Sunday Punch With the mighty U.S. team saving its heavy hitters until it was too late, the Europeans came out swinging and landed a match-play haymaker to win the Ryder Cup

Oct. 07, 2002
Oct. 07, 2002

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Oct. 7, 2002

Sunday Punch With the mighty U.S. team saving its heavy hitters until it was too late, the Europeans came out swinging and landed a match-play haymaker to win the Ryder Cup

When it was over, and Europeans were diving into a pond near the
18th green--one by one, rapid-fire, as at the start of an Esther
Williams number--the U.S. had surrendered the Ryder Cup with two
bullets still in their chambers. Thirty-five thousand spectators
were going bats in the Belfry, while Davis Love III and Tiger
Woods had yet to post scores. U.S. captain Curtis Strange may
forever feel the weight of those unfinished rounds, like the
phantom legs of an amputee.

This is an article from the Oct. 7, 2002 issue Original Layout

The pity is not that the U.S. died, but that it died with green
bananas on the counter. Love was the 10th American to tee off on
Sunday, too late to help his teammates. Woods--who's been known to
get $2 million and the use of a Maserati simply for showing up at
a tournament in Europe--went off 12th and last. You wouldn't bat
DiMaggio 10th, or have Yo-Yo Ma play third-chair cello. But the
world's best golfer was marooned, midround, on the 17th hole when
Europe won the 34th Ryder Cup in Sutton Coldfield, England. Said
Woods, cruelly, of what he did next: "I hit one of my best
seven-irons ever." Sigh. But then Schubert, too, left an
unfinished symphony.

The week began with a rare English earthquake: 4.2 on the Richter
scale, it sent Jesper Parnevik fleeing naked into the night onto
the balcony of the Belfry Hotel. The week ended with one, too. As
Paul McGinley of Ireland--a genial man with the stature, and
perma-smile, of a ventriloquist's dummy--stood over a 10-foot par
putt on 18 on Sunday, he needed only to sink it to halve his
match with Jim Furyk and give Europe 14 1/2 points and victory.
The gallery stood a dozen deep around the green, thousands of
people pogoing up and down in an effort to see, so that the golf
course looked like one prodigious Whack-a-Mole game.

When the putt fell, the gallery immediately burst into song. "I
realized then," said Woods, who was standing on the 17th tee,
"that we weren't going to win." No indeed, for McGinley was
immediately dwarf-tossed into the pond, and Europe captain Sam
Torrance exhaled joyous walrus tusks of cigarette smoke through
his nostrils. "Hurry up with your questions," the Scotsman urged
reporters much later that evening in an interview tent, long
after his team's 15 1/2-12 1/2 win, as the postvictory singing
outside entered its third consecutive hour without pause. "It
sounds like a hell of a party out there."

It was. All week spectators were "biased and respectful in the
same breath," as David Duval put it. For this was, as all the
signage served to remind everyone, the 2001 RYDER CUP, postponed
a year because of Sept. 11. After the debacle outside Boston in
'99--when celebrating U.S. players and wives, wearing hideous
shirts of woven vomit, were accused of epitomizing ugly
Americanism--spectators were urged to behave at the Belfry. They
bought into the program, Brookline and sinker.

It helped that security was tighter than an Englishman's
arteries. Among the items specifically proscribed at the Belfry
were folding chairs and stepladders, in evident anticipation of
an attack by Ric Flair. Police with submachine guns patrolled the
course's perimeter, and alcohol was barred from the galleries.
"Didn't see one drunk," Torrance said after Friday's better-ball
and alternate-shot play, during which his side, keyed by two
victories from the team of Sergio Garcia and the reborn Lee
Westwood, eked out a 4 1/2-3 1/2 lead. "Might see a couple later
though. And I might be one of 'em."

Sure enough, by sundown Sunday, Torrance--a joyous man whose
mustache appears to have been Magic Markered on--was chugging from
an oversized bottle of Moet, the kind used to launch ships.
Which, in a manner of speaking, he had just done. Torrance raised
the sunken Phillip Price, the last man to qualify for team
Europe. "I've been in the depths," Price said on Sunday night,
"and this team has pulled me up."

The 35-year-old Welshman's paragraph-long bio in the European
Tour guide is so slight that it actually has room for the
notation "Pontypridd Man of the Year, 1994," an honor bestowed by
his hometown. Yet on Sunday, Phil Mickelson (World Ranking: 2)
was torpedoed by Price (World Ranking: 119) in match play, 3 and
2. "I didn't think I had it in me," said Price, "but it was nice
to find out that I did."

Mickelson, for his part, is known in Europe as the Nearly Man for
his frequent close calls in majors, and Sunday's round may
cryonically preserve that reputation for eternity. (Mickelson had
acquitted himself valiantly in the better-ball and alternate-shot
competitions on Friday and Saturday, teaming up with David Toms
to go 2-1-1.) Of course, Scotland has its own Very Nearly Man in
Colin Montgomerie, who also has famously wilted in majors and is
now--to hear him tell it--literally wilting, a chiropractic
catastrophe. But Monty played unbowed and unbeaten at the Belfry,
winning three of his better-ball and alternate-shot matches,
halving another and whipping Scott Hoch in Sunday's match-play
opener, 5 and 4. "Bad heart, bad back, and tomorrow he'll have a
bad head," said Torrance, watching Monty giddily swig Budweiser
on Sunday night.

Montgomery led off singles play, which began with the teams tied
at eight points apiece, only because Torrance front-loaded his
12-man lineup, putting his best golfers first in an effort to
create momentum. Strange, to the contrary, back-loaded his list,
placing his best golfers--Love, Mickelson and Woods--last. "Any
superstar," explained Strange, "wants to take the last shot." But
what if Jordan never got to touch the ball?

Torrance claimed to have no clue what Strange's lineup would look
like and how his own list might match up. But Scottsbluff ain't
just a town in Nebraska, and Torrance is--as Parnevik put it--"not
as dumb as he looks." And so, after an almost preposterously good
day of golf on Saturday that included 106 birdies, the Cup would
come down to 12 singles matches on Sunday.

In the wood-paneled sanctuary of the Belfry Hotel on Saturday
night--its lobby filled with enough smoke to cure a thousand
hams--the U.S. team gathered for one final meeting, at which
Strange's 20-year-old son, Thomas, heretofore mute, asked to say
a few words. "I'll never forget what my dad said at the opening
ceremony," began Thomas, alluding to a French political cartoon,
published shortly after Sept. 11, that his father had cited in
his speech on Thursday. The cartoon's caption, which the senior
Strange had found so moving, said simply, WE ARE ALL AMERICANS.

We are all Americans. Thomas Strange repeated the words somberly,
and then said, "Boys, that s--- ain't gonna fly tomorrow." And
the room exploded with laughter.

"That apple," said Paul Azinger, "didn't fall far from the tree."

In the same hotel, on Sunday morning, Europe's Ryder Cup
rookies--among them Price, McGinley and Niclas Fasth of Sweden--ate
breakfast together and relished the idea of playing last,
head-to-head against golf's giants, with the Ryder Cup at stake.
"[One of us] may get to do the honors," Fasth said to McGinley,
of stroking the decisive putt. "If the stars behave."

Later in the day, of course, Niclas and Price would play like
(Jack) Nicklaus and (Nick) Price. But the cosmos began behaving
long before they teed off, when Eurostars like Monty and
Bernhard Langer and Padraig Harrington were beating the
charcoal-gray uniform pants off Hoch, Hal Sutton, and Mark
Calcavecchia, respectively. None of those matches made it past
the 15th hole. Lonely spectators in the grandstand around the
18th green were beginning to wonder if the Cup had been
canceled. By the time Stewart Cink was sunk, 2 and 1, by Thomas
Bjorn of Denmark, Europe had won four of Sunday's first six
matches and had the crowd whipped into what The Clash once
called a White Riot.

But the Yanks had two Tigers in their tank, and one of them--Toms,
of Louisiana State--rallied to beat Garcia one up. Then Toms's
fellow U.S. Ryder rookie, Scott Verplank, defeated Westwood.
Suddenly the Cup was harder to call than the Florida election,
with the matches in progress (Azinger/Fasth, Furyk/McGinley,
Love/Pierre Fulke) too close to project. But every time the U.S.
went up in one, they'd fall down in another, and getting traction
proved nearly impossible, like herding squirrels.

Still the Yanks hung on with their teeth, even as their
Poli-Grip was slipping. Zinger, in an epic against Fasth,
chipped to the lip of the 5th hole, where the ball hung for an
eternity. It was finally knocked in by a shadow cutting across
the green. On 18, needing--absurdly--to hole out from a bunker
for a birdie that would keep his team alive, Azinger blasted his
shot in. With that the U.S. was still breathing, until the next
twosome, Furyk and McGinley, who were all square, hit their
shots into the 18th green. It was, for one of them anyway, a
fairway to heaven.

"What can I say?" asked McGinley of what happened next.
"Unbelievable." Unbelievable that the stars behaved, and his putt
dropped, and 35,000 people began to sing as one. Unbelievable,
too, that Love and Woods were left on the course, impotent (in
spite of the on-site, Viagra-pushing Pfizer Men's Health tent).

Until the instant McGinley's putt fell, Woods's match with
Parnevik was all square, and about all that could have hung in
the balance were an intercontinental sports championship carried
on live television in four dozen countries and--more important--the
affection of Elin Nordegren, Tiger's girlfriend and Jesper's
ex-nanny. Said Parnevik, "She better have been rooting for me."
We'll never know. Tiger was left on 17, holding his perfect
seven-iron. Said Woods, with characteristic understatement, "It
was frustrating."

Frustrating? It was watching Steve Lawrence open for Sinatra, and
then not getting Sinatra.

Still, Woods--like a decapitated chicken--kept playing to the
18th green, where he conceded a putt to Parnevik, agreeing in
essence to halve their match. Likewise Love and Fulke, who
agreed to halve their match after the Swede first graciously
offered to concede the U.S. a full, if meaningless, point,
instead of the half point Love accepted. It is that spirit of
hands-across-the-water that makes the Ryder Cup so indelible. A
year ago we were all American. Last week, it turned out, we were
all European.

"I am from Norway," a reporter blurted to Torrance on Sunday
night, "and I think this victory will unite Europe in a way that
the Euro never will."

The Scotsman waited for the man's ensuing question, and when one
never came, Torrance sought to rescue the nervous journo from the
awkward silence that now engulfed him. "We are all European
here," the captain announced, to the roomful of Americans,
Japanese, British and Continentals. "And that includes Norway
too, if you're feeling a wee bit left out."

COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPH BY BOB MARTIN [Leading Off] Cup with People Reaction from the gallery reached a fevered pitch at the 18th hole of the Belfry as Paul McGinley of Ireland jumped joyfully after sinking the decisive putt for Europe on Sunday in the Ryder Cup (page 38).COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPH BY DARREN STAPLES/REUTERS RYDING HIGH While McGinley rejoiced in his clinching putt, Calcavecchia (opposite, left) and Strange turned grim cartwheels.COLOR PHOTO: CRAIG JONES/GETTY IMAGES [See caption above]COLOR PHOTO: ALASTAIR GRANT/AP NOT SO FASTH Azinger's unerring sand shot at 18 gave him a must-halve against Fasth but merely delayed the inevitable.COLOR PHOTO: ADRIAN DENNIS/AFP (TOP) UP AND DOWN Garcia (top) could jump for joy despite losing to Toms, while Woods's miss at 16 would prove to be moot. COLOR PHOTO: DOMINIQUE FAGET/AFP [See caption above]
"Any superstar," said Strange, "wants to take the last shot."
But what if Jordan never got to touch the ball?