5 moments that capture the greatness of the Ryder Cup
Moments. They're what the Ryder Cup is all about.
What other event in golf elicits quotes like this?:
"Did you ever try to hit a golf ball without any oxygen in your system?" -- Billy Casper on what it's like to hit the first tee shot in a Ryder Cup
"Never have I felt as wonderful as I feel today. And never will I feel as wonderful." -- Sam Torrance after clinching the Ryder Cup for Europe in 1985
"This has nothing to do with money. It's bigger than that. This is playing for Uncle Sam, and Sam expects a lot." -- Tom Kite
Each of the five sessions in the three days of a Ryder Cup, players have said, feels like the final round of a major championship.
It brings out the best and sometimes the worst. In either case, it brings out moments we'll never forget.
Here are five moments that capture the greatness of the Ryder Cup.
Why?: This was the first draw in Ryder Cup history and the Americans retained by virtue of their 1967 victory at Champions Golf Club in Houston, Texas. So, what exactly, is so dramatic about a draw? It was the first-class display of sportsmanship by then Ryder Cup rookie Jack Nicklaus. In his singles match with England's icon, Tony Jacklin, the two reached the 18th green tied. Nicklaus made a tricky 5-foot par putt on the 18th green. With the outcome hanging in the balance, Jacklin prepared to stroke his missable 2-foot par putt to halve Nicklaus. Before Jacklin could even set his ball down on the green, Nicklaus -- to the dismay of his captain, Sam Snead, and many teammates -- reached down, picked up Jacklin's ball marker and conceded the putt to end the matches in a draw.
"He was a national hero," Nicklaus said later of Jacklin. "I felt like the United States was going to retain the Cup either way. I didn't think it was in the spirit of the game to make him putt and have a chance to miss a 2-foot putt in front of his fans."
If that doesn't capture the greatness of the Ryder Cup, or the spirit of the game, I don't know what does.
Why?: First things first... If you were to have a Ryder Cup fantasy draft, is there any doubt that Seve Ballesteros would be the No. 1 overall pick? The man was made for the Ryder Cup.
He'd be the No. 1 pick -- not just because of the larger than life personality -- but also because his ability to pull off shots like the one he hit in 1983, which teammate Bernhard Langer called, "the most amazing shot I have ever seen," and Jack Nicklaus described as, "the finest shot I have ever seen."
So how did it happen?
All square in his singles match with Fuzzy Zoeller at PGA National, Ballesteros (who lost a 3-up lead with seven to play) hit a lousy drive at the par-5 18th and his second shot found a bunker, 245 yards from the hole.
While most figured a lay up shot was the proper play given the water that was up ahead, that thought never registered with the Spaniard.
Instead, Ballesteros reached for his 3-wood, even though there was a steep lip in the bunker that would have intimidated most of the finest players in the world, especially under the circumstances.
Ballesteros dug in and proceeded to hit one of the great shots in Ryder Cup history, out of the bunker, over the water and onto the green. His two-putt par halved the match with Zoeller and Europe lost the Ryder Cup, 14 1/2-13 1/2.
Based on the assessment of World Golf Hall of Famers Langer and Nicklaus, we'll take them at their word -- this was an exceptional shot.
Why?: In an intense competition like the Ryder Cup, you've got nothing if you haven't got hope.
In 2012 at Medinah, just outside Chicago, the Europeans were getting smoked by the Americans. The scoreboard read 10-6 after two days of competition in favor of the home team. Only one other time in Ryder Cup history (we'll get to that shortly) had a team overcome such a deficit going into the final day.
As grim as thing may have looked for the Europeans that Saturday evening, it had two things going for it: 1. As tall a task as the comeback seemed, the players could rest their heads knowing it had been done before.; 2. Thanks to the pairings of Sergio Garcia and Luke Donald, along with Rory McIlroy and (mainly) Ian Poulter in Saturday's afternoon fourball, the team had hope.
Garcia and Donald never trailed in their match, winning a crucial full point.
McIlroy and Poulter were 2 down to Jason Dufner and Zach Johnson with just six holes to play. That's when Poulter went off. With the look of a possessed man, Poulter seemed to hole everything he looked at and birdied each of the last five holes. Hard to believe, but even with a four-point deficit, Poulter swung the momentum in favor of the Europeans before the final day even began.
In Sunday's singles, the Europeans were nearly flawless and would go on to match the greatest comeback in Ryder Cup history.
Why?: Through two days of competition, the Europeans held a previously insurmountable 10-6, four-point advantage over the Americans going into Sunday's singles in Brookline, Mass.
The evening before what most believed to be a formality of a final day when the Europeans would surely hoist the Ryder Cup for the third time in as many tries, American Captain Ben Crenshaw made it a point to stress something to a very cynical assembled media at the end of his Saturday, post-play press conference.
"I'm going to leave y'all with one thought," said Crenshaw, wagging his finger like a determined man. "I'm a big believer in fate. I have a good feeling about this."
The general consensus of the room felt like, "Yeah. OK. That's cute."
Little did we all know, 24 hours later, Crenshaw would make believers of all of us.
On a historic day in Ryder Cup competition, the Americans stormed back like no team had ever before and somehow rallied to top the Europeans 14 1/2-13 1/2.
You know the story -- the rally was capped when Justin Leonard banged home that 45-foot birdie bomb on the 17th hole to assure the U.S. win, Crenshaw kissed the green and everyone went crazy.
It was amazing.
Why?: Just six weeks before the start of this Ryder Cup at the K Club in Ireland, Darren Clarke's first wife, Heather, lost her battle with cancer. To escape the pain that comes with losing a loved one, Clarke relied on practicing to clear his head. It was Heather's dying wish, Clark said, that he represent Europe in that 2006 Ryder Cup. So, Clarke put in a call to European Captain Ian Woosnam to let him know, "If you need me (as a Captain's Pick), I'll be ready to play." Woosnam pondered long and hard, but gave Clarke the nod.
So, for his first shot in competition after a six-week roller-coaster of emotions, Clarke stepped to the first tee with partner Lee Westwood in the final match of Day 1's morning fourball session against Americans Phil Mickelson and Chris DiMarco.
I was standing just behind that tee box that crisp morning in Ireland and I can report with confidence that there wasn't a dry eye there. The eruption from the crowd when Clarke arrived at the first tee makes my ears ring when I think about it to this day.
Rather than the typical, gentlemanly handshake, Mickelson and DiMarco both embraced Clarke and told him they were happy he was there. How Clarke held it together to rip a 300+-yard drive down the middle of the fairway I'll never know. It was a beautiful moment in sport.
Clarke would go a perfect 3-0-0 in a lopsided 18 1/2-9 1/2 European rout.