Format Changed 25 Years Ago

By Associated PressSeptember 11, 2004, 4:00 pm
04 Ryder CupTwenty-five years ago this weekend, at a placid resort so hidden in the West Virginia hills that daylight is said to take 24 hours to reach it, the Ryder Cup was transformed from a biennial coronation of American golfing superiority to a fight-to-the-last-putt duel between continents.
 
Even if the few spectators or the participants had no idea what would soon become of an event that, at the time, was minimally contested and mostly ignored by the public and media.
 
This was no War on the Shore or Battle of Brookline -- the only fighting words at the 1979 Ryder Cup at The Greenbrier in White Sulphur Springs, W.Va., came from a Brit and a Scot upset at being shuttled off to a locale so distant for a team event that interested them so little.
 
Us vs. Them? Back then, the Ryder Cup was mostly Them vs. Them.
 
Jack Nicklaus changed all that, all without ever lifting a club.
 
A couple of years before -- coincidentally, at the same time he was redesigning the Greenbrier course for the 1979 Ryder Cup -- Nicklaus lobbied longtime British PGA president Lord John Darby to allow Europeans onto the Great Britain-Ireland team. The United States had won 10 straight Ryder Cups, and Nicklaus felt a change was urgently needed to preserve a traditional contest played since 1927 but endangered by its lack of competitiveness.
 
'We sat down in the lounge at the hotel in Lytham,' Nicklaus said. 'I said, 'John, the Ryder Cup is a very prestigious team to make. But, frankly, the American players really could care less about the matches because they walk away with them every year. It takes a week of their time and they are just going to win anyway.'
 
Rather than arguing for tradition or becoming upset at Nicklaus' suggestion, Darby welcomed it.
 
'He said, 'You leave it to me' ... and he got that done,' Nicklaus said.
 
Did he ever. Now, the Ryder Cup is effectively the Olympics of golf, a must-watch event that stokes international passions. Since the change was made in 1979, the Americans have six wins, the Europeans five, with a tie in 1989 that let the Europeans keep the cup. But the United States has won only once since 1993, at Brookline in 1999, and only three of nine times since 1983.
 
'It grew and grew and grew,' said Bernhard Langer, a former Ryder Cup player and now the European captain.
 
Even if that growth wasn't immediate and the format change, at least initially, was a whopping failure.
 
The only continental players added in 1979 were Spaniards Seve Ballesteros and Antonio Garrido, who were largely responsible for Europe's 17-11 loss. They got off to an ominous start by losing Friday's opening four-ball match, 2 and 1, to Lanny Wadkins and Larry Nelson, a foretelling of what was to come during a weekend of play staged deep in the Allegheny Mountains.
 
They lost twice Saturday to Wadkins-Nelson, 3 and 2 in foursomes and 5 and 4 in fourball, then lost in singles the final day, Ballesteros 3 and 2 to Nelson and Garrido to Mark Hayes on the 19th hole. Nelson went 5-0 that weekend, still the only player to do so in Ryder Cup play.
 
Regardless, the Ryder Cup was much closer than usual, and not just because American star Tom Watson pulled out at the last minute to be with his pregnant wife, and Nicklaus, stuck in the worst year of his career, didn't qualify.
 
The United States led only 8 -7 after two days, mostly because Europe won five of six Saturday matches not involving Ballesteros and Garrido. Europe also could have gained another half-point and perhaps some momentum on Sunday if team captain John Jacobs hadn't made a generous gesture of sportsmanship that likely wouldn't be extended today.
 
Jacobs and U.S. captain Billy Casper placed into an envelope the name of a player to be pulled if the opposing team had an injury. Casper, either by accident or by confusion, chose his best player, Lee Trevino, rather than his worst.
 
When Europe's Mark James was scratched with an aching shoulder, Trevino should have rested, but Jacobs refused to benefit from Casper's grievous error and allowed him to sit Gil Morgan instead.
 
Trevino went on to beat Sandy Lyle, 2 and 1.
 
Think Langer would give Hal Sutton a second choice at Oakland Hills next weekend should, say, Tiger Woods accidentally be scratched?
 
Of course, Jacobs was spending the weekend dealing with a simmering issue of his own. Unhappy possibly because of the inclusion of European players, James, who would be Europe's captain 20 years later, and Ken Brown each missed a team meeting and posed uncomfortably for the team picture. Brown barely spoke to teammate Des Smyth during an embarrassingly bad 7-and-6 loss to Hale Irwin and Tom Kite in foursomes.
 
Upon returning home, both were heavily fined, and Brown, despite winning his singles match, was banned from the 1981 Ryder Cup.
 
The United States won again at Walton Heath in Surrey, England, in 1981, 18 -9 , but the momentum turned after that. The Americans won only 14 -13 at PGA National in Palm Beach Gardens in 1983, and Europe's breakthrough victory came easily -- 16 -11 -- at the Belfry in Sutton Coldfield, England, in 1985.
 
By then, a niche event -- in 1979, ABC showed only a couple of hours' coverage the entire weekend -- morphed into the premier international event in golf.
 
'Remember when whoever won the America's Cup, the yacht race, it was, `Whoa, whoa, whoa, it's the America's Cup?'' Haas said. 'Who watched boat racing on TV until the Australians won? I think that's what happened to the Ryder Cup. Until that (Europe won) happened, it was not as intense for the fans. That was the boost it got in the public's eyes.'
 
Related Links:
  • European Ryder Cup Team

  • U.S. Ryder Cup Team

  • Full Coverage - 35th Ryder Cup

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    Thompson wins Race, loses tournament after short miss

    By Will GrayNovember 19, 2017, 8:52 pm

    The drama went down to the very last hole in the LPGA's final event of 2017. Here's how things ended up at the CME Group Tour Championship, where a surprising miss from Lexi Thompson opened the door for Ariya Jutanugarn to win in dramatic fashion:

    Leaderboard: Ariya Jutanugarn (-15), Lexi Thompson (-14), Jessica Korda (-14), Pernilla Lindberg (-13), Eun-Hee Ji (-13)

    What it means: There were scenarios aplenty entering the final round, with nearly every season-long accolade still hanging in the balance. Thompson appeared set to take them all as she sized up a 2-foot par putt on the final hole - a stroke that looked like it would take her to world No. 1 for the first time. Instead, the putt barely touched the hole and allowed Jutanugarn to rally to victory with birdies on the closing two holes. Thompson still took home $1 million for winning the season-long Race to the CME Globe, as it was a reverse scenario from last year when Jutanugarn won the $1 million but not the final tournament.

    Round of the day: Sei Young Kim made the day's biggest charge, turning in a 6-under 66 to close the week in a share of 11th at 10 under. Kim made eight birdies during the final round, including five over her first eight holes en route to her lowest round of the week while erasing a third-round 75.

    Best of the rest: Jutanugarn seemed like an afterthought as the tournament was winding down, but she kept her hopes alive with an 18-foot birdie on No. 17 and then capitalized on Thompson's mistake with a clutch birdie on the difficult final hole. It capped off a final-round 67 for the Thai who now ends what has been a tumultuous season with a smile on her face.

    Biggest disappointment: Thompson faced heartbreak after the penalty-shrouded ANA Inspiration, and she again must handle a setback after essentially missing a tap-in with everything on the line. Thompson can enjoy a $1 million consolation prize along with the Vare Trophy, but a tournament win would have clinched Player of the Year honors as well as her first-ever trip to world No. 1. Instead, she now has the entire off-season to think about how things went awry from close range.

    Shot of the day: There were only three birdies on No. 18 during the final round before Jutanugarn laced one down the fairway and hit a deft approach to 15 feet. The subsequent putt found the target and gave her win No. 7 on her young LPGA career.

    Watch: Fleetwood gets emotional with family after Race to Dubai win

    By Golf Channel DigitalNovember 19, 2017, 5:30 pm

    Tommy Fleetwood took home the season-long Race to Dubai title on Sunday after a T-21 finish at the DP World Tour Championship.

    He was, understandably, emotional after learning his fate while sitting with his wife and baby following a career year in which he won the HSBC Abu Dhabi Championship and the French Open and finished fourth at the U.S. Open.

    Luckily for us, cameras were rolling:

    Matsuyama after Koepka rout: 'Huge gap between us'

    By Will GrayNovember 19, 2017, 4:22 pm

    Hideki Matsuyama offered a blunt assessment after finishing 10 shots behind Brooks Koepka at the Japan Tour's Dunlop Phoenix event.

    Koepka waxed the field en route to successfully defending his title in Japan, shooting a 20-under par total that left him nine shots clear of a runner-up group that included PGA Tour Rookie of the Year Xander Schauffele. Koepka's score was one shot off the tournament record, and his margin for victory eclipsed Tiger Woods' eight-shot romp in 2004.

    Matsuyama appeared set to make a final-round charge after a birdie on No. 2 was followed by an ace on the par-3 third hole. But he played the next eight holes in 3 over and eventually finished alone in fifth place following a 2-under 69. Afterwards, he stacked his game up against that of Koepka in a telling comment to the Japan Times.

    "I feel there's a huge gap between us," Matsuyama said.

    The Japanese phenom entered the week ranked No. 4 in the world, though he will be passed in the next rankings by Jon Rahm following the Spaniard's win in Dubai. Matsuyama won twice this year on the PGA Tour, including the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, but he has largely struggled since missing out on a maiden major title at the PGA Championship, where he tied for fifth.

    Matsuyama was a runner-up to Koepka at the U.S. Open earlier this summer, and the 25-year-old seems headed back to the drawing board before defending his title at the Hero World Challenge in two weeks.

    "I don't know whether it's a lack of practice or whether I lack the strength to keep playing well," Matsuyama said. "It seems there are many issues to address."

    McCormick to caddie for Spieth at Aussie Open

    By Will GrayNovember 19, 2017, 2:21 pm

    When Jordan Spieth returns next week to defend his title at the Australian Open, he will do so without his regular caddie on the bag.

    Spieth and Michael Greller have combined to win 14 tournaments and three majors, including three events in 2017. But Greller's wife, Ellie, gave birth to the couple's first child on Oct. 13, and according to a report from the Australian Herald Sun he will not make the intercontinental trip to Sydney, where Spieth will look to win for the third time in the last four years.

    Instead, Spieth will have longtime swing coach and native Aussie Cameron McCormick on the bag at The Australian Golf Club. McCormick, who won PGA Teacher of the Year in 2015, is originally from Melbourne but now lives in Texas and has taught Spieth since he was a rising star among the junior golf ranks in Dallas.

    While Greller has missed rounds before, this will be the first time as a pro that Spieth has used a different caddie for an entire event. Greller was sidelined with an injury last year in Singapore when Spieth's agent, Jay Danzi, took the bag, and trainer Damon Goddard has subbed in twice when Greller was sick, including this year at the Dean & DeLuca Invitational.

    Spieth's torrid 2015 season traced back to his win at The Australian in 2014, and he returned to Oz last year where he won a playoff at Royal Sydney over Cameron Smith and Ashley Hall.