Europeans Make Their Point, Take Home Ryder
By Leonard Shapiro
Washington Post Staff Writer
September 25, 1995
ROCHESTER, N.Y., SEPT. 24 -- It was not supposed to happen this way, not with all those tournament-hardened U.S. players, not with so many PGA Tour winners and especially not with a two-time U.S. Open champion flinching and flailing, as the Americans surrendered a two-day, two-point lead and the Ryder Cup to the Europeans.
The Cup was won when late-rallying American Jay Haas conceded a foot-long putt for bogey 5 at the 18th hole to Irish journeyman Philip Walton, a first-time Cup player who almost gave up the game two years ago, but sealed the Europeans' triumph with a 1-up victory.
That point touched off a bear-hugging, champagne-showering celebration for a European team that will put Sam Ryder's Cup on a first-class seat on the Concorde Monday morning and take it back across the ocean after a harrowing 14 1/2 to 13 1/2 victory over a U.S. team that still looked to be in shock an hour later at the closing ceremonies.
If Haas had been able to win that last hole and provide a half-point by halving the match, it might all have come down to the two youngest players in the field still playing in the only remaining match.
In fact, 25-year-old American Phil Mickelson was 1-up at the time over 28-year-old Per-Ulrik Johannson of Sweden through 16 holes. Mickelson eventually prevailed, 2 and 1, against his college roommate and teammate at Arizona State. But it meant nothing, save for the final score and Mickelson's 3-0 record, the only man on either side to win every match he played. That was hardly consolation for him or any of his teammates.
"I don't believe we lost today," said Curtis Strange, the two-time U.S. Open champion and one of the pivotal figures at Oak Hill Country Club, ironically the scene of one of his greatest triumphs as the Open winner on this course in 1989.
Strange, a controversial captain's choice to make the U.S. team, knows what fate awaits him after he lost the final two holes, going from 1-up with two to play to losing to England's indomitable Nick Faldo. Strange's swing and his putter failed him time and again when he needed them the most.
"The press can't beat me up more than I'll beat myself up," a solemn Strange said, standing near the clubhouse where he'd celebrated six years ago. But he was hardly alone in misery, because other U.S. players also will do plenty of self-flagellation after an afternoon in which the Europeans won seven of 12 singles matches and tied an eighth.
"That's what happens under a great deal of pressure," Strange said. "Your swing doesn't hold up. . . . These are the same swing problems I've fought for years, and I'm not sure how much longer I'm going to fight it. . . . It's a frightening thought how I'm going to feel when I wake up and realize we didn't win and 11 guys played their heart out and I didn't."
Yet this also is a European team that played its heart out, fighting history and a U.S. team that led by two points going into the final day. Europe hadn't won the singles in this three-day event since 1985, its only final-round success in the past eight Cups until today.
More significantly, Europe won the Cup on American soil for only the second time in 31 meetings, having prevailed once before at Muirfield Village in Ohio in 1987.
The United States still owns a 23-6-2 record, but since '85, when Europe won for the first time in 28 years, the United States has won only twice, in 1991 at Kiawah Island and in '93 at the Belfry in England. With the '97 event in Spain, the Cup will not be easily won back.
The Europeans had many heroic efforts. There was English veteran Howard Clark's hole-in-one at the 192-yard 11th, a shot that became extremely relevant in his 1-up victory over Peter Jacobsen. The American's miss of a 30-footer for birdie at No. 18 cost him a chance to tie.
There was Englishman David Gilford's 1-up triumph over American Brad Faxon, who will have nightmares over a missed six-foot putt for par at the 18th, halving a hole he had every opportunity to win when Gilford bogeyed with two dreadful shots. "If you lose a tournament, as time goes by you feel better," Faxon said. "With this, you'll feel worse."
There was Walton's clinching point, coming from a man whose knees were knocking so badly on the 18th hole "I thought it was somebody else's legs." Three down with three to play, Haas had holed out from a bunker at No. 16 and won the 17th when Walton missed a four-foot putt for par that extended the match and gave the Americans new life.
But Haas stumbled at 18, too. He popped up his drive left off the tee and found himself behind a tree with no shot at the green. He managed to get back in the fairway on his second shot. But inexplicably, a man with a reputation as one of the game's finest short-iron players, left himself an impossible 30-foot chip for par with a woeful wedge that hit the green and just rolled off to the fringe.
Walton also was staggering, hitting his second shot into the deep-grass slope below the green. His own chop shot out of the strangling rough barely cleared the top of the hill but landed 10 feet from the hole. Walton needed only two putts for bogey to halve the hole and win the match, and he summoned enough strength to push it within a foot. Haas glumly conceded.
Still, the critical match of the day involved two aging champions, Strange and Faldo, both of whom admitted later they relished the draw that had paired them together. "There's no one in this world I'd rather go head-to-head with," Strange said, and Faldo later agreed.
Team captain Lanny Wadkins picked Strange for his gritty determination and will to win. Through 15 holes, few could have faulted that choice.
But in straight succession, Strange -- a man always known as a great middle-iron player -- hit dreadful second middle-iron shots at the 16th, 17th and 18th holes, and also missed putts of four feet at 16, eight feet at 17 and seven feet at 18. Making any one of them would have settled the match in his -- and the American side's -- favor.
"What do you want to know?" Strange said when asked about those last three holes. "Bogey, bogey, bogey."
Faldo, a five-time major champion who had come in 1-3, did respond to the pressure, though he had to cover his eyes when Strange's par putt at No. 18 slid by on the right side. From there, he made his own tough four-footer for par, the hole and a point that got the Europeans to 13 1/2 and on the brink of victory. Thirty minutes later, Walton's point put them over.
For three-time European captain Bernard Gallacher, it was a moment of pure joy after losing the Cup in '91 and '93. He rushed Walton, hugged him tightly and lifted him off his feet. Later, someone asked Gallacher if the Americans had choked. With all the aplomb of a lifetime diplomat for his sport, he bristled considerably and said just the right thing.
"What happened today was that we had a strong desire to win this trophy back," he said. "I don't think there was any choking. In fact, 18 is one of the toughest finishing holes in golf. Our desire over that last hole was very, very strong, and the players were very determined to win it back."
© 1995 The Washington Post Company
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