We take a look at some of the unlikely stars of the great team event over the years.
17 Surprising Ryder Cup Heroes
Over the years some of the world’s greatest players have competed in the Ryder Cup, men who have claimed multiple Majors and countless tournament victories across the globe. But, such is the nature of the great trans-Atlantic competition that often it’s not the superstars who are to the fore. Looking back on almost 90 years of Ryder Cup matches, there have been a number of unlikely heroes in the Ryder Cup, players who have risen to the challenge and performed well beyond expectation, or held their nerve at the crucial moment. Below we take a look at 17 of these heroes.
Participating in a team with superstars like Rory McIlroy, Sergio Garcia, Henrik Stenson and Justin Rose, not a lot was expected of Belgian Thomas Pieters, especially after he and Lee Westwood were utterly destroyed by Dustin Johnson and Matt Kuchar in the morning foursomes. But he quickly forgot about that set-back and, when paired with Rory McIlroy won their next three matches comprehensively. He also then won his singles match against J.B. Holmes to pick up four points from five matches.
Playing in his first Ryder Cup, Donaldson missed out on the first session on Friday but got paired with Lee Westwood for the remaining three sessions, in which they won two of them. Donaldson then, playing against Keegan Bradley in the singles, played sublime golf in what turned out to be the pivotal match. He beat Bradley 5&3 and secured the Cup for Europe with a brilliant wedge to within inches of the hole at the 15th at Gleneagles.
His official record at the event wasn’t great given that he lost three of four matches, but his Friday afternoon four ball performance deserves a mention. Paired with Lee Westwood, he produced eight birdies and an eagle to secure a 1up victory against Tiger Woods and Steve Stricker in a match which was huge for European chances. It was the final match of the day, Europe at that stage were 5-2 down and the victory meant the men in blue avoided a clean sweep in the session.
Although the Floridian had enjoyed a good season prior to Valhalla, few would have picked him as likely key player for Paul Azinger going into the 2008 Ryder Cup. But, he played superbly, was unbeaten and thumped Oliver Wilson in the singles. He was also instrumental in inspiring his countrymen to secure their first Ryder Cup for almost a decade. (Who can forget him cowboy horse-riding his driver!)
In a team featuring Garcia, Westwood, Montgomerie and Langer, McGinley wasn’t one of Europe’s big names. But when it came down to it on Sunday afternoon it was the diminutive Irishman who faced a putt on the final green to halve with Jim Furyk and win the Ryder Cup for Europe. He rolled it in and leapt into the air with arms aloft.
Although it was Monty who secured the winning half point for Seve’s men, the Italian was a revelation at Valderrama. Playing with Olly, he beat Love III and Mickelson in the fourballs and Love III and Couples in foursomes. He then beat Tiger Woods by 4&2 in the singles.
Gilford had a torrid time in his debut Ryder Cup appearance in 1991. He’d lost heavily in foursomes matches with both Monty and Faldo and had been “the name in the envelope” when Steve Pate had been forced to pull out of the singles with injury. So he could have justifiably been feeling extra nerves at Oak Hill in 1995. But he stood up to the plate and secured 3 points from 4 including a crucial 1-up singles win against Brad Faxon.
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Playing Jay Haas in the singles, second from last, the fate of the Ryder Cup fell to the Irishman – probably the least experienced member of the European team. But it came down to him – three up with three to play, he lost the 16th when Haas holed a bunker shot, he then lost the 17th, missing a three-foot par putt. On the last, he was visibly nervous but so was Haas. Walton limped it down the hole but did enough to cross the line and win the Cup for Europe.
Christy O’Connor Jnr
Having played only one match in the pairs, and lost, few gave O’Connor much of a chance against the talented American Fred Couples in the singles. But coming to the 18th all square, the Irishman had a chance to secure a crucial point. He found the fairway from the 18th tee, albeit a long way back, before Couples blasted his ball over 300 yards down the fairway. It looked good for the American but then Christy O’Connor produced one of the best shots in Cup history, a 2-iron from 230 yards that ended 3 feet from the hole. The shot destroyed Couples who semi-shanked his second and failed to get up-and-down.
The strange-swinging Irishman had a pretty desperate Ryder Cup record and lost his only pairs match leading up to the singles at Muirfield Village. But, playing Ben Crenshaw in the singles D’Arcy managed to secure a vital point that helped Europe win for the first time on U.S. soil.
In the first defeat for the U.S since 1957, the Spaniard (who had never played in either the Masters or U.S. Open and had just one top-10 in Majors) was a rock for Europe. He won three of four matches with Seve in the pairs then went out first in the singles, beat Lanny Wadkins by 3&1 and laid the foundation for Europe’s first win.
Although GB&I lost, the big Scot beat Jack Nicklaus twice in a day in the singles. A pretty impressive feat when you consider Nicklaus had won the Masters that year and the PGA Championship the month before.
Everyone remembers the concession, but few will recall the nail-biting match that preceded the Nicklaus/Jacklin game. Brian Huggett had to hole a six-foot putt on the 17th to stay level with Billy Casper, then he boxed a five-footer on the last to secure the crucial half. At the time, when he stood over the final putt, he believed it was to win the Ryder Cup.
In a team full of superstars, Johnny Pott was the last qualifier for the U.S. team. But he won four points from four matches and was a key factor in the American demolition job at the Champions Golf Club.
Secured winning point for GB and I in only GB victory between 1933 and 1985.
The U.S was without Ben Hogan or Byron Nelson, but little-known Heafner stepped up to the plate teaming up with Jimmy Demaret to win in the foursomes, then seeing off Dick Burton in the singles to set up the US win.
Played one of the great singles matches in Ryder Cup history against Denny Shute. It went to the last and the fate of the cup rested on their game – the score tied at 5.5 each with just their match to finish. Easterbrook holed a three-footer on the last to win his match and the Cup.
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