Most of what we remember is
the painful expression on Bernhard
Langer’s face when his six-foot par putt
slid past the hole on the low side that
gave the United States the 1991 Ryder
Cup. But there’s infinitely more to it
than just that moment.
Coming into that Ryder Cup, the
Americans had their tails between their
legs. Europe had thumped the U.S. in
1985 at The Belfry and then, in 1987,
the Europeans won for the first time
on American soil, winning the matches
at Muirfield Village with Jack Nicklaus
as the U.S. captain. And in 1989, the
Americans won the last four singles
matches to create a 14-14 tie, which
meant that Europe retained the Cup.
Dave Stockton was the U.S. cap-
tain and the matches were held at the
unknown, untested Ocean Course at
Kiawah Island. At the time, American
troops had been in Iraq in Operation
Desert Storm that ended in late Febru-
ary 1991. Stockton had some golf hats
made with camouflage and the Ryder
Cup was referred to as “The War by
the Shore,” which was patriotic at best
The Americans had control of the
foursomes and the Europeans domi-
nated the fourballs and the matches
were tied at 8-8 going into the Sunday
singles. Nick Faldo defeated Raymond
Floyd, the U.S. captain in 1989, and
David Feherty took down Payne Stew-
art. But it was the third match of the
day that swung the momentum. Mark
Calcavecchia held a 4-up lead on Colin
Montgomerie with four to play and lost
the final four holes to halve the match.
Calcavecchia spent an hour alone on
the beach, inconsolable.
Bernhard Langer reacts after missing a crucial par putt on the 18th
hole in his singles match with Hale Irwin in the 1991 Ryder Cup.
but inflammatory at worst. And many
people, particularly the Europeans,
took the latter.
You knew this was going to be a
contentious Ryder Cup from the first
match of the first day. Seve Ballesteros
and Jose Maria Olazabal, the Spanish
armada, teamed against Paul Azinger
and Chip Beck in the foursomes. Az-
inger and Beck inadvertently changed
balls during one hole and Ballesteros
accused them of cheating. Azinger
looked like he’d rather settle the match
with fists than golf clubs.