A team's success or failure hinges on how well it reacts to adversity. Perhaps there is no greater adversity than the loss of a key and valued teammate. In such instances, others must step up to fill the void.
The 1963 United States Ryder Cup team faced such adversity, and how it — and especially playing captain Arnold Palmer — responded determined its fate.
Jack Nicklaus, then a pudgy, crew-cut-topped 23-year-old who was well on his way to establishing his dominance on the PGA Tour, had just won his third major title, the PGA Championship, in August. But, because PGA of America rules at the time required that players must be a PGA Tour member for at least five years before being allowed to play in the Ryder Cup, Nicklaus was inelligible to compete at East Lake Country Club in Atlanta. Alas, Nicklaus would not appear in a Ryder Cup until 1969.
Faced with the loss of such a great and compelling young talent, the responsiblity for making up for Nicklaus' absence fell squarely upon the broad shoulders of Palmer and the other nine members of Team USA, which included four Ryder Cup rookies: Tony Lema, Billy Maxwell, Johnny Pott and Dave Ragan.
In spectacular fashion, they — led by the great Palmer, already a five-time major champion — did not disappoint.
Palmer, who would become the last playing captain on either side, was simply fantastic, going 3-1 in pairs and 1-1 in singles. After teaming with Pott to lose the event's first match 3&2 to Great Britain & Ireland's Brian Huggett and George Will, Palmer won his next three pairings matches in dominating fashion: with Billy Casper to defeat Huggett and Will 5&4; with Dow Finsterwald to rout Huggett and Dave Thomas by the same 5&4 score; and with Finsterwald again to defeat Neil Coles and Christy O'Connor 3&2.
In morning singles on Sunday, Palmer lost to Peter Alliss 1-up, then defeated Will 3&2 in the afternoon session as the American's cruised to a 23-9 victory in the 1963 Ryder Cup.
The rookies stepped up and did their part, too. Lema won four of a possible five points; Maxwell won all four of his matches; Ragan won 2 1/2 of four points; and Pott contributed a point in three matches. And the American veterans were equally as strong: Billy Casper claimed 3 1/2 of a possible four points; Julius Boros won three of five points; Finsterwald won 4 1/2 of six points; Bob Goalby took 3 1/2 of five points; and Gene Littler won four of five points.
Look no further than the 1963 United States Ryder Cup team to see how overcoming the loss of a key teammate is paramount to success.