John L. Byrwa, Senior Site Producer
Great teamwork within a team can often mean the difference between success and failure. Such was the case in September of 1987, when stellar partnerships and near-perfect play within the European Team propelled it to a historic performance at Muirfield Village Golf Club in Dublin, Ohio.
The Europeans had never won consecutive Ryder Cups, let alone registered a victory on United States soil. But that all changed when the Americans, led by captain Jack Nicklaus, who designed, built and owned Muirfield, were shocked by a close-knit European squad that included six players who would go on to win a combined 18 career major championships.
The Americans should have known they were in for a fight before the matches even began, when the European team displayed a significant sign of closeness and team chemistry on Thursday evening.
Following the Opening Ceremonies, European Captain Tony Jacklin invited PGA European Tour Executive Director Ken Schofield and the Tour’s chief administrators into a bungalow for cocktails. The officials were greeted by the entire European Team, which spent the next two hours outlining their disappointment with a variety of issues on the PGA European Tour. This “clearing of the air” meeting, European officials later believed, helped relieve the tension of the team and opened the door for what would be a most memorable Ryder Cup performance.
It didn’t take long for the Europeans to put their teamwork, confidence and calmness on display.
Despite losing the first two morning foursomes matches and falling behind in the third, the European partnerships of Ian Woosnam and Sandy Lyle, and Seve Ballesteros and Jose Maria Olazabal proved to be harbingers of things to come. Woosnam and Lyle rallied from 4 down against Larry Mize and Lanny Wadkins to win 2 up, and Spaniards Ballesteros and Olazabal, who would come to be known as the “Spanish Armada” for their swashbuckling style and storied success, defeated Payne Stewart and Larry Nelson to win 1 up.
Flush with confidence, the Europeans won all four afternoon fourball matches and continued their dominance on Day Two, taking 3 ½ of a possible four points in the morning foursomes and two more in the afternoon fourballs for a seemingly insurmountable 10 ½-5 ½ lead.
The U.S. tried to mount a comeback in Sunday’s singles matches, winning six of the first nine available points to pull within 12-11, but unheralded Irishman Eamonn Darcy defeated the favored Ben Crenshaw, who had snapped his putter in frustration over his poor play and was forced to putt with a 1-iron and sand wedge from the seventh hole on, 1 up. After Langer earned a half-point from Nelson, Ballesteros sealed the European’s victory with a 2-and-1 win over Curtis Strange.
Epitomizing the importance of team performance with a team, the Europeans saw Ballesteros and Olazabal partner to win three of their four matches, Lyle and Langer win all three of their matches and Faldo and Woosnam win 3 ½ of four points.