Five Best Ryder Cup Moments

(Let me start with a caveat: be careful. Let me also say that this is a very personal list – if you vehemently disagree with any of my selections please write to your MP.)

The most important thing in my life (family and friends excepted, of course, in case they were upset by that opening statement) is about to reappear from its biennial hibernation on Friday. For three glorious days it will shine brighter than any star and roar louder than any lion. This, my friends, is the 41st Ryder Cup.

Part of the process for me is to look back – get the juices flowing and the blood boiling. Without the history, the Ryder Cup becomes just another sporting occasion. With the history, it becomes just about the best bloody thing in the world! Come on!!!!!

5) K Club, Ireland, 2006

Of course, the centrepiece of this particular story is the return of Darren Clarke to action just months after the death of his wife Heather to cancer. The scenes of him walking to the first tee on the morning of Day 1, with caddie Billy Foster and partner Lee Westwood welling up beside him and a cacophony of noise from the home crowd, have become part of Ryder Cup folklore.

Clarke himself was resolute, smelting his drive down the middle, pitching close and rolling his putt in to go one up. He went on to win all three of his matches, and only after defeating Zach Johnson in the Sunday singles did the emotion catch up with the big man. His tears were shared around the continent.

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4) Valhalla, USA, 2008

A surprise choice as we were soundly beaten, but I choose this both as light relief amongst the nerve-shredding encounters elsewhere, and also a prime example of how the special brand of English humour can be enjoyed on both sides of the Atlantic.

Europe had chosen one-time golfing legend and now self-caricatured clown Nick Faldo as team captain. At the opening ceremony, Faldo lightened proceedings by suggesting that two of his players would be a hit with the ladies, that Padraig Harrington had hit more balls in practice than Ireland had planted potatoes, and then forgetting the name of another of his own players.

Combining the comedy styles of icons as diverse as Leslie Nielsen and Norman Wisdom can be a tricky act to pull off, but Nick managed it with inept aplomb, completing his agonisingly awkward speech with a wave halfway between a finger-point and a salute that ended up looking like he was planting a ‘Loser’ sign on himself. How prophetic.

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3) Oak Hill, USA, 1995

The three Jacklin victories in the late-eighties were beginning to look an anomaly when we excruciatingly lost the infamous War On The Shore in 1991, and then took a good spanking back at The Belfry in 1993, but this epic battle finally cemented the Ryder Cup in the minds of the sport-loving public. That we did it in New York after overturning an overnight deficit made it all the more remarkable. That we did it with Sunday victories from unheralded heroes such as Gilford and Walton made it all the more astonishing.

Most matches were nail-bitingly close that afternoon (or evening, as it was for me, ensconced in The Swan with hundreds of best buddies I’d never met before the Friday). The result hung on a knife-edge, with the last eight matches out on the course separated by at most two holes and the Americans maintaining their two point overnight advantage.

The previously maligned Faldo was superb in getting up and down at the 18th to win his point, but in the end it all came down to whether journeyman Philip Walton could hold on in the vital match going down the last hole. In the end a bogey was good enough and we won the Ryder Cup back by the narrowest of margins. The Swan erupted (not literally).

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2) Medinah, USA, 2012

If I were selecting the Five Best Ryder Cups, or simply even the Five Best Sporting Occasions Of All Time, Medinah would clearly be number 1. Many of us have tried to summarise the events of that Sunday, but the words can only seem hollow compared to the real thing. It shall forever escape the artifice of précis and live truly only in the minds of the people fortunate enough to witness it live, even if from a sofa 4,000 miles away.

Selecting one moment is ambitious, but I am drawn to the latter stages of the day before the sublime finale, Europe trailing 10-4 with only two matches left on the course. Somehow Garcia and Donald fashion a victory, and then it is left to McIlroy and Poulter in the final fourballs match to salvage just a glimmer of hope.

Ian Poulter somehow embodies the Ryder Cup more than anybody I’ve seen, bar the chap below. Others have scored more points, others have swung the club better, yet (to use his phrase) he delivers the results. Five birdies over the final five holes secured the win to leave us just four points adrift going into the singles and the rest, as they say, is ludicrous.

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1) Brookline, USA, 1999

Those that know me might think this an extraordinary choice for a man who was ready to board a plane on that Sunday night, fly to Boston and single-handedly sort out the boorish American galleries that had ruined, and ultimately prevented, what should have been a glorious European victory on foreign soil.

Over the years I’ve struggled to justify my almost embarrassing respect for this man to my family and friends, who look at me with a mixture of concern and faint disgust when I wax lyrical about the greatest Ryder Cup player ever, but if I had to pinpoint the beginnings of my infatuation it would be this moment from early in the Sunday singles matches.

Already the scoreboard is an alarming glut of red, with the top six matches unravelling and the already vocal and partisan crowd elevating to a xenophobic hysteria. Up steps Colin Montgomerie.

The burly Scot had already come in for a fair amount of stick on the first two days, and the beginning of his match against Payne Stewart brought even more personal and vitriolic insults, such that his father who was following the match could stand it no longer and had to walk away. On the 8th tee as he prepared to drive, a lout shouted out one further obscenity and Monty had him thrown off the course, finishing with the brilliant “Anyone else says it, they go as well!”

I know the hurling of vitriol is commonplace in many other sports, but in the slow pace of golf it has time to fester, and you cannot kick an opponent to relieve the frustration and aggression. A lesser man would have pretended not to hear it, ignored the chiding, attempted to remain ‘in the zone’, but Monty tackled it head on. And won. As his team fell into disarray around him he held the line, held his nerve, and gave it back to the yobs in the only way he could – by showing he would not be beaten by it.

On the 18th green, with the Ryder Cup already lost to the well-documented antics of Justin Leonard and company on the 17th green, Payne Stewart (one of the few decent Americans to realise what was going on around them) conceded the match. Europe had lost, but I believe The Lord Monty’s defiance on that most unseemly of days gained the higher ground that sowed the seed for victories in six of the next seven renewals. Without Him, the Miracle at Medinah may never have happened.

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