Tuesday, 6 September 2016

1980s: Ryder Cup moments

There are 28 points up for grabs in a Ryder Cup, so this week I thought I would take a look back at the same number of talking points related to the event in the 1980s. A decade that would see the contest begin to evolve into what we witness today; Jacklin and Seve steering the European juggernaut; Concorde; Irish heroes; a tie; and a putt that a certain American probably wishes that everyone would forget.

Location, Location, Location

The Brabazon Course at The Belfry is now synonymous with recent Ryder Cup history in Europe, but the venue did not get off to the most auspicious of starts. Criticised heavily by players after its opening in 1977, it seemed a brave/stupid decision by the PGA to host the 1981 Ryder Cup at this location, so it was a big relief when the decision was made to switch the event to Walton Heath. The Belfry would have to wait for its date with destiny.

Seve splits opinions

Throughout 1981, Seve Ballesteros had been embroiled in a row with the European Tournament Players’ Division over appearance money on the European Tour, so much so that the Spaniard left the Tour and refused to play events in Britain that didn’t pay him the money he felt he was rightfully entitled to.

Having played in so few events, Ballesteros was not one of the top 10 players on the Ryder Cup points table and was reliant on a pick from captain John Jacobs and fellow selectors Neil Coles and Bernhard Langer. The panel opted for Mark James and Peter Oosterhuis, leaving Ballesteros fuming, and his early relationship with the Ryder Cup soured.

Dream Team

Maybe Seve had a lucky escape, though. The American Ryder Cup team that captain Dave Marr had at his disposal in 1981, reads like a who's who of golfing legends. Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson, Lee Trevino, Johnny Miller, Ray Floyd, Hale Irwin, Tom Kite, Larry Nelson, Bill Rogers, Jerry Pate, Ben Crenshaw, and Bruce Leitzke would win 49 majors between them - poor old Leitzke being the odd one out of the twelve - and are generally regarded as the greatest ever Ryder Cup team.

Europe did lead after day one, and only trailed by a point going into the afternoon session on the Saturday. But a 4-0 loss in the foursomes proved the point of no return, and Europe went on to lose 9½-18½. There was no disgrace in that, however.


It would be no exaggeration to state that the Ryder Cup was on its knees after the 1981 event. With Sun Alliance withdrawing their sponsorship, Colin Snape, the executive director of the British Professional Golfer's Association, embarked on a frantic hunt to find some financial backing. After a six month search, Snape had one offer - £80,000 of cigarette coupons that could be redeemed in cash - and the future of the Ryder Cup seemed very uncertain.

Luckily in December 1982, Snape met 'Ruthless' Raymond Miquel of Bell's Scotch Whisky, and a deal was reached which saw the company pay £300,000 to sponsor the next two Ryder Cups. The biennial event lived to fight on another day, yet what was really needed was a proper sporting contest to stoke the flames.

Jacklin appointed

One of many turning points in Ryder Cup history. When Tony Jacklin was approached by European Tour Executive Director Ken Schofield about taking on the role of European Ryder Cup captain for the 1983 contest, Jacklin was less than thrilled. After being overlooked for selection in 1981, Jacklin had washed his hands of the event, but after some thought and consideration, and a few conditions laid out before Schofield, Jacklin was on board.

Insisting on first-class travel on Concorde, that the players would have their own caddies with them, and that the equipment/clothing would be top quality, Jacklin got all of his wishes. Yet his biggest problem remained; persuading Ballesteros to cast aside his issues from 1981 and join the team. After a meeting between the pair at Birkdale, Jacklin talked Ballesteros around. A pivotal few weeks in Ryder Cup history.

Seve's bunker shot

All-square with Fuzzy Zoeller in the singles, Ballesteros looked to have blown his chances as the pair walked down the par-five 18th. After a poor drive and second shot, Ballesteros found himself in a fairway bunker still 245 yards from a green protected by water and rough. Most mere mortals would have taken their medicine and played it safe, but we were not dealing with anyone ordinary here.

Seve elected to play his 3-wood (yes, 3-wood) and take on the lip of the bunker, water and defeat in a moment of sheer bravery and audacity. Bernhard Langer (who had already finished his singles match) takes up the story: "I thought, what is he going to do with that? The ball was in the sand a few feet away from a two-foot lip. Then I saw the most amazing shot I have ever seen. He didn’t just clear the lip, he drew the ball, starting it out over the lake and on to the green". Jack Nicklaus gave the shot his ultimate praise, describing it as "the greatest shot I’ve ever seen". It's just a shame it was never caught on camera.

Wadkins' wedge

Seve's miracle shot enabled him to escape with a half, and for a while it looked as if Europe might do the unthinkable and take the Ryder Cup back across the Atlantic. At 13-13, European aspirations lay with Jose Maria Canizares, hoping that he would deliver the win over Lanny Wadkins that meant that at least Europe could not be beaten.

However, from three-up with seven to play, the strain started to show on the Spaniard, and playing the last he found himself just one-up. Wadkins then produced the hammer blow by sending his wedge to just three-feet from the pin, to secure the half that would ultimately win the cup. Skipper Jack Nicklaus was so relieved that he even found time to kiss the divot that Wadkins had produced when playing the key shot.

Seve's pep talk

Tom Watson's victory over Bernhard Gallacher gave the US a 14½-13½ win, but from this point on, the Ryder Cup was rejuvenated. Seve, seeing the downcast looks on the faces of his team mates as they walked to the closing ceremony, chose the moment to deliver a motivational speech. "I don't know why you're all so sad and miserable; you ought to be thinking we almost won for the first time, and on their home ground at that. They aren't unbeatable and we'll win next time round."

A hot ticket

It appeared as if the close run thing of 1983 had sparked interest in the event. In 1981, 16,000 spectators had attended the matches at Walton Heath, yet come the end of the 1985 Ryder Cup it was announced that over 90,000 had flocked to the Midlands to watch the European triumph.

With Hal Sutton accusing some of the crowd of "disgusting" behaviour - "If the crowds back in America ever got like this, then I wouldn't hit another golf ball" - the first seeds of partisanship had been planted at the event. Come 1991 and 1999, The Belfry 1985 would seem tame in comparison.

A grumpy walrus

For a while, it looked as if hopes of a European win in 1985 were misplaced. Trailing 3-1 after the morning foursomes, Jacklin had a few headaches, including the form of his Open champion Sandy Lyle, and the decline of Nick Faldo, who was in the process of completely remodelling his swing.

Late on the Saturday morning Europe had clawed their way back to 5½-5½, but looked set to lose the last fourball game of the session, with Langer and Lyle dormie two down against Stadler and Strange. Lyle’s terrific eagle at the 17th took the game down the last, yet when neither European could birdie the 18th the game seemed gone. With Craig Stadler standing over an 18 inch putt for the match it certainly seemed that way.

Of course if he had sunk it then I’d hardly be writing about this now. Somehow Stadler pulled the ball wide of the hole and the match was tied at 6-6. The impact on both teams was palpable, with the Europeans so buoyed that they went on to win the afternoon foursomes 3-1, for an overnight lead of 9-7. It truly was the pivotal point of the 1985 Ryder Cup and perhaps the tipping point in the whole history of the event.

You can read more about this moment here.

Brown and out

Europe were enjoying a fabulous afternoon in the Saturday foursomes when Scotland’s Ken Brown rounded off the day in spectacular fashion. Standing two-up on the 16th, Brown hit his 8-iron approach to within eight inches of the hole, to seal a 3&2 triumph for him and Bernhard Langer against Wadkins and Floyd. This gave Europe a 9-7 lead overall and set them up for the great events of the following day.

Langer v Sutton: the domination begins

Hal Sutton must be sick of the sight of Bernhard Langer during the Ryder Cup. In 2002 the German won their singles match 4&3 and in 2004 the American was on the receiving end of another drubbing, as Langer masterminded a record 18½-9½ victory over Sutton’s Americans.

But the pain for Sutton started in 1985. Langer won their singles match 5&4 and as if to emphasise the gulf in class between the pair, he clinched his victory by almost firing a hole in one at the 14th. Sutton should have given up the first time he was beaten.

Ray Floyd's bunker shot

With Ray Floyd one-down to Paul Way on the 18th at the Belfry, desperate times called for desperate measures. After the American found sand with his tee shot, he knew he simply had to find the green to put the pressure back on the young Englishman. The only problem was that in order to reach his target he needed to take a wood from the bunker. Seve may have pulled it off, but Ray didn’t, and Europe were a point closer to victory.

Not a million miles away

Twenty-eight years of hurt. A teary-eyed Sam Torrance marched towards the 18th green at The Belfry knowing that he was shortly going to be the man to end the American domination of the event (Howard Clark missing his moment of history on the 17th). His opponent Andy North had made a complete mess of the last hole, meaning Torrance had at least three putts for his match and the trophy.

As his first putt rolled towards the hole Peter Alliss famously stated “Not a million miles away” and when the ball dropped those final six inches the Ryder Cup was heading back across the Atlantic once more. Torrance stood arms aloft, and the European party could begin. Even Concorde got involved, famously flying over the course to celebrate Europe’s win.

Friday Clean Sweep: 1987

After escaping from the morning foursomes level, the Europeans cranked up the pressure in the afternoon fourballs. Brand Jnr and Rivero, Lyle and Langer, Faldo and Woosnam, and inevitably Ballesteros and Olazabal, all claimed wins for the away team, enabling Europe to enter day two 6-2 in front. It was the moment that American golf fans knew that their side was in trouble and for the first time they would be in danger of losing the trophy on American soil. Come the final day, this clean sweep took on even greater meaning.

Ollie saves Seve

Two putts for the match from eight feet is an ideal situation to be in, especially with Seve Ballesteros standing above the ball. But the greens at Muirfield Village were slick 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. Jose Maria Olazabal confidently stroked the putt home for yet another European point and the hug of thanks from Seve said it all.

Anything you can do....

Europe were in a commanding position come the end of day two at Muirfield Village. Holding a 9½-5½ lead with the final fourball match on the course, Lyle and Langer looked set to add to that tally as they moved to dormie three up. Lanny Wadkins and Larry Nelson were tough cookies though, and won both the 16th and 17th, threatening to spoil the perfect two days for the Europeans.

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 his partner 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.

Every Loser Wins

Eamonn 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 when he was three-up against Ben Crenshaw during the Sunday singles all seemed fine. To make matters worse for the hosts, Crenshaw then snapped his putter in anger, and had to start holing out with a variety of other clubs. Surely a safe point for the Europeans. Or so we 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 as they were in danger of one of the biggest sporting collapses ever. From 10½-5½ up, Europe's lead had been slashed to 12-11.

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, the kind that could go six-feet past. Europe’s skipper Tony Jacklin looked on, along with the rest of the golfing world. This was the Ryder Cup, right on the line. Everything relying upon the man 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. With this point the Europeans were now in an impregnable position, and the man with a played 10, won 0, lost 8, halved 2 record had been the player to drag his team across the line. Maybe Nick Berry was right after all?

Seve makes history

The Americans had never lost a Ryder Cup on home soil, not to Great Britain, Great Britain and Ireland, or Europe. So when Seve Ballesteros sunk the putt to win the 1987 Ryder Cup, history had truly been made. And how fitting it was that it fell to Seve to perform the coup de grĂ¢ce. The man who had done so much to revive the tournament deserved to be the player to clinch Europe’s first win in America.

US television coverage

In previous years, the Ryder Cup had not appeared on the radars of any American television networks when the competition was played across the Atlantic. For example, in 1985 Europe's win was shown as a highlights package, a month after the final ball had been hit. But with America suffering back to back defeats, all of a sudden the product was very marketable. The 1989 Ryder Cup would be the first played in Europe to be screened live in America (on the USA Network with the BBC providing the video).

The twelve greatest players in the world

The hype surrounding the 1989 Ryder Cup was suffocating, so when US skipper Ray Floyd boldly claimed at the gala ball that he had the "twelve greatest players in the world", more than a few eyebrows were raised. "I suppose Seve's 13th on that list," a stunned Jacklin retorted, as Europe used Floyd's comments as motivation. The battlelines had been drawn.

Friday Clean Sweep: 1989

After losing the morning foursomes 3-1 Europe were looking in a decidedly shaky position. By the end of the day they were sitting pretty due to the second successive Friday fourball clean sweep. Victories for Torrance and Brand Jnr, Clark and James, Faldo and Woosnam, and the dynamic duo of Ballesteros and Olazabal, turned a two point deficit into a 5-3 lead and once again the Americans knew they were in for a scrap.

A Saturday night classic

In one of the most gripping matches of the 1989 event, Howard Clark and Mark James would defeat Payne Stewart and Curtis Strange one-up in the fourballs, giving Europe a 9-7 lead as the sun dipped on the Saturday evening. "Jessie James and myself beat Strange and Stewart on that Saturday evening but it took over six hours to play, and you know, it wiped me out for the next day," Clark would later admit. Which might partly explain his experiences on the Sunday.

Kite thrashes Clark

With concerns over form, his tired mind and body, the last person Clark could have done with facing in the singles was Tom Kite. The American was as tough as they came, and never lost a singles match in his seven Ryder Cups, so Clark needed a solid start if he was to stay in contention. But three birdies in the first six holes from Kite spelt danger for the Yorkshireman, his day summed up neatly when he was struck on the head after Kite had thrown his ball back to him on the second green and he had not been paying attention.

Five threes from the American on the front nine, left Clark six-down at the turn and staring a record defeat squarely in the face. When the next two holes were won by Kite, the last appropriately with a birdie three, Clark's humiliation was complete, the 8&7 loss a record for an 18-holes singles match in the Ryder Cup (equalled when Fred Couples beat Ian Woosnam in 1997).

Squeaky bum time

The 18th hole at The Belfry is difficult enough to play at the best of times, so you can only begin to imagine what it must be like to play on the final day of the Ryder Cup. Seve Ballesteros may have found water on the last in his loss to Paul Azinger (in a match that truly kicked off their rivalry), but in general, the 18th was far from hospitable towards the visitors.

Payne Stewart and Mark Calcavecchia both found water, losing their matches to Jose Maria Olazabal and Ronan Rafferty respectively, and there would be two more tales of woe for the Americans as that dramatic Sunday afternoon developed.

One more swing

“If you put him under pressure, I promise you will win the hole.” So uttered Tony Jacklin to Christy O’Connor Jnr on the 18th fairway at the Belfry. O’Connor was all square with Fred Couples, but the American boomed a drive down the last and only required a 9-iron for his second. As O’Connor prepared for his second shot with a 2-iron in hand, Jacklin added: “Just one more clean hit for Ireland Christy.”

Whether it was down to Jacklin’s pep talk or not, O’Connor hit one of the very best shots ever witnessed in the Ryder Cup, as his 240 yards shot ended three feet from the pin. The clenched fist said it all – over to you Fred.

Jacklin’s words were strangely prophetic, with Couples shanking his approach and then taking two more to get down. As he conceded the match to O’Connor, the Irishman looked skywards and broke down on embracing Jacklin. Europe were a step closer to retaining the trophy. A plaque now stands on the 18th fairway at The Belfry in recognition of this moment, such was the significance of the event.   

You can read more about this moment here.

Canizares buries the ghost

The Ryder Cup has a habit of turning players into heroes or villains. Jose Maria Canizares can claim to have been both. The Spaniard was cast as the man who lost the Ryder Cup in 1983 after falling short in his crucial singles match against Lanny Wadkins. However, in 1989 it was Canizares who sank the putt that assured Europe would retain the trophy, thus partly alleviating the pain of six years previous.

One more point!

“The cup will stay in Europe”, shrieked Bruce Critchley as Canizares’s putt put Europe 14-10 up on the final day. Frustratingly though, none of the last four matches would yield even half a point for Europe, allowing the Americans to escape with a tie. Although Critchley was ultimately right, it still irks me that we couldn’t end Jacklin’s reign with an outright victory.

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