Moment Of Truth The wildest comeback in Ryder Cup history culminated in one unlikely putt that clinched a stunning victory for the U.S. team

October 03, 1999

By Saturday night it was all over, and everybody knew it. The
Europeans were a day away from winning the Ryder Cup for the
third straight time, and all Ben Crenshaw, the U.S. team
captain, could do was ramble on about this and that, not wholly
coherent, fighting tears while telling reporters how proud he
was of the 12 wonderful men on his team. You half wished that
some big-boned Boston cop would come in, gently place a pair of
large hands on Crenshaw's slim shoulders and say, "It's over,
Mr. Crenshaw. Go home to Austin and see your kids. Go home."

That didn't happen, however, and Crenshaw continued, talking out
of a sepia-toned dream. "I'm going to leave y'all with one
thought," he said. "I'm a big believer in fate. I have a good
feeling about this." With that he vanished into the night.

Crenshaw left the Country Club in Brookline, Mass., and headed
to the Four Seasons in Boston, the tony headquarters of this not
entirely civil war. The Americans, winners of just six points in
the first two days of the Ryder Cup, had taken over the sixth
floor of the hotel. The Europeans, winners of 10 points, had the
fifth. In his back pocket Crenshaw had a pairing sheet with the
12 Sunday tee times for his 12 wonderful men and their European
opponents.

If the Americans could win eight of those matches and tie
another, they would win back the cup. That's all they needed to
do. Of course, no team in 32 previous Ryder Cups had staged a
successful comeback from more than two points down, but the U.S.
captain couldn't be bothered with that. Crenshaw looked at the
matchups. He said, first to himself, later to his team, "We can
whitewash 'em." His nickname, Gentle Ben, given to him as a
Texas schoolboy, was always sarcastic. Crenshaw wanted his team
to be relentless. He wanted to win.

At the Four Seasons the Americans assembled for a team meeting.
The captain was accompanied by his wife, Julie. The players were
accompanied by their wives or girlfriends. Crenshaw's two
assistant captains, Bill Rogers and Bruce Lietzke, both Texans,
were there. So was Texas governor George W. Bush. The
presidential candidate, scion of two past USGA presidents, read
a poem remembering the horrible massacre at the Alamo in 1836,
when hopes of Texas independence from Mexico appeared dead, and
yet, as every Texan knows, independence came just six weeks
later. A video was shown. It included highlights from each
player's career and a personalized cheer by a cheerleader from
each player's college. (It's amazing what $64 million in Ryder
Cup revenues can buy.) The video also included the scene from
Animal House in which the Delta fraternity house is about to be
closed, and Blutarsky (John Belushi) asks his brethren, "Did the
Americans quit when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor?" Steve
Pate, a captain's pick and the loosest guy on the team, laughed
uproariously at that one. He's a student of the classics.

Everybody in the room was asked to speak about his Ryder Cup
experience. Most said something to inspire the team. Hal Sutton
said, "I believe there's more talent on the sixth floor than
there is on the fifth, but we've got to play with more emotion.
We've got to raise our fists, get the crowd into it." Payne
Stewart and David Duval and Davis Love III spoke about winning
for Crenshaw.

If a player made the mistake of beginning a sentence with,
"Should we win tomorrow," Crenshaw interjected, "When we win
tomorrow." When it was the captain's turn to speak, he returned
to his press-tent theme, that he was a big believer in fate,
that he had a feeling. The players had heard his homilies since
early in the week, and some had grown tired of listening. On
Friday and Saturday, as Europe built its lead, there had been
some carping among the American players, naturally. The team was
down. The players didn't like some of the pairings, didn't like
the length of time it took Crenshaw to reach his decisions,
hated the laggard pace at which the Europeans played.

On Saturday night everything was different. The captain with a
sensibility from another era finally connected with his team.
His players could see, for the first time, Crenshaw's vision,
the intersection of talent and fate. They saw a way to win. It
wasn't just a dream. The truth was that in each of Sunday's
first eight matches, the U.S. player was more accomplished and
more talented than his European opponent.

Robin Love, Davis's wife, was the last to speak. She continued
the Texas theme. She cited Harvey Penick, the great and ancient
Austin Country Club teaching professional who taught Crenshaw
the game. Penick was buried on April 5, 1995, a Wednesday, and
Crenshaw was a pallbearer. Four days later he won the Masters
for the second time, his first victory in more than a year. "I
had a 15th club in the bag this week," Crenshaw said then. "And
it was Harvey." Love finished second that week. His father had
been one of Penick's proteges. Robin Love didn't grow up in
golf, the way her husband did, the way Crenshaw did, but she
gets it now. She knows that golfers never forget their mentors.
She knows that golfers need swing thoughts. She dusted off the
purest swing thought ever devised, three words of genius
straight from Penick, and scattered them through the room: "Take
dead aim."

Penick, who continued to publish new books even after he was
dead, also inspired a Ryder Cup team from the grave. Take dead
aim, that's what the Americans did on Sunday. The scoring was so
fast and furious, it was almost scary. On every scoreboard, all
you saw were U.S. flags next to Americans' names. In the first
match Tom Lehman won the 4th and 5th holes from Lee Westwood,
then the 9th and the 10th and closed out the match three holes
up with two to play. A trouncing. In the second match Hal Sutton
defeated Darren Clarke, 4 and 2. Another trouncing. In the third
match Phil Mickelson dismantled a player he despises, Sweden's
Jarmo Sandelin, 4 and 3. Trounce-orama. In the fourth match Love
annihilated Jean Van de Velde, taking four straight holes at one
point and winning 6 and 5. That's beyond a trouncing. In the
fifth match Tiger Woods defeated Andrew Coltart of Scotland, 3
and 2. In the sixth match Duval blitzed Jesper Parnevik, 5 and
4. These are not normal match-play scores. This was not a normal
day of golf. When the first six matches were over, the U.S. was
leading, 12 points to 10. Then, in the eighth match, Pate,
thinking about those Germans at Pearl Harbor, defeated Miguel
Angel Jimenez, 2 and 1, and the score was 13-10, with five
matches still going on. You couldn't breathe.

Mark James, the European captain, had not played Sandelin,
Coltart or Van de Velde in any of the team matches on Friday and
Saturday. The three Ryder Cup rookies had said all the right
things publicly, but they were miffed and hurt. Overanxious,
too. Meanwhile, James played Parnevik and Sergio Garcia together
four times. They were brilliant, entertaining, effective. They
were alive, hugging and talking to each other constantly. They
won three matches and halved another. It was a partnership for
the ages, one of several among the Europeans. Colin Montgomerie
and his fellow Scot, Paul Lawrie, also played together four
times over the first two days, winning twice, losing once,
halving once, reading greens for each other in their lovely and
distinctive brogues.

One of the misfortunes of the Ryder Cup at the Country Club was
the verbal abuse from the gallery that Montgomerie endured, but
he turned it into motivation. Clarke and Westwood, an Irishman
and an Englishman who would look at home hoisting lagers in a
tavern in Boston's South End, played together four times, too,
winning twice and losing twice. But on Sunday each European had
to go his own way. On their own, Garcia and Parnevik,
particularly, looked lost. Both men are strong; their bodies are
fit. But their brains were mush. They missed each other. Garcia
would eventually lose 4 and 3 to Jim Furyk, giving up the 14th
point to the U.S. The Americans needed a half point to regain
the cup.

Meanwhile, Lawrie, the British Open champion, was in the process
of beating Jeff Maggert, 4 and 3, locking up the Europeans' 11th
point. Three matches were still close: Padraig Harrington versus
Mark O'Meara, Justin Leonard against Jose Maria Olazabal, and
Montgomerie versus Stewart. The U.S. was looking for a half
point. Europe was looking for a miracle.

If Crenshaw's vision of a fated outcome was to hold true, it was
unlikely that O'Meara would be the hero. He and Crenshaw are
very different men. O'Meara is a pro's pro. He knows everything
there is to know about playing golf for a living. Crenshaw is an
amateur's pro. His abiding interest is the game. To him the
Ryder Cup is the greatest amateur competition in golf, played by
men who just happen to be professionals. Crenshaw didn't play
O'Meara on Friday morning with Woods, his Florida neighbor and
fishing buddy. (Crenshaw paired Woods with Lehman, believing
that the Minnesotan's God-country-family code would give Woods a
better understanding of the Ryder Cup.) In fact, the captain
didn't play O'Meara at all on Friday and played him only once on
Saturday. The pro's pro did a slow burn but didn't say a word in
public.

Coming to 18 on Sunday all square with Harrington, O'Meara needed
only to halve the hole to win the half point that would clinch
the U.S. victory. He hooked his drive into a bunker, pulled his
second shot into another bunker, made bogey and lost the match,
one down.

The game was still on. U.S. players and their wives and caddies
started running the wrong way down the 18th fairway, heading for
the 17th green, listening to Johnny Miller's deft--and often
blunt--NBC commentary on tiny transistor radios. Leonard and
Olazabal were on the hole. Leonard, another Texan, had been four
holes down to the Masters champion through 10 holes. As he came
off the 10th green, he was greeted by his close friend Davis
Love, who was sent out by Crenshaw to walk with him. There were
tears in Leonard's eyes. The Ryder Cup had been a brutal
experience for him. He had played three times on Friday and
Saturday but never in a winning twosome. Crenshaw spoke often of
hunches, and Miller, playing off that, had said on Saturday, "My
hunch is that Leonard needs to go home and watch on TV."

Love's presence seemed to inspire Leonard just as Olazabal went
into a funk, making bogeys on four straight holes, 11 through
14. After Leonard rolled in a 35-foot putt on the 15th hole, the
match was level. It remained all square when both men made pars
on 16. They both reached the green on the 17th, a par-4, in two
shots. Leonard faced a 45-foot putt; Olazabal's was half that.
You don't expect to make 45-footers. It's just not reasonable.
Not even for Leonard, who has one of the world's best short games.

All of golf was around the green: Garcia, at the start of a
career that promises to be magical. The electric Woods, 23 years
old and well on his way to the Hall of Fame. Olazabal, the
dignified Spaniard with beautiful manners. Two more Texans, Tom
Kite and Lanny Wadkins, winners of majors, both former Ryder Cup
captains. Penick, in some manner of speaking. Leonard took dead
aim. He was putting on a green where U.S. golf was born. In
1913, Francis Ouimet, a 20-year-old former caddie who lived
across the street from the 17th, at 246 Clyde Street, won the
U.S. Open in a playoff against the two great English players of
the day, Ted Ray and Harry Vardon, by holing two putts on 17: a
20-footer in the fourth round to move into a tie for the lead,
then another 15-footer in the playoff. Crenshaw knew all about
it. Crenshaw knows the story of the game.

Leonard's putt was tracking, and then it disappeared. It was
utterly improbable. The U.S. team got lost in the moment.
Crenshaw fell to his knees and kissed the green. Garcia sobbed.
The American celebration was excessive and inappropriate, when
you consider that Olazabal still had a 20-footer to halve the
hole. If he could make it--and he has made thousands of
20-footers in his golfing life--the match would still be on. If
he missed, Leonard would go to one up, a half point would be
guaranteed, and the Americans would win. Once the commotion had
subsided, Olazabal took his time. He waited for a grumbling
truck to pass by Ouimet's old house. A prop plane puttered
overhead. The Spaniard drew the head of his putter back and put
a good stroke on the ball, but it did not go in. On Ouimet's
green Crenshaw hugged Leonard so hard that it looked as if his
piercing blue eyes might pop right out of his head. One of the
greatest comebacks in the history of sports had been completed.

When everything was done, the final score was 14 1/2 for the
U.S., 13 1/2 for the Europeans. Later, Tom Lehman would yank his
shirt off and heave it into the cheering crowd. Olazabal would
take a half-dozen drivers and toss them into the gallery, for he
had no use for them.

As for the captain, he would collect his cup and his memories
and himself. Crenshaw first came to the Country Club in 1968, to
play in the U.S. Junior Amateur. His father, Charlie, who died
this past May, was at that championship, walking the fairways of
the Country Club with his 16-year-old boy. Young Ben fell for
the game in a way few people can understand. His first marriage
could not withstand his love for the game. His second one is
guided by it.

"We gave up our lives for this," Crenshaw said. "We gave up our
kids. I gave up my golf for this. I don't even play golf anymore."

Was it worth it?

His weeping told you all you needed to know. The historian had
made history.

COLOR PHOTO: COVER PHOTOGRAPH BY SIMON BRUTY COVER The Putt Heard 'Round The World U.S. RYDER CUP HERO JUSTIN LEONARD COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPH BY BOB MARTIN Emotional charge Leonard's birdie at 17 set off a wild celebration, even as Olazabal waited to putt for a halve. COLOR PHOTO: ROBERT BECK All pumped up A strong early showing from a suddenly emotional Duval helped turn the momentum the U.S.'s way on Sunday. COLOR PHOTO: SIMON BRUTY Like a rock Sutton was the anchor of the U.S. team, finishing up his 3 1/2-point weekend with a win over Clarke on the final day. COLOR PHOTO: BOB MARTIN Letting loose Woods and O'Meara helped fuel the compensation controversy before the Cup, but their joy at the end was priceless.

"We've got to play with more emotion," Sutton told the team on
Saturday night. "Raise our fists, get the crowd into it."

"We gave up our lives for this," Crenshaw said after his team's
win. "I gave up my golf for this. I don't even play anymore."

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)