What happened to the genteel sport of golf? "The Americans started losing," then European Captain Bernard Gallacher would comment. In the Nineteen Nineties the Ryder Cup competition grew teeth and bit down hard on a rivalry which had once been friendly. Twice on American soil the Europeans were seen not so much as the competition but as the enemy...
The War on the Shore (Kiawah Island 1991) USA 14 ½ - Europe 13 ½
This was a clash of the golfing titans that would change the sport forever. For decades the Ryder Cup had been a contest between gentleman. At the end of three days of competition, the victors - almost always the US team - had been gracious winners. By 1991 that world of fair play on the fairways was about to be blown apart. Still smarting from their defeat on home soil in 1987 and with Gulf War I still fresh in the memory, the US were fuelled up on a patriotic fervour that was to tear up the civilised coastal greens of South Carolina.
The two teams had tied in 1989, meaning that Europe had retained the trophy. America wanted it back, and it seemed at any cost. US Captain Dave Stockton dressed his 'troops' in desert storm camouflage as the line between sport and war became increasingly blurred. A 'wake up the enemy' campaign was started by a local radio station. They targeted Nick Faldo, among others, with 4am wake up calls and played back the golfer's angry response ad nauseam to their jeering listeners. Things were little better at the official 'welcoming' dinner where a USPGA official openly prayed to god for an American victory.
When the two teams finally took to the course the Europeans appeared to have walked into a cauldron of hate. Corey Pavin high-fived and fist-pumped his way around Kiawah to chants of 'U-S-A'. Meanwhile, Paul Azinger appeared to have taken a serious dislike to the Spaniards. The 'Zinger' refused to speak to opponent Jose Maria Olazábal during their entire round and Severiano Ballesteros seemed to have developed a nasty cough which remarkably coincided with American Chip Beck's backswing. As the Americans blistering early pace started to cool, Europe began to creep their way back into contention. It all came down to Bernard Langer's 6ft putt for par. He missed. A one-point victory went to an unrepentant American side. Golf had just got nasty.
The Battle of Brookline (1999) USA 14 ½ - EUROPE 13 ½
It was one of the most infamous moments in sport. The day a powder keg of American frustration would be lit under a game whose wounds from Kiawah Island were only just starting to heal. Whatever dramas had been played out before in the name of the Ryder Cup nothing had come close to the final day at Brookline. This was a tale of suspense from the top drawer. To the Americans it was a story about the greatest comeback in golf. To the Europeans it was about one of the biggest scandals to hit the sport.
The US had faced a barrage of criticism. Branded self-centred, greedy superstars by not only the American media, but sensationally by their own Captain 'Gentle' Ben Crenshaw. They were in crisis meeting by Saturday night. Trailing Europe by 10-6 they faced the serious possibility of losing their third straight Ryder Cup. No team had ever come back from a four point deficit after the first two days. If the US were to achieve what many believed to be the unachievable they would have to defy the odds to do it.
When Sunday came European Captain Mark James' tactics of only selecting his strongest players in the opening two days was about to unravel as his novice players were sent out against a battle-hardened US team fighting for it's reputation. The US raced to a 6-0 lead and the points and halves kept on coming. Jesper Parnevik and a distraught Sergio Garcia both fell to the American sword. As the singles closed out the US had 8 points for the day and needed just a half to secure the Ryder Cup.
Justin Leonard had trailed Jose Maria Olazábal by four holes with seven to play. Somehow he pulled himself back into contention to earn the vital half-point and give the US a narrow victory. For the Europeans those final moments will be forever overshadowed by a handful of US golfers invading the green before Europe had a chance to sink his final putt. The riotous scenes that accompanied America closing in on the cup were to some a disgrace. Mark James, whose wife was allegedly spat at during the competition, would later write a book on the tie. The title said it all, he called it The Bear Pit.