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Kiawah Island Brings Back Memories of Unforgettable Ryder Cup

By: | Mon 24 May 2021 | Comments

THE PGA Championship at Kiawah Island brought back vivid memories of a vitriolic Ryder Cup known as The War on the Shore which was widely regarded as the three days that changed the event for ever.

Nobody who saw it will ever forget the final putt. Bernhard Langer came to the 18th green in the final singles match and faced a six-foot putt to beat Hale Irwin. Had he holed it, the overall score would have been 14-14 and Europe would have retain trophy. But a devastated Langer missed, his ball trickled agonisingly wide of the hole.

Corey Pavin, who was one of the most ferocious competitors back then, is credited with the idea of using the Gulf War as ammunition to whip up a boisterous home crowd, hence the camouflage caps for the Americans. And then there was the bitter rivalry between Seve Ballesteros and Paul Azinger that was gathering pace on and off the course.

European captain Bernard Gallacher said: "The film they showed at the dinner was a joke. All they showed was American players hitting shots. Ken Schofield [European Tour chief executive at the time] wanted to walk out, but we stayed to the end."

When the matches finally got under way on Friday, the Pavin-inspired Desert Storm hats went down well with the locals, and it came as little surprise that the American galleries verbally abused the European team.

Things really boiled over on the 10th tee in the match that saw Ballesteros and Jose Maria Olazabal taking on Azinger and Chip Beck in a foursomes encounter. Olazabal noticed that the American pair has been switching balls, using different compressions depending on the hole and the wind direction. This was a clear breach of the rules that had been noted on the seventh hole and reported to Gallacher, who challenged Azinger and Beck on the 10th. The subsequent argument became pretty heated, according to Billy Foster, who was on the bag for Ballesteros. Azinger denied any wrongdoing, but backtracked when the Europeans made it clear they were not accusing him of cheating, just a misinterpretation of the rules.

Ballesteros and Olazabal went on to win 2&1, Europe's only point of the first session. And by a welcome coincidence from a European standpoint, the same two pairings met again in the afternoon fourballs, with the same result, although Gallacher's team won this session to reduce the deficit to a point after day one.

The famously aloof Nick Faldo then hit the headlines for offering little support and encouragement to partner and Ryder Cup rookie David Gilford on Saturday morning, during a 7&6 thrashing against Azinger and Mark O'Meara. Faldo had endured a poor run of form leading into the contest and was still struggling to find his game at Kiawah. Faldo barely exchanged a word with his teammate during the 12 holes their match lasted.

For Gilford, his first experience of the Ryder Cup was a miserable one. He and Colin Montgomerie had been soundly beaten on Friday morning, and he was to be denied the chance to prove his worth to the European team in the singles when American captain, Dave Stockton, withdrew Steve Pate due to the injuries received in a car accident. It meant that the teams each received a half point, and it turned out to be decisive in the overall outcome, and led to widespread criticism of Stockton for alleged poor sportsmanship, with many sceptical about the severity of the injuries to one of his weaker players.

Meanwhile, Europe battled back in the Saturday fourballs, with Faldo on the range trying to sort out his swing, and three wins and a halved match took the teams into the final day locked together at 8-8. 

Faldo obviously found something as he led Europe off in the singles and beat Ray Floyd, with David Feherty putting more blue on the board when he took out Payne Stewart.

But the Americans looked dominant in the middle order, and victory looked assured when Mark Calcavecchia went four up on Montgomerie with four to play. Inexplicably, Calcavecchia imploded under the pressure and gifted the final four holes to the Scot, who won the 16th with a double-bogey after both players had found water. 

The American would later head down to the beach while his team-mates celebrated and bawled his eyes out.

With the match halved, and Calcavecchia finding a lonely spot down the beach to recover from his collapse, wins for Ballesteros and Paul Broadhurst kept European hopes alive, but it soon became apparent that a drawn match was the best the visitors could hope for if Langer could fend off the resilient Irwin.

The German made clutch putt after clutch putt, ignoring the cheers from outside the galleries whenever he hit a poor shot, and the final pair arrived on the 18th tee all square, with Langer needing a win to retain the trophy for Europe. Irwin pulled his drive way left into the galleries, with the visiting side and media questioning how he came to have a perfect lie when he arrived at his ball.

However, the previous year's US Open champion was unable to save par, while Langer left himself another testing putt for par. After conceding Irwin's bogey, Langer and caddie Pete Coleman carefully studied the line and picked out a spike mark to slide past en route to the cup. They read the putt incorrectly.

Americans celebrated, Europeans were inconsolable, insults were traded, order was restored. It was credited as the week that changed the Ryder Cup, transforming it into one of the most watched sporting events in the world every two years. But then came Brookline in 1999! 

Langer would quickly prove his incredible resolve, returning to the European Tour and winning the German Masters the very next week.

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Tags: us pga ryder cup PGA Tour PGA european tour

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