Just like his fellow countryman Christy O’Connor Jr, the Ryder Cup had not been kind to Ireland’s Eamonn Darcy before his day in the sunshine. Making his debut in 1975, Darcy had also featured in the 1977 and 1981 contests, but held an unenviable record of played 9 halved 2 lost 7.
Mention Darcy’s name and most will recall his part in Europe’s historic win at Muirfield Village in 1987. But it is impossible not to think of his idiosyncratic swing, a method that threw the text book out of the window.
“Darcy’s right elbow went beyond flying,” this Golf Channel article details. “It nearly went out of orbit on the backswing with his left arm folding like a chicken wing in the follow through. From chaos, he could produce some beautiful shots…” Somehow, Darcy made his swing work for him.
Winning a rain-reduced three round Belgian Open in June 1987, Darcy edged into the final qualifying spot for Europe’s Ryder Cup team. In the coming weeks, there would be strong challenges from Ove Sellberg, Jose-Maria Olazabal, Ronan Rafferty and Mats Lanner. But Darcy would not be denied.
Lanner’s 62 in the opening round of the German Open threatened to crush Darcy’s hopes at the last, yet when the Swede finished just a shot ahead of his rival, Darcy was able to breathe a sigh of relief upon booking his ticket on the plane to America.
“I am just glad it’s all over,” Darcy said. “The pressure has been enormous over the last six weeks. Getting back into the team has given me a bigger kick than winning any tournament, especially as I believe we will win.”
Darcy’s optimism looked justified after two days at Muirfield Village, Ohio. On the course that US skipper Jack Nicklaus built, Europe had moved into a commanding position. Leading 10½-5½ going into the singles on the Sunday, Tony Jacklin’s team were just four points away from history.
It was hardly surprising that Darcy had not seen much action in the first two days. After Europe had claimed a clean sweep in the Friday afternoon fourballs, Jacklin was almost duty bound to select the same pairings for the Saturday morning foursomes. Darcy would have to wait until the afternoon fourballs to hit a ball in anger.
Sadly, his first experience at the 1987 Ryder Cup was an all too familiar one. Paired with Gordon Brand Jr in the fourballs, Darcy was on the receiving end of his eighth defeat, going down 3 and 2 to Andy Bean and Payne Stewart. At least this time it looked as if he would be on the winning team, though.
Alas, on Sunday September 27, things did not run smoothly for Europe. Many European golf fans tuning into the BBC 2 coverage on that day may have been expecting a victory lap around Jack’s course. What we got instead was squeaky bum time and more.
Regular glances at the scoreboard confirmed that all was not well. Howard Clark and Sam Torrance claimed 1½ points between them to push Europe to 12, but elsewhere it was a different story. Defeats for Ian Woosnam, Nick Faldo, Olazabal, Jose Rivero, and Sandy Lyle, left anxious European eyes hunting for a ray of light.
From somewhere, anywhere, Europe needed 2½ points for their first outright win on the other side of the Atlantic. For a long time it looked as if Darcy and Brand Jr would deliver the goods, with both in strong positions in their matches. But in a flash, Brand Jr’s 4-up advantage was whittled away by Hal Sutton, and attention switched to Darcy’s match against Ben Crenshaw.
It was an eventful front nine, to say the least. In Gavin Newsham’s Two Tribes book, Darcy recalls that the fun and games started before the first tee shot. “There was a big fat guy in the gallery. He was frothing at the mouth and screaming, ‘Kill him, Ben, kill him. No prisoners today’. I thought to myself, ‘Here we go’ - it was going to be that kind of day.”
At first, Darcy seemed to ignore the tension, opening up a three-hole advantage over his increasingly agitated opponent. In fact, such was Crenshaw frustration that he took it out on his trusted Wilson 8802 putter. Smashing it into the turf after going two-down on the sixth, Crenshaw was horrified when his putter snapped.
Three-up at the turn, and with his opponent putting out with a variety of long irons, and the leading edge of his sand wedge, surely Europe had a point in the bag that would basically confirm victory. However, things were about to get messy as Darcy’s world collapsed around him.
A Crenshaw birdie at 13, sandwiched in between Darcy bogeys at 12 and 14, levelled the match, and Darcy had to sink an 18-foot birdie on 15 just to halve the hole. When Darcy bogeyed the par-3 16th, things were looking bleak. One-down with two to play, defeat was simply not an option for player or team.
Fortunately for Darcy, he played the 17th superbly, leaving the match all square as the pair made their way to the final tee. The result of the whole match was seemingly down to one hole between Crenshaw and Darcy.
At first it was advantage Europe, with Crenshaw finding the stream with his tee shot. Both would find the greenside bunker with their approach shots to the par-4, but crucially Darcy was there for one less shot.
Crenshaw and Darcy played decent bunker shots under the intense pressure faced, although the American importantly left himself with an uphill putt. When Crenshaw stroked his putt home for a bogey, Darcy was now faced with a hero/zero situation.
Slippery would be one way to describe Darcy’s six-footer; terrifying is another. “It was downhill and oh, so fast,” Darcy explains. “I thought I could hole it, but if I didn't, I didn't think I would be able to get the one back; there would be just nothing left to stop it.” USA 11 Europe 12: Darcy could either seal the deal or snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.
“There was a little break from the left and I just kissed it, and in it went,” Darcy revealed. As the putt dropped, Darcy clenched his fist and was immediately bear-hugged by a relieved Jacklin. Shaking all over, the man who had won his first match at his eleventh attempt was Europe’s saviour.
“That was the most important part of Eamonn’s life and he knew it,” Nicklaus said later. “I cannot tell you what it took to hole it.” “I’ve never felt more delighted for anybody,” Jacklin stated. “Eamonn made that putt like a man.”
Soon Jacklin would be talking about the greatest week of his life, as halves from Bernhard Langer and Brand Jnr, and fittingly the clinching point from Ballesteros saw Europe squeak home 15-13. History had been made, but things became a little too close for comfort on that Sunday.
The Express’ Martin Hardy summed that final day perfectly, when he wrote that it was “a day when long finger-nails were reduced to short stubs and stomachs churned throughout.” Thankfully, when Europe needed a hero, one stepped forward in the shape of Eamonn Darcy.