Four of our featured past members of Team USA celebrated winning the 25th Ryder Cup in 1983 at the PGA National Golf Club in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. (Getty Images)
Remembering the Ryder Cup as 'spiritual,' 'pride'
Tom Watson, Fuzzy Zoeller, Gil Morgan, Hale Irwin, Jay Haas and John Cook played in a combined 19 Ryder Cups. We asked the former Team USA standouts for their favorite memories from golf's grandest event.
Tom Watson (1977, '81, '83, '89; 1993 U.S. Captain)
Tom Watson (kneeling) and Jack
Nicklaus made a formidable pairing
in the 1981 Ryder Cup. (Getty
"The first year was the most spiritual year because we were playing at Royal Lytham and St. Annes and the opening ceremonies were a very, very emotional and spiritual thing. Just having the opportunity to play for my country was special; that probably meant more than anything at that point. It always meant something, but that very first time, it's like your very first kiss. You always remember that. That was the most vibrant memory I ever had of the Ryder Cup, those opening ceremonies on that Thursday afternoon at Royal Lytham and St. Annes.
On the competitive side, I remember playing with Jack (Nicklaus) as a partner a few times. I remember when we played at Walton Heath and I was playing very poorly, driving the ball very poorly. I remember putting the ball in the heather about five times in the alternate shot with Jack and he extricated my ball out of the rough as the second shot four out of five times and put it on to the green. The other time I was putting. It was an amazing display of shot making out of the heather. It is something I will always remember."
Fuzzy Zoeller (1979, 1983, 1985 U.S. Teams)
Fuzzy Zoeller (far right) and Gil
Morgan (far left) helped Team
USA win the 1983 Ryder Cup.
"All I know it gives you a lot of pride to make a Ryder Cup team. A lot of pride goes into that. I had a lot of great coaches (captains) in Billy Casper, Lee Trevino and Jack Nicklaus. I absolutely had a blast and it was a great experience, not only as an athlete but also having the opportunity to play for your country. That's where all the pressure is at.
It's something that you dream about as a young player. That's one of your goals, that as well as winning a major championship or having the opportunity to play at Augusta. Yes, the Ryder Cup was very big in our hearts way back then.
The one memory that stands out came in 1983 when we played down at Palm Beach Gardens. I'll be honest with you, I couldn't even walk I was hurting so bad. That was when my back was really bothering me before I had all the back surgeries. Jack (Nicklaus) kept looking at me and I'm taking this butazoliden like thy were aspirin. I think I took about 10 a day just to be able to walk without too much pain. I wasn't sure I could play the singles match. I didn't practice or do anything. Jack looked at me and asked me if I think I could go and I said I'll try and he put me out there first. I drew Seve Ballesteros and battled him for 18 holes and we got a half point and we ended up winning by one point. There were a lot of good memories on those teams and it was a lot of fun."
Gil Morgan (1979 and 1983 U.S. Teams)
"It was a little bit different system when I played in those two Ryder Cups. You had to play your way on to the team. Back then there was no captain's picks so you just had to play well and hope you were in the top 12 so you'd get to play.
The two times I played on the team we played at The Greenbrier (1979) and PGA National (1983). Bill Casper was our captain in 1979 and Jack Nicklaus captained the team in 1983.
It's always a big thrill to play in that type of competition and represent your country and it was a real privilege to be able to do that.
One of my best memories was Lanny Wadkins shot on No. 18 which helped halve the match which helped lead us to the win.
Another thing I remember was the alternate-shot concept which was brand new to me. I wasn't used to that format at all. That was a little nerve racking. As a player you don't mind playing one out of the bunker but you don't want to hit it in their for your partner. There was a little more pressure with that.
The Ryder Cup has changed a bunch since I played in it. It's a big time business now as far as dollars are concerned. There's a lot more interest in it now because the competition has changed over time. It's a big time tournament now and there's a chance to make a bunch of money now."
Hale Irwin (1975, 1977, 1979, 1981, 1991 U.S. Team)
Hale Irwin (right) and Bernhard
Langer during their unforgettable
match at The Ocean Course in
1991. (Getty Images)
"Looking back on those years when I played in the mid-to-late 70s, we were clearly a better team than the British team so it wasn't a matter of whether we were going to lose or win. I don't mean for this to be boastful or talking down the other team, but we had 12 really strong players and not quite as many from the other side. So making our team was very much a pride thing. There was no money in it so it was really the pride of being able to make the U.S. team. I think the players really enjoyed the camaraderie and the bonding that went with being on a Ryder Cup team. There was a lot of effort to make the team and then once there, the pride factor certainly set in because I know I didn't want to be on a losing team. I think we were all motivated in that sense.
After making four teams from 1975-'81, I then had a 10-year hiatus before I made my next team and in that 10-year period, they had taken on the European players rather than just the U.K. players. They had become a much stronger team and were in fact winning the Ryder Cup. When we met in 1991 it was a new experience and a new era playing with some new guys I certainly knew for a long time, but for me it was still a personal challenge to play with these players at the age of 46. To be able to play at that level at that age was very meaningful to me. There were some guys I had not seen or played with in awhile so it was very, very gratifying for me to play again.
Looking back, I remember the first match I played was at Laurel Valley and Arnold (Palmer) was the captain and I was paired with Gene Littler. I've never played with a player before then or since that played the shots and the yardages for the shots almost the way I did. We were almost identical how we approached playing the game. For me for first match out playing with Gene it was really, really good. He was an experienced player and he really helped me a lot. He calmed me down because I was as high as those mountains in Latrobe. I was ready to rock and roll. He was a great partner.
Of course, who can forget the matches I had with Langer (Bernhard) in 1991 to our benefit, but I really don't look at that as someone losing or winning because Bernhard played well and I played well and it came down to one putt that didn't fall in and we happened to keep the Cup. It was a very difficult time but he was a class guy. I can never look at that and say that he lost. Never, never in my life would I ever do that that. We just happened to draw. That was very meaningful and one other memory I have from that same Ryder Cup happened later that evening. We were going to the presentation and I remember seeing Ian Woosnam, who we all know is a very strong guy and is known to tip back a few. Payne Stewart and I had just gotten out of the bus and next thing I know Payne is above my head. Ian had walked up behind us, crouched down and got hold of Payne's legs and lifted him up and got him up on his shoulders just with brute force. I've never seen anything like that nor would you ever. Those are some of the fun things people never see. I don't know why that sticks in my mind but it just does."
Jay Haas (1983, 1995 and 2004 U.S. Teams)
Jay Haas (right) teamed with Phil
Mickelson in the 1995 Ryder Cup at
Oak Hill in Rochester, N.Y. (Getty
"For me, that was probably a big a highlight as I had on the PGA TOUR making those three Ryder Cup teams. I don't think there was a prouder moment for me in golf than when they announce you on the tee and being among 12 players who represented the United States. I didn't have a great record but I won a few points and there is nothing like the thrill of doing that. Being on a Ryder Cup team is everything it's cracked up to be and more. I think when people get on the team they realize they want to do it again and again. That's why I think it's so hard to get on the team because so many people want to do it so badly.
I was on two losing teams and one winning team. The last one was in 2004 and we just got killed. It was very disappointing and I think everyone was disappointed the way they played. But there were some good points for me there personally. I hit a really nice shot at the 16th hole stiff to help Chris DiMarco and myself to win a point the first day. When you win a match it's a pretty special thing and something you never forget."
John Cook (1993 U.S. Team)
John Cook teamed with Chip Beck to
upset Nick Faldo and Colin Montgomerie
at the Belfry Golf Course in Sutton
Coldfield, England. (Getty Images)
"Tom Watson was our captain and I just remember it was such a team thing. He made it that way and promoted it that way. He didn't have a lot of assistant captains to do this and that and really left things up to the players to get themselves ready. His thinking was that we didn't need much if any motivation. We just needed to get out and play and get the job done. I remember that part of it that it was really up to us to get ready to play. But I do remember Tom made it a real team thing.
I remember after every dinner we had once all the official dinners were over and we got into the actual event, Tom would pick four players on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights to talk about what was going on. Each of the 12 players on the team would have the opportunity to address the other members of the team and talk about what was going on. It didn't matter whether it was good, bad or ugly. There were no questions; it was just about how the experience was going and what you thought. Some guys got emotional over it and some guys had one liners which cracked everybody up.
I didn't play a match until Saturday afternoon. Chip Beck and I didn't play on Friday or Saturday morning. We were kind of just going, 'shoot, when does the plane leave on Sunday?' Tom put us in Saturday afternoon against Nick Faldo and Colin Montgomerie.
Tom just kept telling us to be ready when it was our turn. Chip (Beck) and I were fired up and ready to go when we played Faldo and Montgomerie. They hadn't come close to losing a match and we beat them. I remember Chip, old Mr. Positive Chip, was just that the whole day which really helped. He played pretty well and made a couple birdies and I played really well and made some early birdies to either halve or win some holes. We got down to 18 and I hit a good shot in to pretty much close them out and I think we were up and I think we won 2-up.
I remember the atmosphere there at The Belfry was very pro-European, but Tom said if we start winning we'll hear silence and on Sunday there wasn't a lot going on. It was pretty silent and I said to myself, 'well, we must be winning.' There were a lot of good memories from that experience for me."