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Ryder Cup Review

Imagine Golf Club's Dermot Gilleece compares the latest Ryder Cup win for Europe with great editions of the competition's past

Posted Oct 05, 2010 by Dermot Gilleece

ryder cup europe

They're calling it the best Ryder Cup ever, but I'm afraid I have to disagree. Sure, the climactic stage on Monday was heart-stopping for its stunning fluctuations and almost unbearable tension.  When the excitement has died down a little, however, enthusiastic European observers may be able to view the 38th staging of this biennial showpiece in a more objective light.

For a start, it didn't end with the last putt of the last match on the last hole, as happened at Kiawah Island in 1991 when Bernhard Langer had the misfortune to miss a five-footer which would have kept the trophy in Europe.  And in terms of pure sportsmanship, it hardly compared with the 1969 staging when Jack Nicklaus famously conceded a two-foot putt to Tony Jacklin, knowing it was going to force the US to settle for a tie.

When we look to events which actually shaped the tournament as we now know it, none can compare with the stagings of 1985 and 1987.  The first of these, at The Belfry in mid-September, marked the breakthrough triumph for Europe, who had come together as a continental unit only six years previously.

Memories remain vivid of the seventh match in the singles order where Sam Torrance gained the honour of securing the winning point against US Open champion, Andy North.  Tears flowed freely down the Scotsman's face in his moment of triumph, especially when he received a great congratulatory hug from his father, Bob, who is now Padraig Harrington's coach.

Two years later at Muirfield Village, Columbus, Ohio, Seve Ballesteros got the point which ensured that the US were beaten for the first time on home soil since the tournament was instituted 60 years previously.  The Spaniard's 2 and 1 victory over Curtis Strange decided the issue by 15-13 in Europe's favour, even though many people in this part of the world like to think the honour went to Eamonn Darcy, who sank a crucial five-footer on the 18th to beat Ben Crenshaw.

In those precious moments in conservative America, Europe finally shook off years of inferiority which had crippled their ambitions not only at team but at individual level.  From then on, they would meet the Americans on equal terms, sure in the knowledge that they now had players capable of taking on the best the old adversary could put in against them.

No US captain would ever again be able to do what Ben Hogan did in Houston in 1967, when he introduced his team at the opening ceremony as "the best players in the world."  The outcome of future matches would depend on how players performed on the day, not on the basis of preconceived competitive skills.

As I say, Monday at Celtic Manor was a wonderful spectacle.  But it must also be acknowledged that it followed the most fragmented series of pairs matches in the history of the event.  Because of horrendous weather, we had a situation, for instance, where it took 27 hours to complete the first series of fourballs. Then, in a desperate attempt at ending the event within the stipulated three days, the three remaining pairs series were re-formatted into two.

All of which meant that there was no real shape on the challenge of either team until Sunday evening.  It was only then that fans on this side of the pond could grasp the reality of Europe's dominance going into the 12 singles.  It also has to be said that never before in Ryder Cup history have fans had to endure so much discomfort in support of their heroes.  Indeed when the trophy was eventually being presented to European skipper, Colin Montgomerie, they should also have handed out medals to the wonderful supporters from both sides of the Atlantic.

As for the actual winning point: the performance of McDowell under the most extreme pressure, demonstrated the very special qualities required to capture a major championship.  Montgomerie placed him in the anchor position because of what he did at Pebble Beach last June in becoming the first European since 1970 to capture the US Open.  Nobody knew better than the Scot, so often a nearly-man at that level, the steel that went into that achievement.                

He knew of the ability to compete on a different level from the average, accomplished practitioner.  The hapless Hunter Mahan, now understands that self same truth.

- Dermot Gilleece

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