For more than 90 years, the Ryder Cup has delivered countless memorable moments. Some of those moments have been tinged with elation, others with agony, but the bottom line is that they were unforgettable. Here are the 10 greatest Ryder Cup moments of all.
10. Welcome to the Party (1979)
During the 1977 Ryder Cup at Royal Lytham & St. Annes, Jack Nicklaus met with Lord Derby, president of the British PGA, for a frank conversation on how to make the matches more competitive. “The crux of my argument,” Nicklaus wrote in his autobiography, My Story, “could be summed up in the sentence: ‘It is vital to widen the selection procedures if the Ryder Cup is to enjoy its past prestige.’”
Nine months later, players from Continental Europe were invited to play in the Ryder Cup, alongside their counterparts from Great Britain and Ireland. Seve Ballesteros wasn’t at his best during his debut at The Greenbrier, but his continued participation through the years helped transform the Ryder Cup into the greatest spectacle in golf.
9. McGinley Makes a Splash (2002)
Postponed for a year due to the 9/11 tragedy, the Ryder Cup returned to The Belfry with exactly the same cast of players who were scheduled to compete in 2001. Tied 8–8 after two days, Europe claimed the Cup by dominating the singles, losing just two of the 12 matches to the Americans. The unlikely hero was rookie Paul McGinley. He didn’t win a single match, but when he knocked down a 10-foot par putt at the 18th to halve with Jim Furyk, who had nearly holed a bunker shot a minute earlier, he clinched the Cup for Europe. It was sink and swim for the Irishman, who joyously leaped into the greenside lake moments after sinking his Cup-winning putt.
8. A Very Deserving Darren (2006)
The United States team boasted the three top-ranked players in the world in 2006—Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, and Jim Furyk. Europe countered with 24th-ranked crowd favorite, Darren Clarke—and an emotional support system that wouldn’t let him fail.
Clarke’s wife, Heather, had succumbed to cancer at age 39 just five weeks prior to the Ryder Cup. Offered a captain’s pick by Ian Woosnam, Clarke turned grief into therapy. A huge ovation greeted Clarke and partner Lee Westwood on the first tee at The K Club in the first Ryder Cup match on Irish soil. Clarke responded by hammering his drive 300 yards down the middle and making birdie. He and Westwood won their fourballs on Friday and Saturday and Clarke downed Zach Johnson 3&2 in the singles to finish 3–0–0. After Europe crushed the United States 18 ½ to 9 ½, Woosie dedicated the Ryder Cup to Heather. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house.
7. Captain America and the Roars with Rors (2016)
Even with conditions that were ripe for scoring at Minnesota’s Hazeltine National, no one anticipated the explosion of red numbers that burst from the opening singles match between “Captain America,” 2014 Ryder Cup stalwart Patrick Reed, and Europe’s best, Rory McIlroy. The quality of golf and sustained drama they produced was unprecedented.
After Reed buried a 20-footer for par at the 1st and McIlroy matched with a sand save, things cooled a bit, until the 5th hole. Rors was 1 up, made birdie—and lost the hole; Reed drove the green and knocked in the eight-foot eagle putt. They both birded 6. They both birdied 7. At the 8th, Rory knocked down a 40-foot birdie putt from the front of the green. Reed responded with a 25-footer to tie. Roars and screams boomed from the gallery, smiles and fist bumps passed between the competitors. Even they were aware they were doing something historic.
Down the stretch, Reed got up and down from the sand at the 16th for birdie to go 2 up. McIlroy grabbed the 17th, but that’s as close as he got. Reed rammed home a 10-foot birdie at the last for a 1-up win. It was magic.
6. Sam Ends the Drought (1985)
It had been 28 years since the United States had tasted defeat in the Ryder Cup, so for nearly three decades, it wasn’t exactly a suspenseful competition. Following a close call in 1983, Europe finally broke through on home soil at The Belfry, with popular Sam Torrance personally stopping the streak. Needing only three putts to topple reigning U.S. Open champ Andy North, Sam took just one. He poured in his 18-foot birdie try and raised his arms skyward. As the Champagne flowed, both on the green and in the clubhouse, winning captain Tony Jacklin was lifted onto Torrance’s shoulders—with the monkey now off both of their backs.
5. Poulter’s Putter Fuels the Miracle at Medinah (2012)
Trailing 10–4 on Day 2, and with captain’s pick Ian Poulter and partner Rory McIlroy two holes down with six to play to Jason Dufner and Zach Johnson in the Saturday afternoon fourballs, things looked grim for Europe. That’s when Poulter went wild. He birdied each of the last five holes, including a match-winning 10-footer at the 18th. “We have a pulse,” said Poulter. Europe would need to win eight of the 12 Sunday singles matches to retain the Ryder Cup with a tie and required 8.5 points to win the match outright, an almost unimaginable feat.
Call it “the Miracle at Medinah” if you were rooting for Europe, or the “Meltdown at Medinah” if you were cheering on America, but the unthinkable happened. Second out in singles, Poulter downed Webb Simpson 2 up, part of a run of five straight Euro singles victories to start the day. In Match 11, Martin Kaymer shut the door on the U.S. with a five-foot putt to beat Steve Stricker and the stunning comeback was complete. But credit the hyper-intense Poulter, who went 4–0–0 (every other European lost at least twice, except Kaymer, who went 1–1–0) for leading the charge.
4. Seve’s Rainbow (1983)
With Europe and the U.S. knotted at 8, Day 3 opened with fireworks. On the 18th hole of the first match, Seve Ballesteros conjured up a 245-yard, left-to-right curving 3-wood from out of a steep-lipped fairway bunker that finished on the greenside fringe, earning him a half with Fuzzy Zoeller. Nicklaus and Zoeller both called Seve’s rainbow the finest shot each had ever seen. It took nearly an equally memorable 60-yard wedge into the wind by Lanny Wadkins to gimme range at the final hole to close out the stubborn Europeans.
3. Gentleman Jack and the Concession (1969)
Perhaps the ultimate expression of sportsmanship in golf took place on September 20, 1969. Great Britain hadn’t sniffed a Ryder Cup victory in 12 years, but on the home turf of Royal Birkdale, they battled to the last hole of the match, tied. British hero Tony Jacklin putted first, nervously leaving his 30-footer two-and-a-half feet short, then watched as Jack Nicklaus rammed his potential Cup-clinching 20-footer four feet past the hole. Nicklaus’s Ryder Cup debut had been spotty, but he nailed the comebacker.
Before the tension could rebuild, Jack plucked his ball from the cup, then scooped up Jacklin’s ball marker, conceding the putt and halving the Ryder Cup. The two embraced as they exited the stage. “I don’t think you would have missed that, Tony,” Nicklaus said, “but under those circumstances I’d never give you the opportunity.” Class act.
2. Bernhard Langer Ends the War by the Shore (1991)
It was simple. One putt would settle the 1991 Ryder Cup. If it dropped, Europe would retain the Cup. A miss and it belonged to the U.S. Out-of-control emotions had already dominated this Ryder Cup. Post-Gulf War patriotism permeated the grounds. The wind-blown, Pete Dye-designed Ocean Course at South Carolina’s Kiawah Island Golf Resort had further frayed nerves. There had been a whole lotta chokin’ going on, notably when Mark Calcavecchia squandered a 4-up lead with four to play.
It finally came down to veterans Hale Irwin and Bernhard Langer. “The pressure was so great,” said Irwin. “I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t swallow.” He limped home with a conceded bogey. After Langer’s 45-foot birdie try burned the edge, he faced a six-foot comebacker. “My caddie said to hit it left-center and firm to avoid the spike marks,” said Langer. His putt rolled straight for the hole—and barely missed to the right. Langer stiffened and grimaced in agony. Bedlam reigned. It was cease-fire at the War by the Shore.
1. Justin Leonard Rattles Brookline (1999)
After two days of the 1999 Ryder Cup at historic Brookline (a.k.a. The Country Club), the U.S. trailed Europe 10–6. No team in history had ever come back from more than a two-point deficit. Yet, Captain Ben Crenshaw told the media, “I’m a big believer in fate. I have a good feeling about this.”
Following six straight U.S. singles triumphs, it came down to the famous 17th, where young Francis Ouimet had holed two clutch putts to beat the Brits in 1913. From 45 feet below the hole, Justin Leonard rapped his putt, which climbed a ridge—and beelined to the back of the cup. Birdie! Pandemonium. Players, wives, and caddies ran amok. Chants of “Justin, Justin” and “U-S-A, U-S-A” rang out. Leonard’s bomb had clinched the Cup—or had it? Actually, once the dance floor cleared, Jose Maria Olazabal faced a 25-footer to keep Europe’s hopes alive. It was tough for Olazabal to focus after the premature celebration. He missed. Game over.
What are your favorite Ryder Cup moments?