Best Ryder Cup Story of All Time!

Best Ryder Cup Story of All Time!

ryder cup

Considering the fierce competition of recent Ryder Cup matches, it is easy to forget that the bi-annual event was, until quite recently, a one-sided romp won by the American team time after time. You had to go back to 1957 to find a defeated US team. Between that occasion and the European victory in 1985, the closest the US came to losing was a historic battle played in September of 1969, on the seaside links at Royal Birkdale in Lancashire, England. That year, an Englishman had won their Open Championship for the first time in almost twenty years, and the British had high hopes for victory. More than 10,000 people crammed every sand dune and vantage point they could find around Birkdale’s 18th hole. The evening was gray and damp and the light was fading as the final twosome reached the tee. The result of the Ryder Cup was in the balance and rested squarely on the shoulders of these two men. One of them was the world’s greatest player, playing in his first Ryder Cup — the other was the reigning British Open Champion and his team’s leader. The entire competition had reached its dramatic focal point. The winner of this ultimate hole would secure victory for his country.

With the destination of the Ryder cup in question for the first time in many years, Tony Jacklin drove first. He had just holed a birdie putt on the 17th that he later described as, “One of the most important putts of my life.” It had enabled him to pull even with the great Jack Nicklaus. Both hit good tee shots down the short par five hole and strode down the red stone path toward the fairway. Jacklin was walking several yards ahead when Nicklaus called to him. Jacklin paused and allowed Nicklaus to catch up with him.

“How do you feel, Tony?” asked Nicklaus.

“Bloody awful!” replied Jacklin.

“I thought you might,” said Nicklaus, “but if it’s any consolation to you, so do I!”

Their eyes met briefly in mutual understanding of the pressure of the moment and the expectations of their respective countrymen. Then they walked to their balls. Nicklaus played first, his ball coming to rest in the heart of the green, some 30 feet from the flag. Jacklin responded with a bold shot over the left sandtrap but his ball bounded to the back of the green, some 40 feet away from the hole. After delivering standing ovations for both men as they approached their balls, the crowd fell into deathly silence. Supporters of both sides rubbed their eyes, gnawed on their knuckles and held their collective breath.

Jacklin’s putt for eagle was on line but came to rest some two feet short of the hole on the damp turf. Now Nicklaus putted boldly for the win, barely missing the hole but running some three or four feet by. The pressure was intense but Nicklaus, taking his time as usual, hunched over the ball in his familiar way and stroked it dead center into the cup. Jacklin was now faced with the longest two-foot putt of his life. If he made it, the Ryder cup was tied. If he missed it, he would be the scapegoat for the loss and would no doubt be crucified by the British sporting press, ever ready to turn on yesterday’s hero. Jacklin stepped towards his ball marker but, before he could replace his ball, Nicklaus bent down and picked up Jacklin’s marker, conceding the tying putt. As he extended his hand he said, “Tony, I’m sure you would have made it…but I wasn’t prepared to see you miss it.”

Their match was halved, the Ryder Cup was tied, and the US would retain the trophy. This fine gesture was typical of Nicklaus, demonstrating the highest qualities of sportsmanship and class we expect of all TRULY great champions.

From Your Friends at Mark Wood Golf Academy

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Mark Wood

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