The Ryder Cup matches have been played 38 times, the inaugural competition coming in 1927.
Samuel A. Ryder, an English seed merchant, commissioned the Cup, which is 17 inches high, 9 inches from handle to handle and weighs 4 pounds. As sports trophies go, it isn’t all that impressive but the best golfers in the world have battled for it every two years with the exception of 1939-45, when the competition was suspended during World War II.
The 38 matches, contested over 81 years, are held in alternate stagings at venues in the U.S. and Europe. It was the U.S. vs. Great Britain from 1927 to 1971. Then Ireland golfers were added to the Great Britain side from 1973 to 1977 and the U.S. opponent was Europe starting in 1981.
Over the years, the U.S. has won 25 times, lost 11 times and two matches ended in ties. Since 1985, however, Europe has won eight times, the U.S. four and one was a tie.
What place in golf history the 39th Ryder Cup at Medinah County Club ends up is still to be determined by Sunday’s matches, but these are, in my book, the five most memorable Ryder Cups, starting with the best ever:
1991 at Kiawah Island, S.C. U.S. 14 ½, Europe 13 ½
This staging, which came to known as “The War by the Shore,” came down to the last singles match between Hale Irwin of the U.S. and Bernhard Langer, the great German player. As Irwin has said ever since “You could cut the tension with a knife.”
Irwin and Langer knew the situation as they walked to the No. 18 green. Irwin’s approach sailed right and hit a spectator. He chipped poorly, and then lagged his par putt to within a foot of the hole.
Langer, on the green in two, conceded the par putt, then ran his 45-footer for birdie six feet past the cup. He missed coming back. That meant their match was halved, and the U.S. re-claimed the Cup after surrendering it in 1985.
1985 at The Belfry in Sutton Coldfield, England Europe 16 ½, U.S. 11 ½
The Ryder Cup didn’t have much suspense until this European breakthrough.
Scotland’s Sam Torrance secured Europe’s first victory in 28 years by making an 18-foot birdie putt on the last hole for a 1-up singles victory over Andy North. Tears streamed down Torrance’s face, a clear indication of how badly the Europeans wanted to overcome U.S. dominance in the event.
While the defeat was only a mild setback from a U.S. perspective, it meant everything in Europe and did a great deal towards boosting the international popularity of the competition.
1969 at Royal Birkdale in Southport, England U.S. 16, GB/Ireland 16
This staging became known as The Concession.
It came down to a final match between Tony Jacklin, the legendary English player, and Jack Nicklaus, who was playing in his first Ryder Cup. They were all square going to the 18th tee.
Both players were aware of what was at stake, and Nicklaus asked Jacklin if he was nervous. Jacklin admitted it, and Nicklaus said he felt the same way. Nicklaus managed a par, which assured the U.S. would not lose, and then he conceded a two-foot par putt to Jacklin. That resulted in the first tie in the competition.
Nicklaus was criticized by some U.S. players who felt Jacklin could have missed the putt, which would have given the U.S. the win. In subsequent years, however, Nicklaus’ gesture has been lauded as one of the greatest displays of sportsmanship in any sport.
1999 at The Country Club in Brookline, Mass. U.S. 14½, Europe 13½
This U.S. team was getting hammered for two days. Then captain Ben Crenshaw, in an end-of-the-day news conference, declared he had a “special feeling” about what would happen on the final day of the competition.
“That’s all I’m going to say,” said Crenshaw.
He had everyone wondering, but the next day was special for the U.S. side.
U.S. golfers took 8 ½ of a possible 12 points in singles to win the Cup for the first time since 1993. European captain Mark James did a strange thing. He didn’t allow three of his players to compete until the singles matches. That may have contributed to his team’s collapse on the last day.
Highlighting the U.S. comeback was a 45-foot birdie putt at No. 17 by Justin Leonard, after which U.S. teammates stormed the green before Leonard’s opponent, Jose Maria Olazabal, had a chance to putt for the birdie that would have halved the hole. Olazabal, this year’s European captain, missed a 25-footer on that hole but made an 18-foot birdie putt on the final hole. That was enough to halve his match, but not enough to prevent the U.S. from re-claiming the Cup.
1927 at Worcester Country Club in Worcester, Mass. U.S. 9 ½, Great Britain 2 ½
Every good thing has to start somewhere, and this is where the Ryder Cup had its beginnings. Walter Hagen captained the U.S. team and long-hitting Ted Ray led Great Britain.
There were a couple of international team matches played before that, the first being at Gleneagles in Scotland in 1921, but no trophy was at stake. Only four foursomes and eight singles matches were played in the first official Ryder Cup, which was played in June over just two days.
Great Britain would be more competitive in the next Ryder Cup, winning 7-5 at Moortown in Leeds, England. From then on the matches would be a highlight to the golf season world-wide.Copyright © 2013 Paddock Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.