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Ryder Cup Countdown: Europe Come Within Whisker of Creating History in 1983

By: | Mon 09 Aug 2021

WE DIDN’T know it at the time but the Ryder Cup changed forever in 1979 - and we have Jack Nicklaus to thank for it. 

The Golden Bear was the man who suggested that Great Britain and Ireland should include players from continental Europe in a desperate attempt to make the contest more competitive. Make no mistake about it - the event was dying on its feet. Every two years America’s finest would hand out a drubbing to the best that Great Britain and Ireland could muster.

In 1979 at the Greenbrier, the first European team included Seve Ballesteros and Antonio Garrido. It also featured Nick Faldo

Initially, nothing much changed. Captained by John Jacobs, Europe were beaten 17-11. Two years later the Americans triumphed 18.5-9.5 at Walton Heath.

The turning point came at PGA National in Florida in 1983.

The Europeans were captained by Tony Jacklin. When he was approached to do the job, Jacklin insisted on some radical changes, not the least of which was demanding first-class travel for not only his players but also for their caddies. 

And Jacklin’s team came within inches of creating a piece of history. They had never won the Ryder Cup on American soil.  

But after two days the teams were tied at 8-8. Appropriately enough, the US team was captained by Nicklaus, the man who had initiated the changes. The teams were still tied after the first 10 singles matches.

Europe were buoyed by a number of special performances, not least from Ballesteros, who halved with Fuzzy Zoeller, after a brilliant fairway bunker approach shot on the 18th hole. Ballesteros hit a three-wood 240 yards from the bunker to the fringe of the green. He chipped and putted for par to secure the halve. Many observers still rate Ballesteros’ shot, under the circumstances, as one of golf’s greatest pressure shots.

Meanwhile, Lanny Wadkins fell one down to Spain’s Jose Maria Canizares going into the 18th hole, a par-five dogleg left into the wind. Wadkins salvaged his team by hitting a 60-yard pitching wedge approach to within a foot of the hole to halve the match and secure the 14.5 to 13.5 win for the Americans.

Unsurprisingly, the Europeans were devastated. They had come so close. But Ballesteros famously rallied the troops in the team room afterwards. He told them that he now knew for certain that things were about to change, that the period of American domination was at an end.

England’s Paul Way was his partner in the first two days and together they formed an unlikely alliance. “I was only 20, a second-year pro, and didn’t expect to play in every session,” Way recalled. “Jacklin was a brilliant captain, telling Seve, who was only 25 himself: ‘You have to be like a father to Paul, you have to guide him.’ And Seve did. We won 2.5 points out of four.

“To me, the ultimate was playing Tom Watson in foursomes, as he was my boyhood hero. We were five up after six against Tom and Bob Gilder and ended up winning 2&1. And I won my singles against Curtis Strange. People say I must have been nervous but I was young and didn’t really understand the pressure of the Ryder Cup.

“We were all pretty down as we had come so close to inflicting on America their first defeat in 26 years, but Seve was an inspiration telling us, ‘This is not a defeat - this is a win’."

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This was the last time neither captain made wildcard selections, also known as captain's picks. Team USA didn't use captain's picks until 1989. Europe first did it in 1979, but this year picked its players entirely off the Order of Merit list.

Two future captains made their debuts as players. For Europe, Ian Woosnam went on to play eight times total; for the USA, Curtis Strange went on to play five times total. Jay Haas also played for the first time for Team USA. His uncle, Bob Goalby, was on the 1963 American team - they were the second uncle-and-nephew pair to both play for Team USA.

Day 1


Tom Watson/Ben Crenshaw, USA, def. Bernard Gallacher/Sandy Lyle, Europe, 5 and 4

Nick Faldo/Bernhard Langer, Europe, def. Lanny Wadkins/Craig Stadler, USA, 4 and 2

Jose Maria Canizares/Sam Torrance, Europe, def. Raymond Floyd/Bob Gilder, USA, 4 and 3

Tom Kite/Calvin Peete, USA, def. Seve Ballesteros/Paul Way, Europe, 2 and 1


Brian Waites/Ken Brown, Europe, def. Gil Morgan/Fuzzy Zoeller, USA, 2 and 1

Tom Watson/Jay Haas, USA, def. Nick Faldo/Bernhard Langer, Europe, 2 and 1

Seve Ballesteros/Paul Way, Europe, def. Raymond Floyd/Curtis Strange, USA, 1-up

Sam Torrance/Ian Woosnam, Europe, halved with Ben Crenshaw/Calvin Peete, USA

Europe 4.5, USA 3.5

Day 2


Lanny Wadkins/Craig Stadler, USA, def. Brian Waites/Ken Brown, Europe, 1-up

Nick Faldo/Bernhard Langer, Europe, def. Ben Crenshaw/Calvin Peete, USA, 4 and 2

Gil Morgan/Jay Haas, USA, halved with Seve Ballesteros/Paul Way, Europe

Tom Watson/Bob Gilder, USA, def. Sam Torrance/Ian Woosnam, Europe, 5 and 4


Nick Faldo/Bernhard Langer, Europe, def. Tom Kite/Raymond Floyd, USA, 3 and 2

Gil Morgan/Lanny Wadkins, U.S, def. Sam Torrance/Jose Maria Canizares, Europe, 7 and 5

Seve Ballesteros/Paul Way, Europe, def. Tom Watson/Bob Gilder, USA, 2 and 1

Jay Haas/Curtis Strange, USA, def. Brian Waites/Ken Brown, Europe, 3 and 2

Europe 8, USA 8

Day 3


Seve Ballesteros, Europe, halved with Fuzzy Zoeller, USA

Nick Faldo, Europe, def. Jay Haas, USA, 2 and 1

Bernhard Langer, Europe, def. Gil Morgan, USA, 2-up

Bob Gilder, USA, def. Gordan J. Brand, Europe, 2-up

Ben Crenshaw, USA, def. Sandy Lyle, Europe, 3 and 1

Calvin Peete, USA, def. Brian Waites, Europe, 1-up

Paul Way, Europe, def. Curtis Strange, USA, 2 and 1

Tom Kite, USA, halved with Sam Torrance, Europe

Craig Stadler, USA, def. Ian Woosnam, Europe, 3 and 2

Jose Maria Canizares, Europe, halved with Lanny Wadkins, USA

Ken Brown, Europe, def. Raymond Floyd, USA, 4 and 3

Tom Watson, USA, def. Bernard Gallacher, Europe, 2 and 1

USA 14.5, Europe 13.5

Next: Everything changes in 1985 at The Belfry

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