European players were quietly seething tonight about what they considered to be a lack of sportsmanship from the U.S. Ryder Cup team and some of their fans today at The Country Club.
They were particularly upset by the celebration that erupted on the 17th green after Justin Leonard made a 45-foot birdie putt that ultimately provided the winning half-point to win the Cup for the U.S.
Although Olazabal still had his own 30-foot putt that could have tied the hole and kept Europe alive, Leonard was mobbed by many of his teammates and other members of the U.S. delegation in a spontaneous reaction that delayed Olazabal's preparations. He then missed the putt.
"It was an ugly picture to see," Olazabal said. "You just look at that picture and make your decision. . . . I don't want to make a whole thing about this. The thing is it shouldn't have happened. We're playing a match. We're trying to show respect for each other, and I don't think it was the right thing to do.
"I understand there was a lot of emotions going on, but at the same time you have to have your feet on the ground and realize what the situation is."
Teammate Colin Montgomerie, who was in the fairway waiting to hit to the 17th when Leonard made the putt, also did not like what he saw.
"I couldn't believe what I was seeing on that 17th green," he said. "Jose still had a putt to halve. I couldn't believe that. I thought they'd all just walk off onto the 18th green. It was cleared, and he was left on his own to have a putt. I don't think it affected the results of the match. Jose just had a very difficult putt to make."
Both U.S. captain Ben Crenshaw and Leonard apologized during the team's post-match news conference, and Tom Lehman said that while the incident was unfortunate, "there never was any ill will intended."
"In the excitement of the moment, Justin making a 50-foot putt to probably clinch the Ryder Cup, we all got excited," Lehman said. " . . . In retrospect, we probably wish we all would have jumped up and down in place instead of running down the side of the green."
Words That Sting
There was more heckling during the final round, and lots more cheering from the highly partisan American crowd for botched European shots and missed putts.
"From time to time, you get some clever people that do certain things that we all know is not right," said Olazabal. "I don't think it's needed, to be honest. I don't think these things have any place at a golf tournament, on a golf course."
Even Payne Stewart, who lost to Montgomerie today, was upset by the crowd.
"I was disgusted with some of the actions and some of the name-calling and the heckling that goes on with Colin," he said. "He doesn't deserve that. That's not what this event is about. I don't know if he's got a big bull's-eye on his back or what, but it is not fair."