Ryder Cup: Golf's ultimate battle

September 21, 1993|By Ron Green | Ron Green,Charlotte Observer

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The Ryder Cup Matches -- USA vs. Europe at pasture pool -- will be played again this weekend at The Belfry in Sutton Coldfield, England. If you're going to watch it on TV, along with your popcorn you'll need a supply of sedatives or strong drink and a hankie or two. And maybe a flag to wave.

This is not the Greater Goshen Open. It's golf's ultimate battle, the most penetrating examination of a man and his game. Win a match, you get a point. Halve one, you get half a point. The past five of these biennial battles have been decided by a combined total of five points.

The Ryder Cup is three days of bases loaded, two out, last of the ninth in the World Series.

It's five rounds with no time left on the clock, a one-point margin and two free throws in the Final Four.

It's Indiana Jones, Richard Kimball, OO7.

It's "A Streetcar Named Desire," "La Boheme," "High Noon."

It's golf stripped of some of its traditional starchiness. It's golf played with the gritty intensity of a street fight. It's golf played to the sounds of European football songs and chants of "USA! USA!"

It is unrivaled in the game for emotion, drama and thrills. Nothing, not even a major championship, is as wrenching for the players as the Ryder Cup matches, because the players are playing for their countries, their teams and themselves. Of those, team is foremost. It's the only time they aren't playing only for themselves.

The pressure is brutal, which sometimes makes you wonder why these golfers, rich and famous, battle for two years to earn a berth on the team instead of taking the week off to go fishing. Mercenaries 51 weeks of the year, they don't get paid to play for the Ryder Cup, but they would swim the Atlantic to do it.

Lanny Wadkins, maybe the toughest guy in golf, cried for joy when the U.S. team beat the Europeans at Kiawah Island in 1991.

Fred Couples, ordinarily as emotional as a rock, teared up. So did Raymond Floyd, a veteran of more than three decades of tournament golf.

Mark Calcavecchia, smothering under the intense pressure, topped a tee shot into the water just as you and I might, and after choking away the last four holes to halve his match, retreated to his room and wept.

And in the last act, Germany's Bernhard Langer stood over a 3-foot putt that could salvage a tie for the Europeans if he could sink it to beat Hale Irwin.

David Feherty, one of the European players who had already finished, had stood beside the final green as the last two approached and said, "Golfers always dream of reaching the final hole with a chance to win a major championship, but nobody wants to be Irwin or Langer today."

Langer missed the little putt and as the Americans exploded in celebration, he walked off the green with tears in his eyes.

Later, Irwin said, "There is no way I would ever, ever, ever wish on anyone what happened on that last hole."

The Americans had won for the first time since 1983. For nearly three decades, the U.S. had dominated the matches but then the Yanks lost in 1985 and suddenly the world was interested again.

British captain Tony Jacklin turned the flame up under the rivalry with some hateful comments and then directed his side to two more victories. It got nasty. The Americans finally regained the Cup in 1991 by a single point.

Guts. That's what wins Ryder Cup matches.

Nobody cares how pretty your swing might be or how much money you've won or what kind of clubs you're using. They -- your teammates, your country, your opponents, your own heart -- are just waiting to see if you can hit this shot. Some do, some don't.

"If the Ryder Cup is close going into the last day," Johnny Miller says, "you may see some serious choking."

And these are the best in the world.

That's what the Ryder Cup is.

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