KIAWAH ISLAND, S.C. -- America liberated itself from the binds of international golfing mediocrity and for the first time in the last four tries has won the Ryder Cup, which suddenly has a new-found glory attached to it after what used to be regarded as an uninspiring ho-hum event.
For pulsating dramatics, it more than fulfilled the most imaginative of storied conclusions as the competition went to the last putt on the final hole. And right there America won by 14 1/2 to 13 1/2 as Bernhard Langer of the European team missed a 5-foot putt that produced penetrating pain and left the U.S. players in a state of ecstasy as they sprayed champagne over each other in a jubilant celebration.
It takes away from the pure thrill of victory to see a team or individual come up short by making an error instead of dropping the winning stroke in a make-or-break situation as that which Langer addressed. But the Yankee Doodle Dandies were so pleased to gain the deciding edge they weren't about to complain.
"It's a feeling of joy," Paul Azinger said. "But it's also a feeling of relief. There was a tremendous pressure on our team, but we came through."
Langer may have been overly gracious in conceding a "miss-able" putt to Hale Irwin on the 18th instead of asking him to face the same pressurized reality he was trying to handle. It was a grand sporting gesture, which is what golf is supposed to represent, but he then failed to hole his own putt and it was all over in a wave of bedlam.
"I read the putt left lip, but there were two spike marks between the ball and the hole on that line," Langer said. "My caddy suggested I hit it left-center firmly, and that's what I did. And that's why I missed."
If there was any detracting element that made itself evident over the three-day tournament, it was the way the participants and their demonstrative partisans turned it into some kind of an international shootout, or us-against-them confrontation.
The American flag was held high by spectators on the sands of this barrier island located in the low country, 35 miles from old and historic Charleston. But hold on. After all, this wasn't Guadalcanal or war heroes the crowd was proclaiming.
It was merely a golf match between professionals from Europe and America. The nationalism and flag-waving was never intended when the idea was originated in 1927 but it has evolved into this. Some citizens were wearing slogans on their shirts and caps that read: "The Ryder Cup Belongs In The USA," which is about as presumptuous as you can get.
European tourists were somewhat more subdued. They wore sweaters that carried the message, "Good Luck To Bernard's Boys," referring to Bernard Gallacher, who captained the visiting team. A nice enthusiastic touch that was in good taste, as opposed to the home forces.
On opening day, the U.S. duo of Azinger and Chip Beck switched to a different compression ball during the round, which a rules violation, but got away with it because their rivals didn't call them on the infraction until it was two holes too late.
Winning the Ryder became an obsession to the Yanks and also their adherents. Liz Kahn, a golf writer for the London Mail, said she saw a heron overhead and was surprised to see no one had sprayed it with red, white and blue paint.
The British contingent had to be happy they brought along the Spanish connection, Seve Ballesteros and Jose Marie Olazabal. Actually, the format was changed in 1979 from a Great Britain vs. America contest to taking in all of Europe.
Ballesteros and Olazabal kept the Europeans in the game and were far more productive than the overall disappointing Nick Faldo and Ian Woosnam. The strength of the U.S. outfit, conversely, was the well-balanced distribution of talent throughout its lineup, plus the excellence contributed in particular by Payne Stewart, Lanny Wadkins, Fred Couples and Azinger.
Crowds of 25,000 or so gathered and saw an awesome course constructed by Pete Dye that measures 7,303 yards.
Overall, it was an entertaining show. But there's a chance the Ryder Cup is being taken out of intended context, which is unfortunate and could spoil the pleasurable aspects. After all, it's not intended as a playback of the Revolutionary War, where they used bayonets and guns rather than golf ball and clubs.