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Ryder Cup Countdown: Europe Finally Win on American Soil in 1987

By: | Tue 24 Aug 2021

EUROPE had finally brought American domination of the Ryder Cup to an end at The Belfry in 1985 but they had yet to win on US soil. They had come within a whisker of doing so in 1983 but that all changed in 1987.

When the European team boarded Concorde to fly to Muirfield Village, Ohio, there was a quiet confidence in the camp.  America certainly weren't entertaining the prospect of captain Jack Nicklaus losing in his own backyard. But our team boasted six players who were, or would become, Major champions and we were defending the trophy won for the first time in 28 years at The Belfry two years earlier. What unfolded that late September weekend has gone down in European folklore. The feats of the 12 men considered by many to be Europe’s greatest ever team were the catalyst for the decades of growth in the continent.


European captain Tony Jacklin said: "We all went to America quietly confident. A reporter put a microphone under my face as we stepped off the plane and asked, ‘Who do you think is going to win?’ ‘Oh, we will win,’ I replied. He said, ‘How can you say a thing like that?’ I said, ‘You asked me a question and I answered it.’ We had a great team, great unity and we were solid as rocks. The different feeling from previous matches was that we had the Ryder Cup and wanted to put the icing on the cake by winning for the first time in America.

"The mission was to win the Ryder Cup; that was our brief. There was no room for somebody thinking they were better than anyone else. I tried to keep a one-on-one relationship with all the guys. I believe passionately that certain people produce more when they are with a party they are comfortable with. They are more productive, whoever they are and certainly on the course. I wanted to make sure all the partnerships were solid and that nobody was playing with someone they weren’t 100 per cent happy with. It was all very worthwhile at the end of the day.

"The way we were treated was second to none. All we had to do was play golf. Being at Muirfield Village helped us; Jack had held 11 Memorial Tournaments there already and the vast majority of the crowd were those galleries, so our players got just as much applause when they made putts. They were very polite and I think that prompted Jack and the American PGA to dish out stars and stripes flags.”

The 1987 Ryder Cup also saw the birth of the most successful pairing in European Ryder Cup history when Tony Jacklin put the great Seve Ballesteros alongside one of his Captain's Picks, another Spaniard in the shape of rookie José María Olazábal.

America got off to a fast start, taking the first two foursomes matches but that was all the success they would have all day as Europe gained momentum thanks to wins for Ballesteros and Olazábal and Faldo and Ian Woosnam.

Ballestros and Olazábal took down the pair of Larry Nelson and Payne Stewart, with Nelson playing his first Ryder Cup since 1981 having previously won nine points from nine matches.

Faldo and Woosnam were four down in their match against Lanny Wadkins and Larry Mize but pulled a two up win out of the bag and the momentum helped carry Europe to their first ever clean sweep in the afternoon fourballs.

Gordon Brand Jnr and José Rivero defeated Ben Crenshaw and Scott Simpson 3 and 2, Sandy Lyle and Bernhard Langer took down Andy Bean and Mark Calcavecchia one up and Faldo and Woosnam, and Ballesteros and Olazábal claimed 2 and 1 wins over Hal Sutton and Dan Pohl, and Curtis Strange and Tom Kite respectively.

Lyle and Langer would claim two more wins on Saturday, with Faldo and Woosnam winning 1½ points and Ballesteros and Olazábal claiming one more as Europe took a five-point lead into the singles.

The Americans ramped up the tension on Sunday as they reduced the gap to one and the task of releasing it fell to Eamonn Darcy, a man who had not won a full point in three previous Ryder Cup apperances.

Opponent Ben Crenshaw had snapped his putter and spent the majority of the match playing with a one iron on the greens but he was still one up with two to play. Darcy hit a stunner into the 17th to level things up and when he holed a slippery six-footer on the last, it was 13-11 and Jacklin rushed to embrace the Irishman.

Ballesteros ended up holing the winning putt to prompt possibly the most famous celebration in Ryder Cup history - Olazábal's joyful jig.

History would go on to repeat itself a few times after 1987: Ballesteros and Olazábal would emulate Faldo and Woosnam in claiming 3½ points as a pair in the next two Ryder Cups, Europe would sweep the Friday afternoon fourballs for the second year running in 1989 and they would taste victory on American soil in 1995, 2004 and 2012.

But never again would the stars align and produce a Ryder Cup quite like 1987.

Day 1 - Foursomes

  • Curtis Strange/Tom Kite, USA, def. Sam Torrance/Howard Clark, Europe, 4 and 2
  • Hal Sutton/Dan Pohl, USA, def. Ken Brown/Bernhard Langer, Europe, 2 and 1
  • Nick Faldo/Ian Woosnam, Europe, def. Lanny Wadkins/Larry Mize, USA, 2-up
  • Seve Ballesteros/Jose Maria Olazabal, Europe, def. Larry Nelson/Payne Stewart, USA, 1-up

Europe 2, USA 2

Day 1 - Fourballs

  • Gordon Brand Jr./Jose Rivero, Europe, def. Ben Crenshaw/Scott Simpson, USA, 3 and 2
  • Sandy Lyle/Bernhard Langer, Europe, def. Andy Bean/Mark Calcavecchia, USA, 1-up
  • Nick Faldo/Ian Woosnam, Europe, def. Hal Sutton/Dan Pohl, USA, 2 and 1
  • Seve Ballesteros/Jose Maria Olazabal, Europe, def. Curtis Strange/Tom Kite, USA, 2 and 1

Europe 6, USA 2

Day 2 - Foursomes

  • Curtis Strange/Tom Kite, USA, def. Jose Rivero/Gordon Brand Jr., Europe, 3 and 1
  • Nick Faldo/Ian Woosnam, Europe, halved with Hal Sutton/Larry Mize, USA
  • Sandy Lyle/Bernhard Langer, Europe, def. Lanny Wadkins/Larry Nelson, USA, 2 and 1
  • Seve Ballesteros/Jose Maria Olazabal, Europe, def. Ben Crenshaw/Payne Stewart, USA, 1-up

Europe 8.5, USA 3.5

Day 2 - Fourballs

  • Nick Faldo/Ian Woosnam, Europe, def. Curtis Strange/Tom Kite, USA, 5 and 4
  • Andy Bean/Payne Stewart, USA, def. Eamonn Darcy/Gordon Brand Jr., Europe, 3 and 2
  • Hal Sutton/Larry Mize, USA, def. Seve Ballesteros/Jose Maria Olazabal, 2 and 1
  • Sandy Lyle/Bernhard Langer, Europe, def. Lanny Wadkins/Larry Nelson, USA, 1-up

Europe 10.5, USA 5.5

Day 3 - Singles

  • Andy Bean, USA, def. Ian Woosnam, Europe, 1-up
  • Howard Clark, Europe, def. Dan Pohl, USA, 1-up
  • Sam Torrance, Europe, halved with Larry Mize, USA
  • Mark Calcavecchia, USA, def. Nick Faldo, Europe, 1-up
  • Payne Stewart, USA, def. Jose Maria Olazabal, 2-up
  • Scott Simpson, USA, def. Jose Rivero, 2 and 1
  • Tom Kite, USA, def. Sandy Lyle, Europe, 3 and 2
  • Eamonn Darcy, Europe, def. Ben Crenshaw, USA, 1-up
  • Bernhard Langer, Europe, halved with Larry Nelson, USA
  • Seve Ballesteros, Europe, def. Curtis Strange, USA, 2 and 1
  • Lanny Wadkins, USA, def. Ken Brown, Europe, 3 and 2

Europe 15, USA 13

Next: The battle of Brookline

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