NEVERMIND being the most exciting tussle in golf; the Ryder Cup is one of the great sporting occasions. Here are five of the tournament’s most exciting - and controversial - moments
The Concession (Royal Birkdale, 1969)
The Ryder Cup’s single greatest act of generosity is one of golf’s greatest sources of pride, but not everyone appreciated Jack Nicklaus’ goodwill gesture - least of all his team captain. Played in an ill-tempered atmosphere, the 1969 contest was tainted by outbursts of bad form on both sides. Tony Jacklin, Nicklaus’ opponent on the final hole, faced an easy putt to tie the cup for the first time in its history.
Whatever was to happen, the Americans wouldn’t lose; and surely, Jacklin wouldn’t miss his putt. Nicklaus, to everyone’s astonishment, picked up Jacklin’s marker and said: “I don’t think you would have missed that, Tony, but under these circumstances, I didn’t want to give you the chance.” You might think that Nicklaus’ concession, an act atypical of this particular Ryder Cup, would show his team-mates the light. Not so. The myopically competitive US captain Sam Snead erupted at the Golden Bear for denying the US the chance to retain the cup outright.
Darren Clarke’s opening tee (K Club, 2006)
Displays of mental fortitude in major golf tournaments are not rare, but Darren Clarke’s performance at the K Club in Count Kildare must rank as one of the steeliest - and emotional - of them all. Five weeks before the start of the cup, Clarke’s wife Heather died aged just 39 from cancer. Clarke accepted a wildcard entry into the Ryder Cup and played with distinction, winning all three of his matches in front of a home crowd. But the moment that everyone remembers was the welcome he received from spectators on his first tee shot on the opening day. The roar that greeted Clarke was the loudest ever heard on any golf course.
Sam Torrance’s putt (The Belfry, 1985)
Sam Torrance’s 22-foot putt on the last hole not only won the Ryder Cup for Europe for the first time in 25 years, but it also signalled a sea change in the balance of power between the two sides. The dominant Americans had come close to reliquishing their grip on the trophy two years before in Florida, but Torrance made sure of a European win in ‘85 by beating Andy North on the 18th at the Belfry. Wearing a bright red jumper, Torrance held his arms aloft in triumph, with tears coming down his cheeks - it remains one of the Ryder Cup’s most iconic visual shorthands for the drama and emotion of the occasion.
The Battle of Brookline, 1999
A putt from more than 40 yards clinched the Battle of Brookline for the Americans, even though it shouldn’t have. Just as Jack Nicklaus’ famous concession is held up as the Ryder Cup’s greatest piece of sportsmanship, the scenes following Leonard’s putt on the final hole at Brookline undermined the sport’s reputation as a gentlemanly pursuit. The audacity of the shot, coming after what had been a hitherto miserable showing from the US, was matched only by the Americans’ riotous celebrations; they upset the Europeans less for their wildness than for the fact they were premature. Jose Maria Olazabal saw rowdy Bostonian fans and players’ wives join the stampede on the green over his line of sight as he waited to putt his 20 yarder. Shaken by the US team’s exploits, he missed it, and gave the Americans the trophy in one of the great Ryder Cup comebacks.
Miracle at Medinah, 2012
And speaking of Ryder Cup comebacks, the Miracle at Medinah absolutely rivals its Brookline predecessor. This time, the Europeans won out after Martin Keymer cooly guided his putt home on the 18th after the Americans had held a 10-6 lead overnight. But more important to the European team’s comeback was Ian Poulter, who produced a career-defining performance on the green, hitting five birdies in a row against Zach Johnson and Jason Dufner alongside Rory McIlroy in the fourballs. Of the 12 points on offer on the last day’s play, Europe won eight and a half of them. Incidentally, the Americans managed to do the same in Brookline 13 years prior.