Over the years, the Ryder Cup has produced many incredible moments, from sheer incredulity at the golfing brilliance of an individual, to raging controversy that threatened, at one time, to engulf the competition in a bitterness that would have run counter to the traditions of the game of golf itself.
In this article, we look at ten such moments, the controversial, the brilliant, the brave and the unexpected that have combined to make the Ryder Cup such a unique event in world golf.
7. Nick Faldo’s hole-in-one at The Belfry, 1993
With his match all square, Nick Faldo lined up at the 14th hole at The Belfry in 1993 aiming to take his tee shot at the par three close. He went one better than that landing his ball in the perfect place to record only what was then, the second hole-in-one in Ryder Cup history.
6. Montgomerie v Calcavecchia : 1991 at Kiawah Island
With four holes left to play and the Ryder Cup coming to a tense close, it seemed like Mark Calcavecchia would score a massively important point for the American team as he led Europe’s Colin Montgomerie by four holes, with four left to play of an ill-tempered Ryder Cup in general. Incredibly, Monty cemented his place in Ryder Cup legend with a stunning fightback as Calcavecchia imploded, losing the final four holes to hand the Scot an unlikely half. But there was more drama to follow…
5. Azinger and Furyk in the bunker, 2002 Ryder Cup at The Belfry
Following the postponement of the 2001 Ryder Cup due to the terrorist atrocities in the US, the event was held a year later at the Belfry and much of the ballyhoo that surrounded events in 1999 had died down and the event was played in an equally competitive, but far more sportsmanlike fashion.
After the openign two days, the teams were tied at 8, each but a blistering start from Europe saw them win four of the first six singles matches, halving another and with Welshman Philip Price performing miracles to beat Phil Mickelson 3 and 2, Europe needed just one point to win the cup.
It seemed like Nicolas Fasth would be the man to bring it home. One hole up against Paul Azinger, Fasth drilled his approach safely onto the green, while Azinger found the bunker. Yet the drama was just about to unfold.
Azinger incredibly holed his bunker shot, while Fasth missed his putt meaning the American won the hole and earned an unlikely half point.
Immediately behind them, things were tight in every match. Paul McGinley pulled his approach wide of the 18th Green but Jim Furyk, like Azinger, found the bunker with his. Their match was tied at all square, with McGinley needing half a point to win the cup for Europe.
McGinley was first to play but fluffed his chip onto the green somewhat to leave himself a tricky 12 foot putt. Furyk now had a chance to win the hole and around the course, people were wondering if lightning would strike twice.
It so nearly did, Furyk’s attempted shot lipped out of the hole leaving the American a certain par and McGinley an awkward putt to win the Ryder Cup for Europe. The Irishman stood over it and coolly rattled the ball into the home, before taking to the lake at the side of the 18th to celebrate.
4. Battle at Brookline : Justin Leonard v Jose-Maria Olazabal, 17th Hole 1999
Brookline in 1999 was arguably the nadir of Ryder Cup competition. Players were routinely heckled by supporters during the rounds as the competition descended into verbal warfare between team members.
The most controversial moment came at the 17th, when Justin Leonard, who had fought back superbly to tie his game with Jose-Maria Olazabal, left himself a 50 foot putt, the Spaniard being considerably closer. At this point the US only needed half a point to win the match, after a storming comeback in the singles matches.
Incredibly, Leonard holed the putt from 50 feet, and en masse half of the US Team and delegation spilled onto the green in celebration. Many treading over the line of Olazabal who still had a putt to halve the hole.
It is unfortunate that this Ryder Cup ended in such a fashion and in such acrimony between the teams. It does tend to overshadow what was a superb fightback by Leonard and what remains one of the best putts ever seen in a golf competition, anywhere around the world.
3. Bernard Langer v Hale Irwin 18th Hole, Kiawah Island 1991
In the final game of the 1991 Ryder Cup, the ‘War on the Shore’ came down to two players on the 18th green. Hale Irwin had the first putt to win the Ryder Cup outright for the US but left his lag short of the hole. Langer then had a chance to earn the win to tie the contest and ensure that the European team retained the trophy, however the German’s short putt roled agonisingly wide, resulting in a US win.
2. The Final Day: Graeme McDowell v Hunter Mahan, Celtic Manor 2010
With Europe leading 9.5 to 6.5 on the final day, the expected US fightback on a rain delayed final day saw the singles matches take place on a Monday for the first time in the competitions history. With 11 of the 12 matches completed, the score was tied at 13.5 apiece with Graeme McDowell and Hunter Mahan still on the course.
After 15 holes, McDowell was one up but he birdied the 16th to go dormie 2 and ensure that Europe at least would draw the match with a half point, but that was not enough to win the trophy as the American’s held it after their victory in 2008.
All the drama unfolded around the 17th green when Mahan fluffed his chip, seemingly handing McDowell a chance to two putt for victory. However the Irishman’s first putt fell well short meaning that if Mahan could hole his putt from the edge of the green, he’d still be in the contest. Mahan, unfortunately for his team, missed handing Europe victory in the most dramatic of fashion.
1. The Concession: Tony Jacklin & Jack Nicklaus : Royal Lytham 1969
If the Ryder Cup should be remembered for anything, it may not be the incredible shots, fierce competitiveness and fantastic patriotism of the local crowd, but of the shining beacon of true sportsmanship shining through. Therefore, the greatest moment in Ryder Cup history in our view comes from 1969, when Jack Nicklaus and Tony Jacklin walked down the final fairway the only players remaining on course with the match tied at 15.5 – 15.5,
On the last green, Nicklaus holed a five foot putt which meant that Jacklin had a two foot putt to share the hole and earn a tie for Europe. Rather than make the Englishman putt out, Nicklaus picked up Jacklin’s marker and handed it to him stating “I don’t think you would have missed that putt Tony, but, in the circumstances, I wasn’t going to give you the opportunity.”