It is hard to find a better stage for the Ryder Cup than Gleneagles and in the heart of the home of golf, The PGA Centenary was purpose-built for this event. Team USA was led by a member of golfing royalty, the perennial fan favourite, Tom Watson. He would be up against someone who had been there as a player and knew what it took to win, European Ryder Cup star, Paul McGinley.
For some time now, Europe was on a winning streak and Team USA hadn’t won since 2008 at Valhalla. After the “Miracle at Medinah”, the Europeans were going into this week with momentum and the Americans wanted to make up for their bruised ego.
As the teams arrived, there was a feeling that this was going to be a special week. Both teams were bringing in inspirational figures from the wider world of sport to help with their efforts. Captains were turning to sporting legends to get their players fired-up for matches. Michael Jordan and Alex Ferguson would be there to give speeches to the USA and European Teams, respectively. Before we delve into the action of that week, let’s have a quick history lesson on the tournament.
So, why was the Ryder Cup at Gleneagles a somewhat of a homecoming? Scotland is the home of golf but also, the tournament that became the Ryder Cup started life as an event at Gleneagles in 1921. With golf making its way over the Atlantic to North America, the sport was becoming an international pursuit. At this time, professional golf was not thought of as a glamorous job. The Amateur Championship was the most prestigious event on the golfing calendar but The Open Championship was growing in popularity.
In those days, transatlantic travel took a long time as the only way to reach Europe from the USA was by boat. To play in The Open, a player had to board a ship for a voyage that would take over a week. Unsurprisingly, The Open had never been won by anyone other than a Brit, except Frenchman Arnaud Massey in 1907. The new pros of America were fed up with that fact and wanted to stamp the trophy with the mark of the new golfing world. They assembled a bunch of top pros from the PGA and wrote to the PGA of GB&I.
They had a plan, they suggested that in the build-up to The Open that year, the Americans would arrive early. They would take this time to play against some select British and Irish pros to prepare for The Open. Gleneagles Resort was chosen as the battleground and The Glasgow Herald would be putting up a prize for the winning team.
The Glasgow Herald 1000 Guinea took place on June 1920 on the King’s Course and saw a ten-a-side match between the USA and Britain. This one-day event consisted of foursomes matches in the morning and singles in the afternoon. Team GB would take the first match 10½ – 4½ and the transatlantic event was born.
What may be surprising to some is that the 2014 event was only the second time that the Ryder Cup had been held in Scotland. In 1973 the matches were held at Muirfield, so the Home of Golf was long overdue a chance to host the tournament. Understandably, the Scottish crowd were eager to see the world’s best back on their turf and once more playing where it all began back in the twenties.
The Gleneagles Hotel is one of the finest inland golfing playgrounds on the planet and has played host to The European Tour for many years. World-class courses from James Braid, The King’s and The Queens, rightly put the resort on the map. These are glorious courses packed with doglegs and elevation changes that demand accurate and bold golf. There was fear that week that there could have been a repeat of the Celtic Manor washout weather. Thankfully, the rain stayed away and the golf went on without any issues.
Adding a course to this famous resort is a brave move and it takes a special designer to be able to do that. Jack Nicklaus was responsible for the creation of the new course. The course that would host the Ryder Cup. To make a great match-play course, you need lots of risk vs. reward holes and shots. To be a successful Ryder Cup course you need space and amphitheatres for fans to witness the magic. Nicklaus didn’t scrimp on either. That week, around 45,000 spectators were expected each day on Jack’s course, around 250,000 would be there across the whole event and 7,500 volunteers were there to control it all.
Many extra details were in place to inspire the home players and ensure that this Ryder Cup was a huge success. One of the most famous and visible of these was the tunnel that players walked through as they made their way to the first tee. As they made their way through the tunnel, images of heroes from tournaments gone-by awaited them to give them that last pep before they started. In a fitting tribute, the last image players would see was that of the late and very great, Seve Ballesteros. This would be the first home Ryder Cup since the European legend died, and he still had that talismanic presence over McGinley’s team. That week you could see many players fist-bumping the image of the Spaniard as they left the tunnel and walked to the first tee. This feature is still there and you will get goosebumps as you take that walk yourself. Just imagine how those players felt as they made that same walk during that week.
On a bright, early and chilly morning in Auchterarder, the natural silence was shattered with the cheers and chants of golf fans. Europe was defending their trophy and their fortress, so the home crowd were making themselves heard.
There was another great touch, they had a Scotsman in their team, a local hero to ensure maximum support. A Captain’s pick meant that Stephen Gallagher had made the team for the first time. He would be playing in his home nation, a great honour for any golfer. That morning, he was getting the whole event underway. Thankfully, his playing partner was none other than Mr Ryder Cup, Ian Poulter. In this tie, they were playing against the youngest American pairing in the history of the event, Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed. The Americans would go on to win that match 5&4 and the session would take the session 2½-1½.
During the morning session, Justin Rose and Henrik Stenson had provided Europe’s only full point with a 5&4 win. They went into the second round of the day and took another 2&1 win, the duo were unstoppable and the European crowd were loving it! That result came in quickly after a win from Jamie Donaldson and Lee Westwood and the momentum was firmly with the home team.
Team Europe would win this session 3½-½ and finish the first day with a 5-3 lead. Tension started to build in the American camp as questions surfaced around Team USA Captain, Tom Watson, not picking Spieth and Reed for this session. This would be a theme that would continue through the week.
When you have two players combining as well as Justin Rose and Henrik Stenson were that week, Captain McGinley’s job was easy. This talented duo was selected as the two that would lead out the Europeans. The pair combined to put in another solid performance, they took their tie 3&2. They were unstoppable and had a team score, to this point, of twelve under par which was a Ryder Cup record. That would be the only full point for Europe in that session though, the Americans were dominating the foursomes that week. Wins from Jim Furyk and Hunter Mahan and Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed would mean that the US took that session 2½-1½ and made sure that Europe knew this wouldn’t be easy. As the final doubles session awaited, the match was tight, Europe was up by just one point.
As the Saturday afternoon tee times drew closer, Europe was hoping for another strong fourball session to set themselves up for the Sunday singles. Would they dominate this session again and leave Team USA facing an uphill fight during singles? European Ryder Cup Captain McGinley decided to go for practically the same line-up in this session. He would make one exception, he gave Henrik Stenson a well-deserved break and replaced him with Martin Kaymer.
McGinley’s men didn’t disappoint, they came out hot and turned the leader board blue once more. All matches were won by Europe, except for a half from Rose and Kaymer against Speith and Reed. The young American pairing was a revelation for the visitors that week. They were a show of defiance against the European dominance as they won 2½ point of a possible 3 during their games together. Many members of the visiting team were poor that week and came under fire for their performances, Speith and Reed did not. Europe would win the session 3½ – ½ and take a 10-6 lead going into the Sunday singles.
Ryder Cup Sundays are among the most special of golfing days. They are right up there with Open Championship and Masters Sundays, it is as good as it gets. Watching the leader board as it goes from red to mainly blue and back again, it’s as exciting as golf gets. That day, Europe needed just four points to retain the Samuel Ryder trophy. Tom Watson’s Team USA needed double that to get the trophy back.
The first match to finish that day was a duel between two rising stars in international golf. Rory McIlroy was up against Rickie Fowler, and he got a blue point on the board quickly. His 5&3 victory over Fowler was the strong start that Europe needed to make the dreams of an American comeback miracle even less likely. Fellow Northern Irishman, Graeme McDowell then added another blue point on the board with a 2&1 victory over Jordan Speith. Momentum was firmly with the home team and just two more points were needed for the win.
Things were looking good but Patrick Reed, the American player of the tournament, posted a point for his team with a win over Henrik Stenson. Having watched both of these players play so well in their respective doubles matches through the week, it was fitting that this great match went down to the last hole. Matt Kuchar and Phil Mickelson looked to try to start the comeback winning each of their games. These two points took the overall score in the match to 13-9, but with Europe just one point from retaining the trophy, things were looking bleak for the visitors. A half-point from Justin Rose meant that one question started to fill the air, who would get the next point and seal the victory for Team Europe?
That year, Europe fielded just three rookies, Stephen Gallacher, Jamie Donaldson and Victor Dubuisson. The night before the singles, Captain McGinley approached Donaldson. He had something that he needed to talk to him about. He would be putting the Welshman in at number ten. This is considered an anchor position in Ryder Cup singles and a big job to put on the shoulders of a rookie. Donaldson was told that he could end up taking the decisive point, but he could also be required to stem off an American comeback. Having already won two out of three points that week, he was confident and loving the Ryder Cup experience so far, he was ready.
When Jamie Donaldson teed off that morning, the galleries were light, the fans were watching other games. Keegan Bradley’s golf can be frustrating to watch. As a result, the spectators were watching some of the games further into the action. As the day went on, the galleries were growing around this match. It was becoming clear that people were starting to take their positions to watch history down the 15th hole. With a wedge in hand from a perfect distance, Donaldson hit one of the shots of his life and spun it into about a foot from the hole. The decisive point had been won and Europe was victorious again!
The crowd that week was incredible, they played their part and provided the most incredible atmosphere. Tens of thousands were respectful, loud and intimidating, as European Ryder Cup crowds are famous for being. They helped protect the home of golf from the travelling American team and became that extra player to help the home effort. They helped create one of the best modern Ryder Cups and the magnificent course was also central to this showcase of world golf. Jack Nicklaus did a truly wonderful job crafting a golf course that gave spectators plenty of space and vantage points to watch the action. He also made a golf course that was perfect for match play golf, this is one that no golfer should miss.
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