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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Ryder Cup: A competition with decades of drama

The 1933 leaderboard at Southport and Ainsdale Golf Club in England.

By Michael Arkush

Nothing is at stake — no prize money, individual titles or world ranking points — for the 24 players who will participate in the 2023 Ryder Cup, which begins Friday at Marco Simone Golf & Country Club in Rome.

Nothing and everything.

The members of Team Europe and the United States will play for something bigger and as we’ve seen, in recent decades especially, the biennial three-day match-play competition, which began in 1927, is bound to generate memories.

Here, in chronological order, are 10 Ryder Cups that stand out.

1933, Southport and Ainsdale Golf Club, England

The course in Southport was packed with about 15,000 spectators, and they weren’t cheated.

The outcome came down to the final hole of the singles match between Syd Easterbrook of England and Denny Shute of the United States. With their match even, both players faced par putts of roughly 30 feet.

Easterbook, who went first, missed his attempt. All Shute had to do was two-putt, and the U.S. would retain the Cup.

Shute knocked his putt 4 feet by the hole and missed the next one, too, handing the victory to the British team. The rest of Europe wouldn’t be included in the Ryder Cup until 1979.

1949, Ganton Golf Club, England

The Americans had the great Ben Hogan on their side, but as the captain, not as a player.

Hogan was still recovering from a car accident that would keep him on the sidelines until 1950. Also unable to play was Cary Middlecoff, the U.S. Open champion who wasn’t a member of the PGA of America.

Even so, the U.S., because it captured six of the eight singles matches, rallied from 2 points down to win the Ryder Cup for the fourth time in a row at the course in northeast England. Major champions Sam Snead, Jimmy Demaret and Lloyd Mangrum were among the winners

1969, Royal Birkdale Golf Club, England

There wasn’t any one shot that makes this year so memorable.

It was, rather, a gesture of sportsmanship.

It came from Jack Nicklaus on the final hole of his singles match versus Tony Jacklin at the course near Manchester. Nicklaus picked up Jacklin’s ball mark to concede a 2-foot putt that left their match, and the overall competition, all square. The U.S., because it was the defending champion, retained the Cup.

“Here he was, the (British) Open champion, the new hero, and all of a sudden it felt like if he missed this putt he would be criticized forever,” Nicklaus later said. “This all went through my mind in a very, very quick period of time, and I said, ‘I’m not going to give Tony Jacklin the opportunity to miss it.’ ”

1983, PGA National, United States

One sensational shot was hit by young Spaniard Seve Ballesteros; the other by an American, Lanny Wadkins at the course in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida.

From a fairway bunker 240 yards away on the par-5 18th hole, Ballesteros sent the ball to the fringe of the green, and from there he was able to get a par and halve his match with Fuzzy Zoeller.

Wadkins knocked the ball from 60 yards away to within a foot on the 18th hole to then halve his match with José María Cañizares and clinch a 1-point victory for the U.S.

1985, the Belfry, England

With Jacklin as the captain, Team Europe captured the Ryder Cup on this course near Birmingham for the first time since 1957. The period of American dominance was over.

Two players from Spain, Ballesteros and Manuel Piñero, were outstanding. Piñero won 4 points for the Europeans, while Ballesteros, one of the game’s brightest stars then, collected 3 1/2 points.

Craig Stadler, a former Masters champion, also played well, though he missed a short putt Saturday morning that cost the United States an important half point. Team Europe went on to win three of the four afternoon foursome matches to take a 9-7 lead into Sunday.

1987, Muirfield Village Golf Club, United States

For the first time, the United States lost on its own soil. The final: 15-13.

The Americans had been 13-0 at home before coming up short on the course near Columbus, Ohio, that was designed by Nicklaus, the U.S. captain. Down by 5 points, the U.S. team rallied in the singles, but the deficit was too large.

Ballesteros was in top form again for the Europeans, earning 4 points in five matches. Contributing with 3 1/2 points apiece were Nick Faldo, Bernhard Langer and Ian Woosnam; Sandy Lyle and José María Olazábal won 3 points.

On the other side, Ben Crenshaw was 0-3, while Tom Kite and Hal Sutton were the only Americans with 3 points.

1991, Kiawah Island Golf Resort, United States

In the end, it came down to one putt at the Ocean Course in South Carolina.

The putt was from 6 feet away, and if Langer were to knock it in, he would win his match over the three-time U.S. Open champion Hale Irwin, and Team Europe would keep the Cup.

If he were to miss, the U.S. would take possession for the first time since 1983. It is difficult to imagine a player feeling more pressure. Even in a major tournament.

Langer missed, and the Europeans returned the Cup to the Americans, not winning it back until 1995.

1999, the Country Club, United States

Trailing by 4 points entering the singles matches on the final day, the U.S. captain, Crenshaw, still believed in his team.

With good reason.

The Americans picked up 8 1/2 points on Sunday to edge Team Europe by 1. Among those who came through with big victories were Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Davis Love III and David Duval.

The event, held just outside Boston, also provided its share of controversy with the U.S. players rushing onto the 17th green after Justin Leonard made a birdie putt from 45 feet. The match, and the competition itself, however, wasn’t over just yet. Olazábal faced a birdie putt of his own that would have kept the players all square heading to 18. He missed.

2010, Celtic Manor Resort, Wales

As it did in 1991, the Ryder Cup, staged for the first time in Wales, came down to the final singles match, with Europe’s Graeme McDowell squaring off against Hunter Mahan of the United States.

After knocking in a 15-foot birdie at the 16th hole to go two up, McDowell prevailed when Mahan struggled on 17.

The Europeans had a 3-point lead heading into the final day, but had to hang on as Woods, Mickelson, Steve Stricker, Dustin Johnson, Jeff Overton and Zach Johnson put full points on the board for the United States. Another key contributor was Rickie Fowler, who rallied to secure a half point against Edoardo Molinari.

2012, Medinah Country Club, United States

It felt a lot like 1999.

Only this time, it was Team Europe’s turn to come back from a 4-point deficit heading into the 12 singles matches Sunday, and on its opponent’s territory, no less.

With clutch victories on the course just outside Chicago by Justin Rose over Mickelson, Sergio Garcia over Jim Furyk, and Martin Kaymer over Steve Stricker, Europe outscored the United States 8 1/2-3 1/2 on the final day. Only Dustin Johnson, Zach Johnson and Jason Dufner won their matches for the U.S.

Kaymer of Germany clinched the victory with a 6-foot putt on the 18th green.

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