Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Ryder Cup 1987

Although Europe's 1985 victory had provided many with the evidence that the balance of world golfing power was shifting, there was still one final hurdle left to overcome - winning the Ryder Cup in America. Sixty years of hurt doesn't even come close to describing the fortunes of visiting Ryder Cup teams to the land of the free (the newly released You Win Again by the Bee Gees would have been an appropriate team song before 1987). Europe had come painfully close to ending their American hoodoo in 1983, just a single point separating the teams after three days of intense golf. Led by Tony Jacklin once more, many felt that the time had arrived for Europe to finally conquer their Everest. Jacklin was certainly optimistic about Europe's prospects: "I have been coming to America for 20 years and this is the first time I have arrived believing that we really, really can win."

Jacklin certainly possessed some heavy armoury for the 1987 matches: Seve Ballesteros' three top-ten finishes in majors in 1987 indicated that the old magic was still there; Nick Faldo had broken through with his first major win in The Open at Muirfield; Sandy Lyle became the first ever non-American to win the prestigious Tournament Players Championship; Ian Woosnam had won the European Order of Merit, hardly surprising, as he had scooped up five tour titles in 1987; Howard Clark, Bernhard Langer, Sam Torrance, Jose Rivero, Gordon Brand Jnr and Eamonn Darcy had all won on the European Tour that season. Two of Jacklin's three wildcard picks had not won that season, Ken Brown and the 21-year-old Spaniard Jose Maria Olazabal (Lyle was Jacklin's other pick), but the strength of the European team was undeniable.

However, the Americans did possess six major winners in their ranks, including the surprise US Masters and US Open champions of Larry Mize and Scott Simpson respectively, and the US PGA winner Larry Nelson (the others were Ben Crenshaw, Hal Sutton, and Lanny Wadkins). The side contained five debutants in Mize, Simpson, Mark Calcavecchia, Dan Pohl, and Payne Stewart, and only Tom Kite, Curtis Strange, Wadkins and Sutton remained from the 1985 team. Skippered by Jack Nicklaus, on the very course he had designed at Muirfield Village, Ohio, the Americans were hoping that home advantage would see them defend their proud record. General opinion seemed to suggest that the speed of the greens was apparently going to be the Achilles heel of the visitors. As it happened, this supposition couldn't have been further from the truth.

Lanny Wadkins also got involved in the mind games prior to the event, criticising Ballesteros and Langer for not winning in America: "Ballesteros and Langer haven't won over here in two years. If they're the best then why can't they come over here against the best fields and win?". In truth, this sound bite had a touch of desperation about it, and if it was intended to dent European confidence then surely it would only have inspired them to greater heights. A more accurate and thoughtful comment came from Martin Hardy writing in the Daily Express: "But it could be as close as one or two points either way, but on the evidence of the mood in the European camp and their practice performances, I sniff history about to be made." Very perceptive.

With the razzmatazz of the opening ceremony and the Ohio State University marching band out of the way, finally the talk had to stop and the 27th Ryder Cup would be under way on the morning of Friday September 25. Jacklin caused a minor surprise when he elected to omit Sandy Lyle from the foursomes, justifying his decision by stating: "Sandy doesn't seem to suit foursomes. It was a difficult decision. I did have half a mind to play him because he really is hitting the ball well." A reasonable explanation, though it was still a brave decision nonetheless. Jacklin opted to pick two partnerships that had previously played foursomes golf together in the Ryder Cup - Torrance and Clark, and Brown and Langer - and his other pairs were logical. Woosnam and Faldo were in superb form, and it made sense to play the Spaniards of Ballesteros and Olazabal together. Nicklaus threw three of his debutants into the fray straight away in Pohl, Mize and Stewart, partnered with experienced players in Sutton, Wadkins and Nelson respectively. The top pair of Strange and Kite looked particularly strong on paper, and would prove to be the following morning.

Clark and Torrance didn't help matters however, playing wayward golf as the Americans quickly marched into a three hole lead. It was an advantage that the Americans would never relinquish, eventually running out 4 & 2 winners. At one stage in proceedings, Europe were down in every match, and things were looking decidedly shaky, even more so when Brown and Langer lost 2 & 1 to Sutton and Pohl. Of the four losing European players, Torrance, Clark and Brown would not be seen again until the Sunday, although the former two would still have a big role to play come the final day.

Europe's Friday morning fightback began in earnest through the Faldo and Woosnam pairing, in the very definition of a game of two halves. Their front nine total of 40 was as hideous as it sounds, and not surprisingly the pair were four down to Wadkins and Mize. And then something clicked in the Anglo-Welsh axis, as the pair won five of the next eight holes to amazingly reach the last a hole to the good. For good measure, the Europeans won the 18th too, gaining a much needed point in a stirring comeback. Soon after, Seve sunk a five foot putt on the last to give him and Olazabal a one hole victory over Stewart and Nelson, levelling the overall score at 2-2. It was Nelson's first ever defeat in Ryder Cup matches (he previously had a P9 W9 record), and unfortunately for him he would not be adding any more to the wins column at Muirfield Village.

Europe were undoubtedly the happier team going into the afternoon fourballs. Whether American disappointment and European relief had an impact on the events of that Friday afternoon is debatable, but what is for sure is that the next few hours from a European perspective would be exhilarating, astounding, and quite simply awesome. For the first time in Ryder Cup history, the Americans suffered a whitewash in a session. As wake-up calls go, this was as alarming as it could get for American golf.

Brand Jnr and Rivero, an unlikely Jacklin partnership, got the ball rolling, scoring a 3 & 2 victory over Simpson and Andy Bean. Jacklin stuck with Langer, dropping Brown though to make way for Sandy Lyle. At two down with five to play, it looked as if the German would suffer his second defeat of the day, but a Langer birdie at 14, and a par from Lyle on 17 levelled the match, and the pressure began to tell on the home pairing. Neither Simpson or Bean could par the last - not one par between them on the last two holes, the cardinal sin in fourballs - as Lyle's par sneaked a delicious win for the Europeans.

Woosnam and Faldo edged out Sutton and Pohl in a close match, winning 2 & 1 to give Europe a three-point lead, the key moment of the contest taking place on the 14th, where Woosnam struck an iron to within a few feet of the pin to win the hole. As Seve and Olazabal marched into a four hole lead after ten, and the other matches were starting to slope Europe's way, the unthinkable was becoming a reality. Although Strange and Kite won the 11th and 12th, holes 13-16 were halved, leaving the Spaniards dormie-two up. The Americans played 17 well, both getting inside Seve's approach shot on the par four. With chilling inevitability, Seve drained his birdie putt, leaving Jacklin and Europe ecstatic at a splendid afternoon in the office, whilst America were left in a stunned silence, numb at the events that had just taken place. The unprecedented clean-sweep meant Europe ended day one in dream land: USA 2 Europe 6.

It would be a slight understatement to state that the Americans needed a positive response on day two, otherwise a first defeat on home soil was staring them squarely in the face. To boost home spirits, American spectators were handed mini stars and stripes flags to wave patriotically, in the hope that this show of national pride would somehow filter through to the players involved. Nick Faldo, writing in the Daily Express after the event, was pretty damning in his view on this subject: "The Americans knew it was all going wrong after the first day. So what happens the next? They bring in Rentacrowd chanting 'USA, USA' and waving 25,000 flags. It was embarrassing to see..." You can't blame the Americans though, for at the time they needed any help they could get.

Jacklin obviously sweated over his team selection for all of two seconds, and sent the same pairs out in the morning foursomes that had completed the fourballs clean sweep the evening before. Nicklaus shuffled his pack, although the pairing of Kite and Strange remained, justifying Nicklaus' faith in them by beating Rivero and Brand Jnr 3 & 1. Then came the first halved match of the 27th Ryder Cup, as Woosnam and Faldo's failure to par the last led to Sutton and Mize gaining a much needed half a point. Europe's two point cushion was soon restored though, as Langer and Lyle inflicted a 2 & 1 defeat on Nelson and Wadkins. And then came the drama of the Crenshaw/Stewart v Ballesteros/Olazabal match.

The Americans were struggling throughout, finding themselves three down with five to play. However, they cut into the arrears on 14 and 17, and still had the chance of halving their match, when previously all had looked lost. The recovery looked like it had stalled on the last though, when Crenshaw and Stewart both took turns to make a hash of things, and their bogey five looked one too many, especially as Seve had an eight-foot putt for par, and more importantly, the Spaniards had two for the match. An ideal situation to be in, especially with Seve Ballesteros standing above the ball. But this was a slick putt, and to the astonishment of everyone, the great master rolled his lag putt six-feet past. Hardly the best of things to do when your partner is a rookie. Seve was beside himself, though he needn’t have worried. Olazabal confidently stroked the putt home for yet another European point and the hug of thanks he received from from Seve said it all. The hosts had started the day hoping for a rousing fightback, yet Europe took the session 2½-1½, to take their overall lead to five points.

Again America entered a session knowing that they simply had to win it emphatically to stay in the hunt. Europe's top players were still performing to an unbelievably high standard however, none more so than Woosnam and Faldo. Their 5 & 4 fourball victory over Strange and Kite was a birdie-fest, Europe's pair going out in 29, and finishing ten under for the fourteen holes, crushing the spirits of their opponents, who themselves were five under for the round. Stewart and Bean hit back, defeating Brand Jnr and Eamonn Darcy (playing his first match) 3 & 2, the Americans matching Woosnam and Faldo's front-nine total of 29. Sutton and Mize then narrowed the gap, defeating an emotionally and physically drained Ballesteros and Olazabal 2 & 1. All eyes turned to the final match on the course, as Wadkins and Nelson were involved in an epic battle with Lyle and Langer, in the gathering darkness of Ohio.

When Sandy Lyle eagled the 15th to put the Europeans dormie three-up, all the drama that was about to unfold on our television screens didn't look possible. Lanny Wadkins had other ideas though, as his birdies on 16 and 17 dragged the game down the last, and eeked out that extra bit of tension that seems to sit so well with Ryder Cups of the modern era.

The 18th hole was played in simply majestic fashion by all four players. Lyle hit his second to within a couple of yards of the flag and is reputed to have turned to Langer and say “Get inside that and we’ll be all right.” Nelson in turn knocked his approach to about seven yards and the standard of play did not drop as Wadkins ended five yards from the hole. Langer though would have the last word, hitting his shot to within a foot of the hole and with it assure Europe of another point. One must presume that the German had obviously listened to Lyle’s advice.

Jacklin and his team were naturally jubilant at this outcome, and celebrated accordingly. It may have looked like a premature European party by the side of the 18th, but after witnessing a shot like Langer's in such times of stress it was justifiable that the visitors should show such elation. Either way, there was no doubting that Europe were in such a position of strength after two days that surely the Ryder Cup would be returning back across the Atlantic on the flight home. A 10½-5½ lead going into the singles meant that Europe only required 3½ points to retain the trophy and 4 to win it outright. On the evidence of the first two days, it should have been a walk in the park. As a cocky 12-year-old I didn't even contemplate any thoughts of an American fightback. How wrong I was.

Looking back on that final day it is scary how close Europe came to cocking everything up. The first two days work would have gone down the drain and being so young I’m not sure how I would have coped. I watched the day unfold in a shocked silence and must have eaten about a stones worth of finger nails. It wasn't meant to be like this. I wanted a Mo Farahesque lap of honour, what I got was Paula Radcliffe in Athens.



Phew!

The first five matches all reached the 18th, though from a European point of view, all was not well. Ian Woosnam surprisingly lost by one hole to Andy Bean, one of Woosie's many unexplained defeats in singles matches of the Ryder Cup. Fortunately, the next two matches had a much happier outcome for Europe, as firstly Clark defeated Pohl on the final green (Pohl's shocking six helping the Englishman's cause no end), and Torrance sneaked a half against Mize, the American mimicking Pohl's dreadful final hole. Perhaps Clark and Torrance had benefited from not playing, as it slowly became evident that the majority of Europe's ever-presents were struggling with a fifth round in three days. Faldo and Olazabal emphasised this point; Calcavecchia pulled off a shock in his one hole victory over Faldo, and Stewart's two hole win against Olazabal sounded alarm bells within the away camp. USA 9 Europe 12.

The unthinkable was rapidly seeping into every pore of my body, as Simpson defeated Rivero 2 & 1, and Kite accounted for Lyle 3 & 2. The true horror of the situation soon became apparent, as the 1980s style graphic appeared on our TV screens: USA 11 Europe 12. As always during those scary final days of the Ryder Cup, you start to scan the scoreboard for signs of a European win, as you frantically calculate all the permutations of the matches left on the course. And my eyes, and indeed the television cameras, were being drawn to one match in particular, as the destiny of the Ryder Cup hung in the balance - Ben Crenshaw v Eamonn Darcy.

Darcy, it has to be said, had an abysmal Ryder Cup record. He hadn’t won a game in any of his previous three appearances, and his swing was unique to say the least. But he must have been a good player, as he wouldn’t have made four Ryder Cup teams. So when he was three-up against Ben Crenshaw all seemed fine. Even more so when Crenshaw snapped his putter in anger, and had to start holing out with a variety of other clubs. Or so I naively thought. Darcy’s match started reflecting Europe’s hopes as he started to crumble under the pressure. From three-up Darcy collapsed and found himself one-down with two to play. Losing wasn’t an option for Europe.

Darcy won the 17th and when Crenshaw found water on the last it was surely curtains for the American. However, he managed to scrape a five together and Darcy faced a horrible six foot downhill putt for the match. It was the kind that could go six-feet past, very similar to Ballesteros' putt in the previous day's foursomes. Jacklin looked on, we all looked on. This was the Ryder Cup, right on the line. Everything relying upon an Irishman who hadn’t won a match before. His putt trickled towards the cup and we all held our breath. And then it dropped. Jacklin sprinted to the green and hugged Darcy uncontrollably. The man with a played 10, won 0, lost 8, halved 2 record in the Ryder Cup was the player who delivered when his team most needed it. Maybe Nick Berry was right after all.

Europe were not quite over the line, but the sense of relief felt after Darcy's point was tangible. Soon history was made. Langer and Nelson conceded putts to each other on the last to halve their match, meaning that Europe were guaranteed a tie at worse, due to the fact that Ballesteros was dormie two-up against Strange. A tie may well have felt like a defeat on that famous Sunday, so how fitting it was that it fell to Seve to perform the coup de gr√Ęce. The man who had done so much to revive the tournament deserved to be the player to clinch Europe’s first win in America, and as his short putt on 17 closed out his match, the European party could now truly begin.

It didn't matter that Wadkins defeated Brown, or that Sutton and Brand Jnr halved their match. Europe had triumphed 15-13, to defeat America on home soil for the first time in Ryder Cup history. As a teary Jacklin declared that "This is the best week of my life", and Ollie danced his joyful way across a Muirfield green, I knew that I was witnessing a simply wonderful and significant moment in sport. The Ryder Cup was now serious business, and American pride had been dented enough to mean that, come two years time, they would be desperate to win the trophy back. After they failed to do that, 1991 and Kiawah Island was a sad consequence of eight years of American frustration. They should have tried being in our shoes between 1957-1985.

The British press were quick to acknowledge the achievement of the team: 'YANKEE DOODLE SEVVY' was the back page headline of the Monday edition of the Daily Mirror, the Daily Express going for a simple 'JACKLIN'S HEROES' on their front page. Soon talk turned to Jacklin and whether he would stay on as captain. The quotes emanating from the skipper were not all that hopeful: "What more can I do? I can only go one way after this. I've achieved what I set out to do. The dream of winning it in the first place and then retaining it over here has been realised now I have to get on with my own life." Luckily, history tells us that Jacklin did change his stance, and after the 14-14 draw in 1989 he was able to leave the job with his reputation enhanced, and his place in Ryder Cup history assured.

Since 1987, two European teams have managed to win the Ryder Cup in America (1995 and 2004 since you ask). As the 39th edition gets under way in Medinah this week, it is probably worth keeping this in mind. It is never easy to win the cup on your opponent's home turf, so Ollie and his boys will have their work cut out this year. Come Sunday night, I just hope I see our skipper dancing as he did back on that glorious final day of 1987.

4 comments:

  1. You forgot one element that made 1987 stand out; Tony Jacklin had the Europeans charter a Concorde to fly there; that was an expression of intent (and a touch of balls) and set the tone nicely

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/sport/golf/rydercup/9569339/Ryder-Cup-2012-Jose-Maria-Olazabals-jig-in-1987-at-Muirfield-Village-in-Dublin-is-when-contest-got-serious.html

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    1. I did mention Tony Jacklin insisting on first-class travel (Concorde) for his first Ryder Cup as skipper in my 1983 blog: http://that1980ssportsblog.blogspot.com/2012/05/ryder-cup-1983.html.

      Amazing really that it took until 1983 for this to happen, and for Europe's golfers to have top quality uniforms and equipment, and for the players to take their own caddies with them....

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    2. Apologies, missed that entry; I have a vague memory of reading that the COmcorde they were chartering flew over the course and tipped its wings (I guess that may have been '87 - it would have been too ballsy before Europe had wone it...)

      Anyway, great blog, keep up the good work

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  2. The Ryder Cup has really come a long way. It already has a very fruitful history that’s full of classic games played by some of the arguably best players in the world. Now that this year’s competition is less than a day away, I’m sure the teams are all set for the games. Which team are you guys vying for? The US or Europe? I can’t wait to watch the games!

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