match, resulting in the first tie in Ryder Cup history - 16-16. The Americans still retained the cup, “I don’t think you would have missed that putt, but under these circumstances I would never give you the opportunity,” Nicklaus told him. It is considered the greatest act of sportsmanship in the history of the Ryder Cup.


A19-year-old Sergio Garcia made a dynamic debut and every move made by US captain Ben Crenshaw turned out to be the wrong one. Europe captain Mark James didn’t bother playing three players until Sunday singles, and seven of his players never sat out. It appeared to work just fine with a 10-6 lead.Crenshaw loaded the front of his singles lineup, and the Americans won the first seven matches. Players whipped up the crowd into a flag-waving frenzy, and the emotions spilled over the top at the end. Justin Leonard rallied from 4 down against Jose Maria Olazabal, and they were all square playing the 17th hole. A halve would be enough to complete the greatest comeback in Ryder Cup history. Leonard’s 45-foot birdie putt rammed into the back of the cup, and his teammates (and wives) stormed the green.


Europe had finally ended a losing streak that had lasted 13 matches dating to 1957 when it won at The Belfry in 1985. But it still had never won the Ryder Cup on American soil, and this looked to be a daunting task. The European team was in the midst of internal turmoil, and it faced a US squad with Jack Nicklaus as the captain, playing on the Muirfield Village course that Nicklaus built. And it was no contest. A newcomer to the European team was a young Spaniard named Jose Maria Olazabal, and thus began the fabled “Spanish Armada.” They won three of their four matches as Europe built a 10-5 lead, and the Americans never caught up. .

The lasting image is the European team celebrating from the balcony of the clubhouse that Nicklaus had built. It was an overthrow in so many ways.


This was the first Ryder Cup when one could argue the Americans really cared. They had lost the Ryder Cup before, but not three successive times. The bad memory of these matches at Kiawah Island is that they lost the spirit under which they were meant to be played, starting with the moniker this Ryder Cup was given - “The War on the Shore.” That was bound to happen. But this It came down to the final hole of the final match between Bernhard Langer and Hale Irwin. The Americans led 14-13. The match was all square. If Langer won the hole, the Ryder Cup would end in a tie and Europe would keep the cup. Irwin’s approach hit a spectator, he chipped weakly and made bogey. Langer’s 45-foot birdie attempt went some 6 feet past the hole. He settled in over his par putt. It was gut-wrenching on both sides.


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