The Comeback

By Randall MellNovember 6, 2009, 2:04 am

Project 99I was there when ... American captain Ben Crenshaw leaned forward and poked his index finger in the air toward the assembled media on the eve of the greatest comeback in Ryder Cup history.

“I’m going to leave you all with one thought,” Crenshaw said before exiting the media room at The Country Club at Brookline ( Mass. ). “I’m a big believer in fate. I have a good feeling about this. That’s all I’m going to tell you.”

It was Saturday, Sept. 25, 1999, and Crenshaw’s final words that night hung powerfully in the air as he walked out. That’s because almost nothing else he said before that inspired any confidence that the Americans could overcome a 10-6 deficit in Sunday singles. In fact, until Crenshaw made that bold proclamation, he was rambling almost nonsensically. As articulate as Crenshaw can normally be, that’s how disconcerting the American team’s play was. Crenshaw struggled that night to make sense of how his talented cast had fallen so far behind. He struggled to explain how they were going to turn momentum around overnight.

Crenshaw’s captaincy was looking like it was going to be remembered as a disaster.

The Americans arrived at Brookline under a dark cloud anyway, and it grew darker by the day. This was the year Mark O’Meara, David Duval and Tiger Woods caused a furor suggesting players should be paid to play in the Ryder Cup, though they later insisted they only meant that players should have a say in where proceeds go. It all blew up a month earlier, at the PGA Championship, where a disgusted Crenshaw fired back at players wanting to control Ryder Cup finances.

Gentle Ben wasn’t so gentle after attending a players meeting two days before the PGA Championship at Medinah.

“I’m personally disappointed in a couple of people in that meeting,' Crenshaw said. “It burns the hell out of me to listen to some of their viewpoints. I came away empty.'

Tom Lehman, a member of that American team, was even more direct.

“I’m so sick of it, I could just barf,” Lehman said.

The furor only fueled the feeling the Americans weren’t built for team events, that they were too individualistic, too self-centered as Tour pros to meld as a unit. The Europeans arrived at Brookline having won the last two Ryder Cups and five of the last seven. They were supposed to have better chemistry, more camaraderie, and they looked like it through the first two days.

O’Meara, Duval and Woods, the players at the heart of the pay-for-play controversy, were cumulatively 1-6-1 going into Sunday singles.

The atmosphere at Brookline was supercharged all week, even before the matches began. The 33rd Ryder Cup played out on a sprawling stage. That’s what The Country Club felt like, more stage than golf course. I remember how fans jostled like groupies outside the barricade around the clubhouse waiting for courtesy cars to roll up. It looked a Hollywood style red-carpet entryway. They howled hardest when Woods and Sergio Garcia walked through.

I remember thinking that the Ryder Cup had officially evolved into more spectacle than sport. Great Britain’s Prince Andrew was there that week. So were the king and queen of Spain. American royalty was there, too. Michael Jordan attended. The Backstreet Boys walked inside the ropes following Woods in his Wednesday practice round. Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler visited the hospitality suite, Celine Dione sang at the team gala. Bomb-sniffing dogs walked the grounds.

Baggs: The 1999 PGA ChampionshipCoffin: The Curious Case of David DuvalHoggard: Triumph to TragedyLerner: The Van de Velde Follies

The week felt like a strange mix of the Academy Awards, the Olympics and rowdy British soccer.

Colin Montgomerie would attest to the British soccer comparison. It was a tough week for the Scot. This was at the height of his problems in the United States, where American fans had singled him out for derision after his confrontations with spectators at the U.S. Open at Congressional two years earlier. He was known for his rabbit ears, as a player who could easily be engaged.

After the Europeans took that commanding 10-6 lead, Montgomerie didn’t help himself.

With Saturday’s play done, Montgomerie stood in the shadow of the clubhouse reveling in Europe ’s huge lead.

“Listen,” Montgomerie told reporters. “You know we’ve won, don’t you? It’s silent. Great. That’s the best thing we can do, silence the crowd by outplaying them.”

Montgomerie couldn’t silence the hecklers in his Sunday singles match with Payne Stewart. I followed them inside the ropes that day. They were the anchor match, the final match of the competition. It would be the last time I saw Stewart play. His death in a plane crash would come exactly one month later. Watching him that day remains a terrific final memory.

In a tight match, Montgomerie battled the fans as much as he did Stewart. They hounded Montgomerie with shouts of “Mrs. Doubtfire.” I remember standing to Montgomerie’s left along the ropes on the tee box at the ninth hole. It was a tough tee shot through the trees. As Montgomerie addressed his ball, a man barked, “Don’t hit it in the woods, Monty!”

Montgomerie snarled and backed off his tee shot. The heckler, a scruffy looking college-aged kid, made the mistake of positioning himself directly behind Montgomerie’s wife at the time, Eimear. She turned and gestured to the unruly offender. Montgomerie pointed his driver at the heckler and marched toward him.

“Get rid of that man,” Montgomerie demanded to nearby security. “This is a game of golf, not football.”

Crenshaw was on the tee box, and he stepped in, steering security to do as Montgomerie demanded. Two security guards grabbed the man, stuffed him onto a golf cart and drove him away. It was the second heckler hauled away from Montgomerie’s match that day. Another man was taken away at the fifth hole. Montgomerie’s father, it came out later, was so upset at the abuse his son was receiving that he left the golf course before the match was over.

On the 13th green, with Montgomerie preparing to putt, another unruly spectator stepped forward.

Payne Stewart and Colin Montgomerie
Payne Stewart concedes his singles match to Colin Montgomerie. (Getty Images)

“Hey, Monty, your zipper’s down,” he barked.

Stewart stepped into the fray, raising his arms to still the crowd.

“That’s enough,” Stewart said. “Calm down.”

This epic final round’s best and worst moment came in front of Montgomerie and Stewart. They were standing at the 17th tee when Justin Leonard rolled in the famed 45-foot birdie putt that all but clinched the historic American comeback. The putt set off the most controversial celebration in the history of the Ryder Cup. It outraged Montgomerie and the rest of the Europeans. That’s where American players and their wives rushed the green to embrace Leonard.

With Lehman hoisting Leonard in the air, Crenshaw fell to his knees and kissed the earth, as if it were hallowed ground. He would later insist that it was just that, because it’s where Francis Ouimet was immortalized for popularizing the game in the United States. It was where Ouimet holed a birdie putt in 1913 to secure his U.S. Open upset of British stars Harry Vardon and Ted Ray.

The entire scene disgusted Montgomerie and the rest of the Europeans who saw it, because Olazabal still had a 25-foot birdie putt. Olazabal still had a chance to halve the hole and keep alive Europe’s chances of holding off the American charge.

“I couldn’t believe what I was seeing,” Montgomerie said.

European assistant captain Sam Torrance was more direct.

“It’s the most disgusting thing I’ve ever seen,” he said.

Olazabal missed the putt, helping secure what would end as a 14 ½ to 13 ½ American victory. Though the Americans had completed the largest final-round comeback in the history of the Ryder Cup, Montgomerie and Stewart weren’t done. They played on to decide who would win their match.

While Montgomerie ended up getting the better of Stewart that day, I got to see the best of Stewart. At the 18th green, with their match all square, Stewart conceded a 20-foot birdie putt to Montgomerie, giving the Scot a 1-up victory. Stewart spared Montgomerie further abuse conceding their match. I’ll remember Stewart’s act of sportsmanship, but I’ll remember his uninhibited joy that day, too. Moments later, Stewart was amid a swarm of teammates dousing each other with champagne on the clubhouse veranda.

Somewhere, Crenshaw was smiling, knowing his big belief in fate had won out.

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McCoy earns medalist honors at Web.com Q-School

By Will GrayDecember 11, 2017, 12:30 am

One year after his budding career was derailed by a car accident, Lee McCoy got back on track by earning medalist honors at the final stage of Web.com Tour Q-School.

McCoy shot a final-round 65 at Whirlwind Golf Club in Chandler, Ariz., to finish the 72-hole event at 28 under. That total left him two shots ahead of Sung-Jae Im and guaranteed him fully-exempt status on the developmental circuit in 2018.

It's an impressive turnaround for the former University of Georgia standout who finished fourth at the 2016 Valspar Championship as an amateur while playing alongside Jordan Spieth in the final round. But he broke his wrist in a car accident the day before second stage of Q-School last year, leaving him without status on any major tour to begin the year.

McCoy was not the only player who left Arizona smiling. Everyone in the top 10 and ties will be exempt through the first 12 events of the new Web.com Tour season, a group that includes former amateur standouts Curtis Luck (T-3), Sam Burns (T-10) and Maverick McNealy (T-10).

Players who finished outside the top 10 but inside the top 45 and ties earned exemptions into the first eight events of 2018. That group includes Cameron Champ (T-16), who led the field in driving at this year's U.S. Open as an amateur, and Wyndham Clark (T-23).

Everyone who advanced to the final stage of Q-School will have at least conditional Web.com Tour status in 2018. Among those who failed to secure guaranteed starts this week were Robby Shelton, Rico Hoey, Jordan Niebrugge, Joaquin Niemann and Kevin Hall.

Els honored with Heisman Humanitarian Award

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 10, 2017, 11:41 pm

The annual Heisman Trophy award ceremony is one of the biggest moments in any football season, but there was a touching non-football moment as well on Saturday night as Ernie Els received the Heisman Humanitarian Award.

The award, which had been announced in August, recognized Els' ongoing efforts on behalf of his Els for Autism foundation. Els received the award at Manhattan's PlayStation Theater, where Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield won the Heisman Trophy.

Els, 47, founded Els for Autism in 2009 with his wife after their son, Ben, was diagnosed with autism. Their efforts have since flourished into a 26-acre campus in Jupiter, Fla., and the creation of the Els Center for Excellence in 2015.

The Heisman Humanitarian Award has been given out since 2006. Past recipients include NBA center David Robinson, NFL running back Warrick Dunn, soccer star Mia Hamm and NASCAR driver Jeff Gordon.

A native of South Africa, Els won the U.S. Open in 1994 and 1997 and The Open in 2002 and 2012. He has won 19 times on the PGA Tour and was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2011.

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Monday finish for Joburg Open; Sharma leads by 4

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 10, 2017, 8:57 pm

Rain, lightning and hail pushed the Joburg Open to a Monday finish, with India’s Shubhankar Sharma holding a four-stroke lead with 11 holes to play in Johannesburg.

Play is scheduled to resume at 7:30 a.m. local time.

South Africa’s Erik van Rooyen will have a 3-foot putt for birdie to move within three shots of Sharma wen play resumes at the Randpark Golf Club. Sarma is at 22 under par.

Tapio Pulkkanen of Finland and James Morrison of England are tied for third at 14 under. Pulkkanen has 10 holes remaining, Morrison 11.

The top three finishers who are not already exempt, will get spots in next year’s Open Championship at Carnoustie.

 

 

Stricker, O'Hair team to win QBE Shootout

By Will GrayDecember 10, 2017, 8:55 pm

It may not count in the official tally, but Steve Stricker is once again in the winner's circle on the PGA Tour.

Stricker teamed with Sean O'Hair to win the two-person QBE Shootout, as the duo combined for a better-ball 64 in the final round to finish two shots clear of Graeme McDowell and Shane Lowry. It's the second win in this event for both men; Stricker won with Jerry Kelly back in 2009 while O'Hair lifted the trophy with Kenny Perry in 2012.

Stricker and O'Hair led wire-to-wire in the 54-hole, unofficial event after posting a 15-under 57 during the opening-round scramble.

"We just really gelled well together," Stricker said. "With his length the first day, getting some clubs into the greens, some short irons for me, we just fed off that first day quite a bit. We felt comfortable with one another."


Full-field scores from the QBE Shootout


Stricker won 12 times during his PGA Tour career, most recently at the 2012 Tournament of Champions. More recently the 50-year-old has been splitting his time on the PGA Tour Champions and captained the U.S. to a victory at the Presidents Cup in October. O'Hair has four official Tour wins, most recently at the 2011 RBC Canadian Open.

Pat Perez and Brian Harman finished alone in third, four shots behind Stricker and O'Hair. Lexi Thompson and Tony Finau, the lone co-ed pairing in the 12-team event, finished among a tie for fourth.