Top 10: Most dramatic Ryder Cup moments
A look at the event's best moments in the past 50 years
September 17, 2014
By Tom Alter, PGATOUR.COM
- September 17, 2014
- Lee Westwood (in sunglasses) and Rory McIlroy (bottom right) celebrate Europe's comeback win at the 2012 Ryder Cup. (Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images)
Here is one man’s opinion of the ten best moments in Ryder Cup history over the last 50 years (listed in chronological order):
1. 1967: After listening patiently while Great Britain & Ireland captain Dai Rees glowingly introduced his team, U.S. captain Ben Hogan simply asked his team to stand, mentioned their names and then added: “Ladies and gentlemen, the United States Ryder Cup team … the finest golfers in the world.” The home crowd at Champions Golf Club in Houston erupted. Game over. The U.S. team won all six sessions (a different format was used then) in rolling to a dominating 23½-8½ victory.
2. 1969: It was the closest Ryder Cup yet. The teams were tied with the last match on the final hole. Tony Jacklin, who'd won that year's Open Championship to become the first Brit in 18 years to hoist the Claret Jug, faced Jack Nicklaus. Nicklaus, who was playing his first Ryder Cup, holed a clutch 4-foot par putt to force Jacklin to match him with his own short par putt. However, rather than give Jacklin a chance to miss, the always gracious Nicklaus conceded the putt. The Concession, as it came to be known, resulted in the first tie in Ryder Cup history, and endures as a symbol for exemplary sportsmanship generations later.
3. 1979: The U.S. team dominated the first 50 years of the Ryder Cup (18 wins, 3 losses and 1 tie). Nicklaus was among those who’d recommended the Great Britain & Ireland team should be expanded to include all of Europe in order to make the matches more competitive. All of Europe was represented for the first time in 1979. The U.S. team easily won at The Greenbrier that year (18½-9½), but the appearance of Seve Ballesteros from Spain ushered in a new era for the Ryder Cup.
4. 1983: An improving European team, which would eventually put four teammates from four different countries into the World Golf Hall of Fame, was threatening to beat the U.S. team for the first time in America. To hold off the Euros, Lanny Wadkins was going to need to come from behind to get at least a half-point in his match with Spain’s Jose Maria Canizares. Wadkins was still 1 down while playing PGA National’s final hole. He hit his 70-yard approach shot on the par-5 into a darkening sky. With lightning crackling in the distance, Wadkins’ ball almost dropped into the hole to halve the match. Almost simultaneously, Tom Watson closed out Bernhard Gallacher on the 17th hole. U.S. team captain Jack Nicklaus kissed the divot made by Wadkins and celebrated the narrowest of victories, 14½ - 13½.
5. 1987: After a rare lopsided victory in 1985, the European team came to Muirfield Village confident it could become the first Euro team to ever win on American soil. They swept the Friday afternoon four-ball session to open a large lead. The U.S. team made a Sunday charge in the singles competition, but the Americans’ fate was sealed when Ben Crenshaw – who broke his putter in frustration and putted the rest of the match with either his 1-iron or sand wedge – lost his match to Ireland’s Eamonn Darcy on the final hole. Spain's Jose Maria Olazabal did a victory dance on the 18th green, galvanizing the American audience and making this friendly exhibition became a serious competition in the eyes of the public. Jacklin, the man to whom Nicklaus had conceded that famous putt 18 years earlier, captained the European team to victory on Nicklaus' home course.
6. 1989: The Ryder Cup had become so close that every match – every hole – now seemed to carry significance. The Spanish Armada of Ballesteros and Olazabal went 3-0-1 to help the Euros open a slim 2-point lead heading into Sunday. The Americans surged back in the singles competition and looked to have the edge when Fred Couples came down the stretch against Christy O’Connor, Jr. Their match was all square on the final hole at The Belfry, and “Boom Boom” hit his drive 50 yards past the 41-year-old Irishman.
O’Connor, a captain’s pick who was 0-3 in his Ryder Cup career, hit the shot of his life: a 2-iron that stopped just a few feet from the hole. A shaken Couples couldn’t even hit his 9-iron on the green. O’Connor’s 1-up victory gave the European team the point they needed to finish in a 14-14 tie and retain the Cup.
7. 1991: The Ryder Cup rivalry was at an all-time high as the teams headed to the Ocean Course at Kiawah Island, South Carolina, for the "War by the Shore.” The matches were intense, rowdy and close. The entire competition came down to the final putt on the final hole of the final singles match between two eventual World Golf Hall of Fame members, Bernhard Langer and Hale Irwin. Langer faced a 6-footer for par. Make it and he wins the hole, and Europe gets a tie to retain the Ryder Cup. Miss it and the Americans win, 14½ - 13½. Langer missed, and his head looking to the sky became an iconic Ryder Cup image.
8. 1999: Europe won close competitions in 1995 and ’97 and opened a large 10-6 lead at The Country Club in Brookline, Massachusetts, on Saturday. In spite of the long odds his team faced the next day, U.S. captain Ben Crenshaw waved a defiant finger in the media center and said, “I’ve got a good feeling about this.” Crenshaw’s gut – and his strategy to frontload his best players in the Sunday singles lineup -- proved right. The Americans won the first seven matches. They still needed a halve from Justin Leonard in his match with Jose Maria Olazabal to secure the Cup. Leonard staged his own comeback by winning five of the final seven holes. His birdie putt at the 17th green clinched the greatest final-day comeback in Ryder Cup history. Leonard’s celebration with his teammates became the defining moment in U.S. Ryder Cup history.
9. 2006: Just as Olazabal’s victory dance at Muirfield stirred the passion of the Americans to strong performances in subsequent Ryder Cup competitions, the U.S. team’s swarming of Leonard at Brookline inspired the Europeans to three consecutive lopsided victories, including nine-point routes in 2004 and 2006. The latter victory took place on home soil, at Ireland’s K Club. Despite the grandeur of the event and the scale of the victory, the story of Darren Clarke that year helped bring the spirit of the Ryder Cup back in focus. Playing just a few months after his wife Heather succumbed to cancer, Clarke became the favorite of fans for both teams. And when he went undefeated in three matches, Clarke’s emotional outburst brought a certain humanity to the Ryder Cup that transcended the rivalry.
10. 2012: It’s remarkable how some players seem to play their best during the Ryder Cup. Some European players have built careers on their superior Ryder Cup performances. At Medinah, the U.S. team was threatening to blow away the Euros when one of those players single-handedly took over the matches. The Americans were leading 10-5 and were 2 up with six holes to play in the final Saturday match. Enter Ian Poulter. The Englishman birdied all five of the final holes to swing the match from a loss to a victory. More importantly, Poulter’s dramatics and theatrics swung the momentum to the Europeans, who staged the largest comeback in team history on Sunday to win the most recent Ryder Cup. A struggling Martin Kaymer, who was the last player to automatically qualify for the team and played just one the previous four sessions, holed a 6-foot putt to clinch the Cup.
Tom Alter, VP-Communications, has worked at the PGA TOUR for more than 25 years in various capacities involving television production, programming and promotion. He remembers watching the 2012 Ryder Cup with his son, and telling him to find the football so they could play catch in the back yard in a few minutes. A moment later, Justin Rose holed his long birdie putt at the 17th hole against Phil Mickelson, and he told his son that instead of five minutes it was now going to be two hours before they could play catch. That’s the Ryder Cup.