Remember When: 1993 Ryder Cup
It was the first year of the Clinton Administration, the third of four straight Super Bowl losses for the Buffalo Bills and a time when “Jurassic Park” (the first one) was breaking box office records.
It was also the last time the U.S. won the Ryder Cup on European soil.
Let’s take a look back on the key players and turning points from a narrow American victory at The Belfry:
The Americans were coming off one of the most dramatic victories in Ryder Cup history, a narrow win in front of raucous crowds at Kiawah Island in South Carolina. Two years later the scene shifted to England, as The Belfry served as the European host for the third straight time. Scotland’s Bernard Gallacher was making the second of three straight captaincy appearances for the Euros, while the U.S. side was led by eight-time major champ Tom Watson.
Three of the four major winners from that year participated in the matches: Masters champ Bernhard Langer for the Euros, and U.S. Open champ Lee Janzen and PGA Championship winner Paul Azinger for the Americans. Nick Faldo was No. 1 in the world, with Langer at No. 3, while at No. 5 Azinger was the highest-ranked American on the team. Each squad had three players ranked inside the top 10 in the world, with Fred Couples (No. 6), Ian Woosnam (No. 7) and Tom Kite (No. 8) also participating.
Months before he became a major champion, Jose Maria Olazabal received a captain’s pick from Gallacher. So, too, did fellow Spaniard Seve Ballesteros, along with unheralded Swede Joakim Haeggeman. Watson went with experience with his two selections: former PGA winner Lanny Wadkins, who would captain the U.S. side two years later at Oak Hill, and Ray Floyd, who at 51 was seven years older than his captain and remains the oldest player ever to tee it up in the biennial competition. This is also the last U.S. Ryder Cup team in 24 years without Phil Mickelson, who was then in his second year as a pro.
The Turning Point
After a balanced opening day, Saturday was a tale of two halves. The Euros raced out to a 7.5-4.5 advantage, taking three of four possible points from the morning foursomes matches. The Americans came roaring back in the afternoon, turning the tide in the fourballs format and cutting the deficit to a single point. The U.S. highlights included Chip Beck and Ryder Cup rookie John Cook outlasting Faldo and Colin Montgomerie, 2 up, while Floyd and Payne Stewart were the only Americans to win points in both Saturday sessions, beating Englishmen Peter Baker and Barry Lane in the morning and Olazabal and Haeggeman in the afternoon.
Hopes for an afternoon American sweep were foiled when Azinger and Couples, a pair who played Faldo and Montgomerie to a draw the previous afternoon, lost to Woosnam and Baker, 6 & 5. But the Saturday fourballs performance was enough to avert a European runaway and gave the Americans a much-needed shot of confidence heading into Sunday singles.
Much like the day before, the Euros got off to a fast start by winning 3.5 of the first five points: Woosnam split with Couples in a decorated opening match, while Montgomerie narrowly edged Janzen. But Stewart’s 3 & 2 defeat of Mark James was the first of five straight points on the board for the U.S. team, including Gallagher’s improbable upset of Ballesteros and a 5 & 3 romp by Kite over Langer, the Masters champ who had let the Ryder Cup slip off his putter blade two years earlier.
The Gallagher-Ballesteros match came about only when Scotland’s Sam Torrance withdrew because of a toe injury. Wadkins opted out for the Americans, meaning that Gallagher got his tee time against the fiery Spaniard and went on to post a crucial point.
In the end, the matches came down to two moments for the Americans: Davis Love III turned the tide against fellow Ryder Cup rookie Costantino Rocca, winning the final two holes to turn a 1-down deficit into a 1-up win. Then Azinger bounced back against Faldo, halving the match despite the Englishman making just the second ace ever in the Ryder Cup on the 14th hole. When Floyd took out Olazabal, winning 2-up after the Spaniard rinsed his drive on the 18th hole, the deed was done. The Americans had taken 7.5 of a possible 12 singles’ points to post a narrow, 15-13 win.
The U.S. improbably won despite their top two players (Azinger and Couples) combining to post an 0-6-4 record, filling the gap with the veterans, as Floyd (3-1) joined Payne Stewart with the best record of the week. Making his second Ryder Cup appearance and foreshadowing what was to come over the next two decades, Colin Montgomerie led Gallacher’s squad with a 3-1-1 record.
After their ’93 win at The Belfry the Americans enjoyed a 23-5-2 all-time record in the matches, but this proved to be a turning point in the overall competition as the Europeans have won eight of the subsequent 10 matches.
Included in that run are six straight home wins for the Euros, including a return to The Belfry in 2002 and capped off by a victory three years ago outside Paris. The U.S. will have a chance to end a three-decade streak of road futility in 2023, when the matches head to Marco Simone in Rome, Italy.