Behind the Ryder Cup – The Players' Stories

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Golf’s ultimate showdown
Posted on
August 13, 2018
The Editorial Team in ,
Estimated reading time: 22 minutes

Behind the Ryder Cup

By Peter Burns with Ed Hodge

As unique as it is unmissable, the Ryder Cup has produced some of the greatest drama in sport – a biennial contest that never fails to set the pulse racing. From its origins in 1927 to the epic encounters of the modern era, Behind the Ryder Cup – The Players' Stories – captures the raw excitement of golf's ultimate showdown and offers a fascinating insight into the hearts and minds of the game's greatest players down the ages. In this, the first in a series of three exclusive extracts for Golf Today, co-author Ed Hodge selects some of his favourite quotes and passages detailing the most dramatic events in the fabric of the Ryder Cup's history – going all the way back to that first official match at Worcester Country Club, Massachusetts, in 1927. And the travel arrangements were rather different then...

Behind the Ryder Cup – The Player's Stories

Behind the Ryder Cup


1927, Worcester Country Club

George Duncan: The first Ryder Cup contest will always be remembered as it provided us with our first experience of the bigger American ball, which duly earned me a headline for terming it ‘large, light and lousy'. It was 1.68 inches but lighter than now, and it used to get blown about like a toy balloon. Some American golfers reverted to the 1.62 British ball until more weight was put in their own.

That same contest was memorable for the fact that with Abe Mitchell taken ill at the last minute, we decided during the train journey to the ship at Southampton [the team having met at Waterloo to begin their epic Atlantic crossing] upon a new captain, Ted Ray.

Behind the Ryder Cup

On our arrival at New York, they gave us a dinner (with the usual speeches) at the Biltmore, and in the glare of floodlights had us putting out on the lawn in the early hours of the morning. Despite all the preparation, however, we were beaten by nine matches to two, with one halved. We didn't like the larger ball, but neither did our American rivals.

Something happened the night before the contest which has never been allowed to occur again. Walter Hagen outwitted us. He came round to our hotel and asked Ted Ray for the foursomes pairings and order of play of our team. With a new adventure and an exciting pre-match atmosphere, Ted unsuspectingly handed them over. Walter went off and placed his own team accordingly!

We lost the foursomes by three matches to one, and I am not too certain that by his action that night Walter Hagen did not help to create a physiological advantage which has virtually been an American asset ever since. It is very important to get off to a good start, especially in a new contest. By Walter's astuteness as much as their own good play, the Americans achieved it in that first Ryder Cup contest.

I don't blame Walter for what he did; in fact I rather admire him. He has always been a skilful, intelligent fighter and as captain of the American team he was entitled to use his wits. Unfortunately, we were not clever enough for him – but he didn't get the singles pairings like the foursomes! They were exchanged at the same time – and have been ever since, with each captain trying to foresee the plan of the other.

Behind the Ryder Cup – The Player's Stories

Behind the Ryder Cup

The words of Ted Ray at the conclusion of that first match have been echoed by many a captain since:

Ted Ray : One of the chief reasons for our failure [at Worcester] was the superior putting of the American team. They holed out much better than we did. We were very poor by comparison, although quite equal to the recognised two putts per green standard. I consider we can never hope to beat the Americans unless we learn to putt. This lesson should be taken to heart by British golfers.

Gene Sarazen : We were excited to be playing in the first official Ryder Cup match, but that didn't mean many people would notice or that it would amount to anything.

Behind the Ryder Cup

1929 Moortown

Gene Sarazen : The major chunks of colour in the Ryder series were provided by Hagen, the perennial captain of the American side. Walter fancied himself as a gifted manoeuvres of personnel, and for the most part he was. He achieved excellent results year after year in the foursomes by pairing golfers who got along well personally; it generally followed that they dovetailed harmoniously in hitting alternate shots. Hagen's strategy in arranging his singles line-up was a little less successful. In 1929 at Morton, I remember how Walter walked into his hotel room for a chat with his charges the night before the singles. He was all smiles. He had just held a confab with George Duncan, the British captain. ‘Duncan wanted to know, boys,' Waltyer chortled as he rubbed his palms together, ‘if I could arrange for our captain to play their captain if he let me know what number their captain was playing. I said I thought it could be arranged. Well, boys, there's a point for our team.'

George Duncan : It was cold and there was snow before the contest started. Walter Hagen and I exchanged our team pairings simultaneously. I paired Abe mitchell with Fred Robson and they proved to be our only winning couple in the foursomes, though Charlie Whitcombe and Archie Compston halved with Johnny Farrell and Joe Turnesa. down 2-1 in the foursomes, with one halved, was not a happy prospect, but for the one and only time in the history of the first eight contests, we turned deficit into victory in the singles.

After the foursomes Hagen came to me and said that there had been some talk that the two captains should play together. The sentiment was all right to me, and so was the match, because with all due respect, i never feared Walter in singles combat. I told him my place in the order – the rest was not disclosed until each captain had handed to the other the sealed list of his own placings.

That day in Moortown it seemed Hagen could do no right, while I could do no wrong. Whenever he got off line, I produced something which gave him no chance of recovery, and beat him by 10&8 [in those days singles matches were played over 36 holes]. When the match finished at the twenty-eighth, the demonstration by a huge crowd was terrific. Flags were waved, hats were thrown in the air, and for a few moments delirium reigned.

Behind the Ryder Cup – The Player's Stories

Behind the Ryder Cup

Henry Cotton : Walter Hagen was one of my heroes – he was the fellow that made me think, ‘That's what I want to do, I want to be like ‘The Haig'. I want to have silk shirts with monograms, and two-toned shoes, beautifully made suits and gold cufflinks.' What an impression he made, arriving at golf clubs in Rolls Royces, which he rented of course, when in Britain. That really was something in those days, right after the First world War.

Hagen was making big money and spending most of it while living life to the full. One day I said to him, 'I would love to have one of your clubs.' 'What club would you like?' he answered. They were all hickory shafts then and I had fancied a number eight of today from his bag marked, then, a 'mashie niblick'. He said, 'Come and pick it up some time,' and so whilst in Paris I went to Claridges in the Champs-Élysées where he was staying, telephoned his room, and was invited to 'Come on up, Kiddo.' He had a suite of connecting rooms, something like 407 to 415, so I went to 407, knocked on the door and when there was no answer to my 'Hello?' I pushed open the door. Inside was a girl wearing a negligee. 'Mr Hagen?' I enquired. She appeared not to know who he was, but indicated that I should go to the next room. To my great embarrassment – I was a fairly innocent twenty-two-year-old chap – I then went through a whole series of rooms, one after the other, all full of half-dressed young ladies! I eventually found Walter lying on his bed with the telephone still in his hand – he hadn't put it down after speaking to me and he was fast asleep! I wasn't surprised that he was exhausted. I didn't know what to do, but there were a whole lot of clubs in one corner and obviously he had sorted some out. As he was soon to depart for America, by ship of course, I didn't want to wake him, so I helped myself to an eight-iron, left a goodbye and thank you note and went quietly away.

Bobby Jones : The 7-5 loss in 1929, probably in the long run, was a good thing for international competition and thereafter the American team were on edge, trying hard to recoup their lost prestige.

Behind the Ryder Cup – The Player's Stories

Behind the Ryder Cup

1951 Pinehurst Country Club, North Carolina

Jack Burke Jnr : Whatever else is going on in the world, the real institutions never change. There can be wars, depressions, social troubles, or bad economies, but the Ryder Cup stands as a constant symbol of competition, sportsmanship and camaraderie. It has tremendous value because of that, and the players should always keep that in mind. They're playing for something that is honourable, that has stood the test of time and is worthy of their respect and best efforts.

The players, the rookies especially, as I was in 1951, have to look past the hoopla that goes with the Ryder Cup. It is not an exhibition. It's a serious professional competition, and you'd better bring your ‘A' game. If you aren't prepared, your game will not hold up because this is pressure like you've never known it.

Ben Hogan : Jimmy [Demeret] was the most underrated golfer in history. This man played shots I haven't even dreamed of. I learned them. But it was Jimmy who showed them first to me.

Sam Snead : I think Jimmy would have won more had he tended to business, but that's just the way he was. But his Ryder Cup record was second to none. From 1947 to 1951 he had a perfect record of six wins and no losses.

Dai Rees : Jimmy Demeret was just astounding when I played him in the singles. He hit eleven green side bunkers but still beat me. On the seventeenth he holed from the green side bunker to win two-up. After I had congratulated Jimmy on his bunker play he made a typically American generous gesture, handed me his sand iron and said, ‘Keep it, Dai, as a gift. The one you've got has too sharp an edge and you'll never have any finesse with it.' I took the club to Britain and copied it for my own set so that, although I lost the match I came away with a profit.

Behind the Ryder Cup

I didn't play in the Friday foursomes and we then took a break on the Saturday because there was a big football game on. The organisers said, 'In North Carolina when Carolina plays Tennessee in a football game on Saturday, nobody watches golf.' So they took the day off and we all went to the football game.

It was cold and (Dutch) Harrison got sick before the singles on Sunday, and Sam Snead came to me and said, 'Can you play?' I told him, 'Yes, I can play.'

I don't know whether it was mind games or whether he just thought he would sacrifice a point, but Sam put me up against John Panton, Britain's best player.

I was all bandaged up; my hands were bleeding. John Panton was a Vardon Trophy winner, Order of Merit winner, leading money winner and everything. I'd never walked thirty-six holes before that let alone played thirty-six, and it was a thirty-six-hole match. So I took off, and every time I played a hole, I wondered if I could play the next. But it worked out all right. I beat him 8&7, which, I heard, was the biggest margin that anybody had won by. I three-putted number ten though, in that afternoon round, or I might have won 9&8. I remember wondering if that was the beginning of the end and I wouldn't win another hole. As it turned out, it was. But what a match to win.

Skip Alexander : I was on a flight from Kansas City to Louisville on 24 September, 1950. Halfway through the flight the reserve fuel tank failed and the plane began to go down. Since we were near the Evansville airport, we banked in to land and almost made it, crashing on the edge of the field. The next thing I remember was trying to force my way out of the cabin door and meeting a wall of flames. I quickly shut the door and opened it again, running out of the wreck on my broken left ankle. I guess I got about fifty yards before I collapsed and the fuel tank exploded.

I spent five months in hospital and had seventeen different surgeries.

People thought my career was over, but I had 726 points secured towards qualification for the '51 Ryder Cup team. I was determined that I would make it.

My hands were all burned and skin-grafted. The extensors and other parts of the fingers were contracted so tightly that I didn't have any openings. The doctors opened them up. They took a knuckle out and fused the remaining two knuckles together so they would fit a golf club.

Fourteen months after the crash, I was in the team.

1999 The Country Club, Brookline, Massachusetts

Behind the Ryder Cup

Colin Montgomerie : When we got to Brookline we made one major error. Mark James was brilliant as a captain, absolutely brilliant, but if he made one mistake it was that we didn't foresee that America wanted the Ryder Cup back so badly. They had never lost three in a row before and that's what they were facing. They did not want that to happen. It was similar to 1991.

We had a very young team, seven rookies and we'd never won with any more than five. That was the era that Faldo wasn't playing any more, neither was Langer, Lyle, Woosnam, Seve. I was the oldest on the team. I remember when Jiménez was selected, I thought he must be the oldest – sorry, Miguel Ángel! – but then I found out he was six months younger than me! That was the big change, the end of the era of our big five.

If we had been told on the Concorde flight over to Boston that we would be 10-6 up going into the singles, we'd have taken it, it didn't matter who played or didn't play. Mark James was absolutely chastised for not playing three guys until the singles, but I wouldn't have worried about that myself. I'd have said, ‘Get on with it lads, we're 10-6 up.' And the fortunate thing about that whole thing was that the guys that didn't play – Jean van de Velde, Jarmo Sandelin and Andrew Coltart – they took Love, Mickelson and Woods with them in the singles. Perfect. Because those American guys were probably going to win their games anyway. So they took our weakness with them and left us with nine guys to get four points. Clarke and Westwood started one and two in the singles and they would say themselves that they were not as fit then as they are now. They were carrying extra weight, they were tired and they both lost. The next three were those three rookies in a row, and they lost. So that was the first five games and from 10-6 up we were suddenly 11-10 down. Game on.

The scoring from the Americans on that fateful Sunday singles encounter was as relentless as it was brutal. When the first six matches were over, the US were leading 12-10. It was an extraordinary comeback – and the deciding act would be remembered for all the wrong reasons when Justin Leonard holed an improbably 45-foot putt the length of the 17th green to close out Jose Maria Olazabal…

Justin Leonard : I was trying to two-putt, trying to get it close enough so I don't have to do anything. If there's a two-foot bucket around the hole, my goal is to get it in that bucket. When it got on top of the hill and started moving, I knew it was pretty good. I thought I hit it a little too hard, but three or four feet from the hole, I said, 'Unless something goes crazy, this falls in.' It was fun having an idea it was going in before it got to the hole.

Ben Crenshaw : You know, had that putt of Justin's been holeable, say ten or fifteen feet, then I don't think the reaction would have been the same. But it was just so improbable, so extraordinary, and we just completely lost our minds; we all lost them – I did. Our emotions completely got the better of us. It was all so highly improbable. But you know, there was no excuse for it, and there is no question that it is a lifelong regret.

Curtis Strange : I don't condone what went on with the players at the seventeenth green, but I can understand the spontaneous reaction to Leonard's putt by the players.

José María Olazábal : I have to say if it would have been just the opposite, we might have reacted the same way. We're all human beings; we have our emotions. The Ryder Cup brings them to the highest level possible.

The Player's Stories
RYDER CUP MATCHES 1999,Singles,The Country Club, Brookline,MA,USA .Day 3 - In infamous invasion of the 17th green in the singles match between JM Olazabal (EUR) and Justin Leonard (USA).

Behind the Ryder Cup

Tom Lehman : There ought to be a movie. Call it, The 42 Seconds to Eternity . From the time the ball went in the hole when Justin made that putt until the time the green was clear was forty-two seconds. I wanted to see how long it took. It was forty-two seconds but it's also lasted ever since. It seems that I'm never going to be allowed to forget it.

Colin Montgomerie : Lehman gets singled out because he was first on the green.

Jim Furyk : I've seen it a billion times; I haven't watched that closely to see where Tom was. But for a million dollars, I couldn't swear he was even on the seventeenth green.

Tiger Woods : I've no idea why people single Tom out about it. It wasn't like he was the only one.

Tom Lehman : Having watched the video back I know I actually was the fifth guy on the US team to react. And I know I never set foot on the green. Not that it matters. I think it stemmed from Sam Torrance laying the blame with me afterwards; but Sam and I have made peace over it, and he sent a nice note when I was made captain for 2006. So I've moved on from it.

2008 Valhalla Golf Club, Louisville, Kentucky

Paul Azinger : I think it's interesting to analyse the psychological approach that both teams take to the Ryder Cup. For us it's in our mind. We want to win and we think about it. But for the European players it's like it's in their blood. It's in their hearts and it's different, there's a different emotion - and that's one of the great challenges for us: can the mind beat the heart. That was the challenge that I had to overcome.

My philosophy was to take a militaristic approach, this Navy SEALs concept of taking a large group and breaking it into small groups and the press ended up calling them 'pods'. And so we had three four-man pods, and I told these guys in their little four-man groups that they should be sold-out for each other, that I would never take them out of their four-man group unless there was injury or an illness, that there was no short-cut to success, that they couldn't hope for it and they couldn't wish for it, it was all about preparation. And they did it, they bonded in their group. I didn't just put them together based on their like games; I put them together on their like personalities. I felt that like personalities in a pressure situation would bond better. So that's how I did it - that was hard for me, but I was convinced it was the right thing to do. I let three guys pick the fourth guy to fill out their pod. And I let the players decide who would play alternate shot and best-ball. These guys were invested; they had full-blown ownership of what they were doing.

With the US needing just half a point for victory in the singles, Jiménez and Furyk arrived on the seventeenth with the Spaniard one-down. Jiménez was faced with a twenty-foot putt that would take the match to the eighteenth. He stroked it evenly but as the ball slid past the hole, Jiménez knew it was all over and conceded the match.

Jim Furyk : The dream is to knock in a twenty-footer and fist pump with the crowd going bananas; mine was a two-foot concession. But I'll take it.

Paul Azinger : It was at the end of Furyk's match that it just hit me. This was a team and we became a family. I didn't cry, but I get a lump in my throat thinking back to it all.

Nick Faldo : The bottom line is we went there and played and were outplayed and got beaten. It was about professional golfers competing. But the way everyone remembers it, it was all my fault.

Behind the Ryder Cup – The Player's Stories
Ian POULTER (EUR) with his captain Nick FALDO after he and McDOWELL beat Furyk / Perry at 18th during afternoon fourballs 2008 Ryder Cup Matches, Valhalla, Louisville, Kentucky, USA.

Behind the Ryder Cup

When Sergio says to me after the first day, ‘I'm fucked, I don't want to play any more,' that's a belter for a captain. ‘Um, you're one of my main guys and you don't want to play? Terrific, great, thanks.' How do you deal with that one?

Then I had Harrington exhausted and Westwood, who was in a different place. They were my top three players and gave me one-and-a-half points. It's pretty tough to do anything with that. That's the fact, but as a captain you get walloped with other stuff. Westwood, Harrington and Garcia were my bankers and they only delivered half a point each; if they had managed to get me even a couple of points each that would have made a huge, huge difference.

But then I did pick Poulter, which I also got slaughtered for when I named him. And he went on to win four points out of five, which was then the best return for any wild-card. Hey, my claim to fame – the only decent thing I did all week.

Graeme McDowell : 2008 was my first experience of the Ryder Cup as a player and we lost, but it was one of the greatest weeks of my life. It was amazing and we had one of the best piss-ups you can imagine on the Sunday night. It had been an epic Ryder Cup and afterwards everyone was together, the US guys were up in our team room, we were all drinking and having an amazing time – it was just one of the greatest nights out I've had in my life.

My whole experience as a rookie Ryder Cup player was great. I felt like I'd had a decent week and played well personally and although we lost I think i enjoyed the week more than I enjoyed Celtic Manor two years later. Yeah, we won then and it was great being part of the winning team – but the piss-up wasn't as good.

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From the original matches that preceded the first official trans-Atlantic encounter between Britain and America at Worcester Country Club in 1927, all the way through to the 40th instalment at Gleneagles in 2014, this is the complete history of the Ryder Cup – as told by the players and captains themselves.

With exhaustive research and exclusive new material garnered from interviews with players and captains from across the decades, Behind the Ryder Cup unveils the compelling truth of what it means to play in golf's biggest match-play event, where greats of the game have crumbled under pressure while others have carved their names into sporting legend.

Behind the Ryder Cup takes you inside the rarefied atmosphere of the American and European team rooms, locker rooms and inside the ropes, right to the heat of the action itself.

The Player's Stories
Captain Paul AZINGER hugs Jim FURYK (USA) after he makes the winning point during Singles 2008 Ryder Cup Matches, Valhalla, Louisville, Kentucky, USA.

Behind the Ryder Cup


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About The Editorial Team

The editorial team at Golf Today strives to provide readers with captivating content that celebrates the rich heritage and exciting developments in the world of golf. Their collective expertise and dedication ensure that Golf Today remains a premier destination for golf enthusiasts seeking the latest news, insightful analysis, and engaging stories from the world of golf.

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