An Unforgettable 1991 Ryder Cup at The Ocean Course produced a Classic for the Ages
Hired in the late 1980s, legendary golf designer Pete Dye and his wife Alice got two years to create The Ocean Course in Kiawah Island, South Carolina, in time to host the 1991 Ryder Cup.
It was the first Ryder Cup awarded to a course that had yet to be built. During construction, it survived the 1989 devastation of Hurricane Hugo. With roads closed for weeks, Dye took a boat to the island to join his crew as they used bulldozers to raise leveled dunes and toiled all the way until the gates opened for competition. It also became the first Ryder Cup to be televised live for three days.
The United States Team, captained by Dave Stockton, was eager to bring the Cup home after not winning since 1983.
The 1991 Matches were played during a time of heightened nationalism, seven months after the end of the Gulf War. A few of the U.S. players wore camouflage hats on Day 1 in support of the military. The opening ceremony featured a military flyover, a Marine honor guard and a drill team from The Citadel. The ceremony rankled members of the European Team and overseas visitors.
Stockton said it wasn't meant to offend.
"It was the Gulf War year and there was a lot of American pride, and I wanted to feed on the American pride," said Stockton. "And I wanted people to be proud of America and what we stand for. Some of the people took it the wrong way."
Fans of both teams were loud and enthusiastic. Some European fans sang soccer-style songs. Americans chanted "U-S-A! U-S-A!" Germany’s Bernhard Langer told a reporter it was like being a soccer player on the road, with fans cheering his bad shots.
The U.S. took a 4½ to 3½ lead on Day 1. The Americans won three of the first four matches on Day 2 to build a 7½ to 4½ advantage. But Europe rallied in the afternoon to make it 8-8 going into the Sunday singles.
With American Steve Pate sidelined due to a rib injury suffered in a chain-reaction accident involving three limos on Tuesday, his match was halved without being played. The U.S. needed to win six of the 11 available points in singles.
It all came together. It changed the dynamics of the Ryder Cup, the competition of it and what people thought of it.
After 28 matches and numerous lead changes, which team would secure the Ryder Cup trophy came down to a six-foot putt.
Langer and America’s Hale Irwin were in the final pairing. Irwin’s 3-wood approach to the 18th green flew wide right but hit a spectator and caromed back into play. Irwin chipped poorly and putted to within a foot of the hole. Langer’s approach landed between Irwin’s and 45 feet away from the cup in a sandy hollow.
Langer conceded Irwin’s bogey and lagged his birdie putt six feet past the hole. Langer then struck his par putt, with the ball just grazing the right side of the hole. The match was halved and America reclaimed the Ryder Cup, 14½ to 13½.
“Nobody in the world could have made that putt,” said Spain’s Seve Ballesteros.
Said Irwin, “Imagine the shock and now the exultation of what happened. It was a 180-degree turnaround over the simple matter of a six-foot putt.”
Pat McKinney, principal at Kiawah Island Real Estate and advisory general chairman of the Ryder Cup, said, “The Ryder Cup helped put Kiawah Island on the map, and Kiawah Island helped put the Ryder Cup on the map.”
After a shoreline celebration where Stockton was thrown into the surf, the Captain emerged to sum up the week.
“It all came together,” he said. “It changed the dynamics of the Ryder Cup, the competition of it and what people thought of it."