Top 10 Moments of Past Ryder Cup Tournaments

Since first being played in 1927, the Ryder Cup has presented the world with plenty of memorable moments. It’s seen intense rivalries, seemingly impossible shots and lots of personality from the players. To honor these players and their performances, here are our top ten favorite moments in Ryder Cup history:

1. Jack Nicklaus Concession – Royal Birkdale, 1969

Jack Nicklaus & Tony Jacklin, 1969 Ryder Cup ,image:  edition.cnn.com

Jack Nicklaus & Tony Jacklin, 1969 Ryder Cup ,image: edition.cnn.com

In the days when the United States dominated the Ryder Cup, the 1969 edition was decided when Jack Nicklaus sportingly conceded a 6-foot putt to Tony Jacklin. This magnanimous suggestion ensured that match was tied, much to the chagrin of his fellow American teammates. Up until the call, both sides had demonstrated ungentlemanly gamesmanship, causing ugly tensions to build. Therefore, Nicklaus’s call is especially valiant as he strove to mend relations between the two factions.

2. Ian Poulter’s Comeback – Chicago, 2012

Ian Poulter, 2012 Ryder Cup, image: espn.co.uk

Ian Poulter, 2012 Ryder Cup, image: espn.co.uk

From the onset of the 2012 Ryder Cup, it seemed like the Americans were a sure thing. However, Europe would stage a vivid comeback from no less than 10-4 down to ultimately win the 2012 Ryder Cup. But the performance of Ian Poulter, making no less than five consecutive birdies with his Titleist golf balls, enabled him and Rory McIlroy to beat Zach Johnson and Jason Dufner. This will go down in history as one of the competition’s outstanding individual performances.

3. The US are Finally Beaten – The Belfry, 1985

The Belfry, 1985 Ryder Cup, image: skysports.com

The Belfry, 1985 Ryder Cup, image: skysports.com

The United States experienced thirty straight years of Ryder Cup wins, bringing into question whether the competition was even worth holding. However, come 1985, traditions were defied and the Europeans came out on top. Sam Torrance holed the winning putt to beat Andy North, and proceeded to break into a flood of tears, reflecting the sentiments experienced by many individuals east of the Atlantic. Knowing that there was no longer a “sure thing” for the Ryder Cup, making the match all the more thrilling.

4. Langer’s Missed Putt, Kiawah Island, 1991

Bernard Langer, 1991 Ryder Cup, image: golf.com

Bernard Langer, 1991 Ryder Cup, image: golf.com

Of all Ryder Cup competitions, the 1991 event at Kiawah Island featured the twitchiest finish that many found excruciating to witness. Bernhard Langer was left with a 6-foot putt to halve his match with Hale Irwin and retain the trophy for the European team; to the joy of the Americans, the golf ball infamously slid right past the hole.

5. Boo Weekley Rides his Driver – Valhalla, 2008

Boo Weekley, 2008 Ryder Cup, image: pga.com

Boo Weekley, 2008 Ryder Cup, image: pga.com

Boo Weekley may have faded into obscurity somewhat since his run in 2008, but he remains of one of the most charismatic and eccentric characters to have represented either the USA or Europe. The image of Weekley pretending to ride his Cleveland golf club in the US triumph at Valhalla remains one of the Ryder Cup’s most enduring images.

6. Justin Leonard’s Monster Putt – Brookline Country Club, 1999

Justin Leonard, 1999 Ryder Cup, image: golf.com

Justin Leonard, 1999 Ryder Cup, image: golf.com

In 1999, circumstances looked bleak for the American team as the Ryder Cup carried on. However, the tides turned when Justin Leonard stepped up to swing. He amazed everyone with an incredible 45-foot putt on the 17th hole at Brookline. This astonishing fete of athleticism positioned his team for a shocking comeback for victory.

7. Payne Stewart Concession – Brookline Country Club, 1999

Payne Stewart & Colin Montgomerie, 1999 Ryder Cup, image: themajorsofgolf.com

Payne Stewart & Colin Montgomerie, 1999 Ryder Cup, image: themajorsofgolf.com

In a poignant moment, the now-deceased Payne Stewart conceded his singles match to Colin Montgomerie, who had been enduring rather a torrid time from the crowd. Stewart is sadly missed by golf fans and is remembered for his gentlemanly sportsmanship.

8. First Europe Overseas Victory – Muirfield Village, 1987

Muirfield Village, 1987 Ryder Cup, image: edition.cnn.com

Muirfield Village, 1987 Ryder Cup, image: edition.cnn.com

With a surge of great players in the 1980s, Europe began to turn around the American domination of the Ryder Cup. A major milestone in their upward trajectory was when they claimed their first overseas win in the Ryder Cup at Muirfield Village in 1987. To add insult to injury, the Americans lost on a golf course that had been personally designed by captain Jack Nicklaus.

9. Seve Ballesteros Does the Impossible – Palm Beach Gardens, 1983

Seve Ballesteros, 1983 Ryder Cup, image: pga.com

Seve Ballesteros, 1983 Ryder Cup, image: pga.com

Any golfer, pro or amateur, has had that feeling of landing in a bunker and having that feeling of dread and doom fill one’s gut. However, Seve Ballesteros calmly navigated a seemingly impossible situation; a harrowing 245 yards from the green, the Spaniard calmly used his wood to bounce the ball out of the sand pit and curved it 50 yards to skillfully evade the water and put himself back in the running. Spectators reacted with shocked silence and nervous laughter, as viewing this incredible shot was truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience that was hard to believe.

10. Darren Clarke’s Bittersweet Win – K Club, 2006

Darren Clarke, 2006 Ryder Cup, image: dailymail.co.uk

Darren Clarke, 2006 Ryder Cup, image: dailymail.co.uk

With his wife having passed away due to cancer shortly before the 2006 event, the participation of Darren Clarke was far from certain. But Clarke accepted captain Ian Woosnam’s wildcard pick, and was the figurehead of a very comfortable 18½-9½ victory for the European team. Clarke’s tears on the 16th green as he secured a singles win have gone down in Ryder Cup folklore.

Brad Pecot

Director of Marketing, Golfballs.com

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5 Responses

  1. Excellent choices I’d say there Brad. Interestingly both the US and Europe have polled this list recently. The US I believe made the Leonard putt their most memorable and the Nicklaus gesture at Birkdale second (a rank order that possibly reveals an insight of sorts). There is a body of opinion in Europe that Olazabal should have picked his ball up and claimed two shots for outside interference after Ben Crenshaw had led his invasion of the green and trampled the line. On the same theme, I’m in two minds about the Stewart gesture. It says much that Payne was even in a position where he felt he needed to do this. Mind you, we perhaps also need to remember that Payne had inflammed the situation earlier in the week by suggesting that the European players weren’t good enough to caddy for the American’s (albeit I think it was a clumsy back handed complement that went wrong myself). On the posiitve side though, both Brookline and Kiawah have been used for three generations now by Europe to summon up the motivation needed to rise to what America represents to them. Kiawah in particular is etched in Europe’s golfing DNA, albeit many say that the behaviour was worse in 1999. I wouldn’t overlook the fact that Gleneagles in 2014 marks the first direct break with Kiawah (the first time a veteran of the match isn’t playing or captaining Europe). Look at the record of those who subsequently went on to do so. Six of eight won. Only Paul Azinger captained a win from the US team, but he never won a single outright point again as a player post 1991.

    Returning to the European poll, they made the Nicklaus gesture their single ‘best’ moment, and chose not even to acknowledge Kiawah as being worthy of a top-10 nomination. For me, Kiawah represented the best and the worst of Ryder Cup in one. On balance I’d nominate it as the best match. Although America called it the ‘war on the shore’ I think history perhaps should retitle it the ‘battle of the beach’. America won the battle, but have since lost the war, as a motivated Europe have reeled off a sequence since, which was only reinforced by Brookline. Don’t under-estimate the contribution made by both, I’ll promise you they’re very real and remembered. To some extent Azinger got paid back at St Andrews when he capitulated in the Open and lost in tears to Faldo. We had to wait until 2010 for Corey Pavin to cry on us though when he got paid back at Celtic Manor

  2. Brad Pecot says:

    Thank you for your well thought out comment! For me, #2 on our Top 10 resonates the most. Hearing the stories of how Michael Jordan was trying to intimidate Ian Poulter in-between the ropes was great. What made it even better was how Ian Poulter took it as challenge, didn’t back down, and preceded to give it right back to him and ultimately tasted victory. I think we’ll both agree that through the years, we’ve witnessed the best and worst in sportsmanship on the course but there is truly nothing else quite like the Ryder Cup for a golfer to get emotionally engaged in!

  3. The behaviour of Michael Jordan is the latest for sure, but targetting Ian Poulter? He’s just about the last person you should look to treat like that. Best thing to do with Poulter is ignore him, or offer polite and muted applause (he’d hate it). He needs to be the centre of attention and thrives wearing the black hat, so the answer is not to hand it to him. I’d be curious actually to see what the American response would be if Europe wheeled Lennox Lewis out of retirement and tasked with the job of jabbing his finger into Phil Mickelsons chest? Something tells me we’d be seeing pages and pages in cybersapce about it, not to mention mainstream news casts? For the most part America’s response to Jordan’s antics (and that’s what they were) has been pretty muted with some mild condemnation, but otherwsie the silence has been deafening.

    I do actually think it’s an issue that America needs to face up to as I’m often asked when ringing around the States about what it is that motivates Europe “how do you do it?”. The answer I most commonly give is “don’t overlook the impact that Kiawah and Brookline have had”.

    The United States is a sovereign country. Europe is a loose trading block driven by mutual suspicion and barely concealed loathing. We’ve only spent the best part of 10 centuries at war with one and other. We don’t have some magical motivational elixir. We rely on America to do it for us. This is what makes me smile when I see all these post mortems about venues, tactics, captains, failure to build a team, or selections. America doesn’t really want to face up perhaps to the role her galleries, players, media, and the PGA have played in motivating Europe

    Going forward, I think there’s going to be two major developments

    1: European teams will increasingly be composed of players who don’t carry historical baggage and who live and spend much more time in America. So long as the mistakes of the past aren’t repeated (and I suspect they’ll continue to be so in honesty) European fire will slowly start to subside

    2: European teams will start drawing on players from non-traditional countries. America doesn’t actually play Europe. What you play instead is GB and Ireland, plus Spain with Sweden. If these countries were omitted, then only 10 other players have managed to represent Europe. The Molinari family has produced more players than Italy. Germany has produced just two in 30+ years

    The equivalent would be asking America to draw a team exclusively from Texas, New York, Illinois and Maryland

    But here’s the twist. 75% of those European players ranked in the world’s top-100 under the age of 32, come from outside of the countries named. Luiten – Holland, Weisberger – Austria, Kaymer – Germany Dubuisson – France etc plus a whole host of others emerging

    The population of western Europe is bigger than the United States. As the game of golf expands across the continent and new countries embrace it, it stands to reason that the pool of potential talent will increase. The US won’t be able to rely on its traditional strength of numbers in the future to the same extent that it has done historically. Instead they’re going to have campaign differently and undertake training camps etc and adopt a whole lot more of a professional approach than they currently do. I suspect that within 10 years we’ll be looking back at this preparation and laughing at how amateur it was. Players turn up a week before, practise together, and then based on that, they decide on their tactics and pairings? Remember Tom tried to organise a team ‘scouting mission’ in July between Aberdeen (Scottish Open) and Hoylake. Twenty five players were invited, just Keegan Bradley and Jim Furyk turned up. Furyk had his best ever Open incidentally, and Bradley got a wildcard with Tom constantly referring to how impressed by Keegan’s attitude and desire he was.

  4. Brad Pecot says:

    Personally I think Americans would enjoy seeing Lennox in-between the ropes as, whether it be good or bad, Americans have become accustomed to trash talk and intimidation tactics in sporting events. Golf would just be added to the mix.

    I think time will prove you right in regards to your predictions – your reasons are definitely founded. Great insight!

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