Along with the 4 major championships of golf, the Ryder Cup can be comfortably considered the game’s flagship event. One of the few events on the golfing calendar that is sees the game’s best players square off in a matchplay format, the Ryder Cup has provided countless iconic moments from golfing history. Whether they are moments of excitement and joy or moments of tension and bad blood, the Ryder Cup provides drama few other sporting events can muster. Here are some of the most iconic moments from Ryder Cup history…
The 1969 Ryder Cup saw arguably one of the most famous moments in Ryder Cup history, and certainly one of the greatest shows of sportsmanship in the history of golf. In one of the closest contests in Ryder Cup history, it all came down to the final match between the great Jack Nicklaus, playing in his first Ryder Cup, and future European captain, Tony Jacklin.
On the final hole of the match both players had putts for par, Nicklaus from four feet, Jacklin from two. Rather predictably, Nicklaus rattled his into the back of the hole. Knowing the USA would retain the trophy as defending champions, Nicklaus generously conceded the putt, tying the contest for the 1st time in its history. Walking off the 18th green, Nicklaus said to Jacklin, “I don’t think you would have missed that putt, but in these circumstances, I would never give you the opportunity.” If Samuel Ryder had been on the 18th green, he would have embraced both players, for this was his dream. This was what the Ryder Cup was meant to be.
Seve Ballesteros – Valderrama – 1997
Where better to hold the first Ryder Cup to be played in Continental Europe than in the homeland of the Ryder Cup’s greatest ever competitor, Seve Ballesteros?
Recently, and unsurprisingly we might add, voted the most popular player in Ryder Cup history, Seve lead his European team to victory by a solitary shot on arguably the greatest golf course in Spain, perhaps even mainland Europe. It was a triumph of a genuine team over a group of American individuals and following the match an emotional Seve said, “Does it get any better than being captain of Europe’s Ryder Cup team the first time it is held in your homeland?” Probably not Seve!
Darren Clarke – The K Club – 2006
No-one would have blamed Darren Clarke for turning down the invitation to play in the 2006 Ryder Cup, following the death of his wife Heather after a long battle with cancer less than a month previously. But Clarke accepted Captain Ian Woosnam’s wildcard pick and was the hero of the dominant European victory.
Clarke won all three of his matches, helping Europe to a crushing 18½-9½ victory in Ireland. When Zach Johnson missed his birdie putt on the 16th and conceded Clarke’s for a 3&2 loss, the crowds erupted and the Irishman broke down in tears. American Captain, Tom Lehman summed up the spirit of the by saying, “Professionally, as a team it’s very disappointing, frustrating. Personally, as human beings, there are a lot of great things that happened this week that I’ll never forget for the rest of my life.” Surely Clarke’s performance was one of the bravest sporting achievements in recent history.
Dubbed as ‘The War on the Shore’ in reference to the Gulf War earlier in the year, the 1991 Ryder Cup at Kiawah Island was one of the closest contests in recent memory. After three days of head to head competition on the notorious Ocean Course, the destination of the coveted trophy came down to a six-foot putt. After Colin Montgomerie had battled back from four down to tie with Mark Calcavecchia, it came down to Bernhard Langer.
His opponent Hale Irwin, overcome by the magnitude of the occasion, sliced his approach into the crowd on the decisive hole. Regrettably the ball was tossed onto the green but thankfully replaced. Then followed a poor chip from Irwin and a conceded bogey putt from Langer. Needing to sink a six-footer for par to claim the win, the German’s putt sneaked agonisingly wide for the American team to claim a narrow 14½-13½ victory. The image of Langer recoiling after ball sailed wide of its mark is one of the most iconic in the sport but one that the German would love to forget.
Boo Weekley – Valhalla – 2008
Far from being overwhelmed by the occasion, the Ryder Cup rookie, Boo Weekley, played a critical role in his side’s victory as the underdogs from the USA claimed a 16½-11½ victory over Nick Faldo’s Europe.
Being a key figure in a Ryder Cup team would bring enough attention for most but for Boo, the self appointed team jester, the temptation to gallop down the fairway with his driver between his legs was just too great to resist. I’m sure the European team members didn’t find it as amusing as the partisan crowds!
Ben Crenshaw – Muirfield Village – 1987
European captain Tony Jacklin inspired Europe to their first ever triumph on American shores. After establishing a 10½-5½ lead after two days, largely in part of the heroics of Seve Ballesteros and Jose Maria Olazabal, and a clean sweep in the fourballs on Saturday afternoon a European win was all but assured.
The sour point came when, after going two-down to Ireland’s Eamonn Darcy after six holes in the singles, Ben Crenshaw snapped his putter in disgust and was forced to putt the remainder of the match with a 1-iron. One wonders what would have happened if Crenshaw, regarded as one of the best putters of all time, had stayed patient and tried to claw his way back into the match.
Before the singles matches, the USA were four behind and looked destined to lose the Ryder Cup for a third consecutive time. The Americans however, had different ideas. After storming out of the gates to pull level in the match, Justin Leonard and Jose Maria Olazabal’s match suddenly became immensely important and highly pressurised.
Having been four down with seven to play Leonard sized up a monster 50 footer on the last and upon holing he, and his watching team mates went berserk. The celebrations were a disgrace with countless players storming the green and running all over Olazabal’s line; he still had a putt to half the hole. Needless to say he missed and what would have undoubtedly gone down as the comeback of all comebacks in the Ryder Cup was tainted and left a sour taste in the mouth of all concerned.
There are of course countless other iconic Ryder Cup moments from years gone past. What are you favourites?
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The resident golf geek at Your Golf Travel. Have been lucky enough to have travelled far and wide playing golf and if I’m not writing about it at work, you will probably find me hacking it around my local course. Owner of 2 holes in one and some of the most crooked drives you have ever seen!