America lost the Ryder Cup Sunday to a two-putt bogey.
America lost the Ryder Cup Sunday when a simple par on the last
hole by Curtis Strange, Brad Faxon or Jay Haas would have kept it.
America lost the Ryder Cup Sunday when a simple par by Strange
on any of the last three holes would have kept it. America lost
the Cup in a week in which Nick Faldo made two birdies, Seve
Ballesteros hit three fairways and the European captain forgot
that Ian Woosnam existed. And America lost the Cup with the No.
1 U.S. player on the PGA Tour money list, Lee Janzen, sitting on
his couch at home in Kissimmee, Fla.
It wasn't easy. It took a team effort. It bucked all the odds.
But somehow, someway, America lost the Ryder Cup Sunday at Oak
Hill Country Club in Rochester, N.Y., in the greatest
come-from-ahead pratfall since DEWEY DEFEATS TRUMAN.
Officially America lost the Cup when Ireland's Philip Walton, a
man many of the U.S. players had never even heard of, picked up
his ball on the 18th green, his six-inch putt having been
conceded by Haas, who, needing a 4 to win the hole and square
the match, still had a six-footer left for 5. That backed the
Cup into the laps of the Europeans, who won 14 1/2-13 1/2, for
their first victory in this biennial event since 1989.
Unofficially America may have lost the Cup six weeks ago, when
its Sta-Puf team was determined. Working with a group that
accumulated points based on Top 10 finishes on the PGA Tour and
in majors over the past 20 months, U.S. captain Lanny Wadkins
was stuck with a lot of guys who were wonderful at finishing a
strong fifth or grinding out a heroic ninth. Yet none of his
players had won a tournament since June, and four of them--Faxon,
Haas, Jeff Maggert and Strange--hadn't won a tournament since at
"I probably deserve what I'm gonna get now [from the press],"
said Strange, the more controversial of Wadkins's two captain's
picks (Fred Couples was the other). "No matter how bad you beat
me up, it's not gonna hurt as much as what I'm gonna do to
Perhaps not, but here goes: When Strange got to the hardest
miles--the last three holes against Europe's finest, Faldo, with
the Cup on the line--he staged his own Heimlich festival, making
three straight bogeys when one measly par would've been enough.
It was Bill Buckner letting three straight balls go through his
legs. It was Jackie Smith dropping three straight in the end
zone. It was unthinkable, not possible. And yet, it happened.
This was supposed to be an American anthem, a walkover, mostly
because Europe brought a cast that looked like it had been
starring in the West End about five years too long. It came with
its usual Fab Four--Ballesteros, Faldo, Bernhard Langer and
Woosnam--and a Volvo full of other guys named Mark and Per-Ulrik.
But somewhere along the way, the Fab Four had lost some of the
Fab. Ballesteros hadn't hit a fairway since the Berlin Wall
fell. Faldo hadn't had a top-20 finish in a major in '95. And
Woosie wasn't even on the team until Josa Maria Olazabal
withdrew in deference to his famous toe.
Better yet, America had rigged the whole thing. It had picked
one of its hardest courses, grown the rough higher than June
corn, cut a little footpath for fairways and dried out the
greens. The teams would play a U.S. Open and a Ryder Cup at the
same time. Let's see the Euros handle that.
For the first two days it went every bit as planned. The
Americans took to a rainy Friday and jumped to a 5-3 lead,
mostly by beating Europe's King and Kong, Faldo and Colin
Montgomerie, in the morning foursomes and the afternoon four ball.
Even after Costantino Rocca recorded the third ace in Ryder Cup
history, a five-iron at the 6th that ignited a Saturday morning
European rally that knotted the score at 6-6, the U.S. rebounded
to win three of the four afternoon matches, the last on Corey
Pavin's electrifying chip-in from above the slick 18th green,
which sank Langer and Faldo and turned a one-point U.S. lead
into two, 9-7.
Lord, the bleachers were still trembling from the "Cor-ey!
Cor-ey! Cor-ey!" that rained down from the throng that remained
around the 18th green as European captain Bernard Gallacher
entered the mostly empty lunchroom at Oak Hill. The world was
writing Gallacher off, and with good reason. No European team
since the Eisenhower Administration had come from behind on the
last day to win. Yet here was Gallacher pitching his dream again.
"We're still going to win," he was telling a Sky television
reporter. It was the same thing he had been saying for a month.
Sure. This from a guy who was 0-9 as a player and captain in
The Sky man wrapped up his cables, and NBC was asked if it
wanted to speak to Gallacher. It politely declined, and he
headed out into the freezing night, alone.
Even in the morning, even upon studying the Sunday singles
pairings, it seemed that Wadkins had won. Gallacher had put his
shlubs off first and last in hopes that Wadkins would waste a
Pavin or a Davis Love III on them. Instead, Wadkins did the same
as Gallacher, loading up his middle with his best players.
The problem was, nobody told the shlubs they were supposed to
lose. Howard Clark, who rode the bench for three of the first
four sessions, even went so far as to knock a six-iron in the
jar at the 11th hole to square his match with Peter Jacobsen.
And still a simple par-4 on the 16th would have halved the match
for Jacobsen, and the U.S. would have kept the Cup. Jacobsen
made a 5, unable to get down in two from some 65 feet.
So somebody else had to make a simple par at the 18th to halve a
match and give the U.S. a Cup-retaining 14-14 tie, but nobody
would. One by one they found their own banana peel to slip on.
One down to the unlikely British hero, bald and bespectacled
David Gilford, Faxon got a break. Gilford slammed a four-wood
over the green and off the bleachers and was looking at pure
jail. But Faxon hit a five-iron that hung up in the wind and
wound up short and in the bunker. Still, Gilford hit a terrible
pitch that didn't go 10 feet and stayed in the long rough
behind the green. Then he chipped that eight feet by. Faxon blew
his sand shot six feet above the hole, which is where you want
to be only if you're certifiable. Gilford made. Faxon missed.
Full point for Europe.
Next came Strange, who in his only previous action had lost a
match on both Friday and Saturday. Strange had been brought to
the Cup by his old Wake Forest buddy, Wadkins, because of
something he had done six years ago at Oak Hill, which was win
the U.S. Open. Unfortunately, that Strange is gone now, and a
guy who hasn't won since then keeps staring at him in the
mirror. Maybe it was sentiment that made Wadkins think magic had
no expiration date, but what could Strange do? "Hey, I haven't
asked for this," he said on Wednesday. "I didn't get a vote in
it." He didn't enlist. He was drafted.
But now, finally, he led Faldo one up with three of those skinny
fairways and hard greens left--greens he had specialized in
hitting his entire career.
Except that he fanned a six-iron right of the green at 16,
fanned another one right of 17 and left a three-iron short of 18
from the laser-middle of the fairway. And then Faldo, having to
punch out of the rough after his drive on 18, hit the most
delicate 90-yard wedge to four feet. Strange chipped seven feet
short and missed. Faldo stepped up to his four-footer, tried to
swallow the sweater his mouth was knitting ("Everything but my
putter was moving," he admitted) and knocked it home. If you're
scoring, Strange is now 6-12-2 in Ryder Cup matches.
Still, as Paul Azinger says of him, "the guy has enough hair on
his ass to make a ponytail," and Strange stepped up to every
question after the match. Most of them were brutal. "There's a
flaw in my swing," he said. "And I'm not sure how much longer
I'm gonna fight it."
Now it was up to Haas, but he was losing to Walton, one of
Gallacher's sacrificial lambs who didn't know his place. Walton
is a red-cheeked Dubliner who almost didn't make it to
Rochester. As it became apparent late this summer that two of
the Fab Four would not qualify on points, Europe's top players
lobbied to increase Gallacher's number of captain's picks from
two to at least three. Their demands fell on deaf ears, and
Walton played his way on as the 10th man.
And then he played his heart out against Haas. He slipped only
once, missing a four-footer for par at 17 that would have
clinched it. Still, Haas was one down going to the 18th tee. Cue
the music and run it again, Sam: Haas pops his drive up into the
trees left, punches out, spins a wedge off the front of the
green and chips six feet past. That left Walton to know forever
the happiness of needing an uphill two-putt from eight feet for
a bogey to win the Ryder Cup.
"Maybe the Americans know me now," peeped a delirious Walton,
draped in an Irish flag and about 50 rabid fans. "Tell 'em I'm
related to all those Waltons on that TV show."
And off he jogged into a drenching European party that nobody
expected--nobody except you-know-who.
"I can't tell you what this means to me," Gallacher said, his
tears spilling into his two glasses of champagne. "It's just ...
I can't." He had said all along he had the best players, and he
may have been right. Every European team member won a point.
It's funny, but some were saying that if the U.S. had walloped
the Euros as predicted, it would be the end of the great era of
Ryder Cup matches. With the Fab Four getting closer to their
gold-watch parties and not many stars on the way up, U.S. routs
were supposed to start piggybacking, and the Ryder Cup would
revert to a complicated dinner party with some golf thrown in
for effect. But with this result the U.S. leads 5-4 since Europe
joined the fray in 1979, and the next installment, in Spain in
'97, looks like it could be epic.
A long time ago a U.S. captain named Walter Hagen, a Rochester
native, lost the Ryder Cup on a dicey choice and tried to put it
all in perspective. "To lose in a game is not a national
calamity," he said. "This will act as a tonic all around.
America will prepare to win the cup back, while Britain ... will
go from strength to strength."
That was in 1929. Sixty-six years later the words Wadkins chose
as he addressed the huge crowd at the closing ceremonies sounded
just like Hagen's, in a Texan kind of way.
"Enjoy your time with this pretty little thing," Wadkins said,
clutching the Ryder Cup one last time. "'Cause two years from
now, we're comin' to get it."
COLOR PHOTO: JACQUELINE DUVOISIN In what proved to be the pivotal match, Strange had a big hill to climb at 18, but he wasn't up to it. [Curtis Strange]
COLOR PHOTO: BOB MARTIN Though he spent a lot of time scrambling, Faldo was rock solid when Europe needed him most. [Nick Faldo]
COLOR PHOTO: RICK STEWART/BOB MARTIN Rocca gave Woosie and the Europeans a lift, while Strange coped with conceding the Cup. [Costantino Rocca lifting Ian Woosnam]
COLOR PHOTO [see caption above--Curtis Strange covering his face with his hand]
"No matter how bad you beat me up, it's not gonna hurt as much
as what I'm gonna do to myself."