Ryder Cup Memories: 1999 The Country Club

By Jim Ward President of Premier Golf

America digs a hole

Now it was the Europeans who held the Ryder Cup for four years. After two heart breaking one point losses in 1995 and 1997, Ben Crenshaw’s American team was fired up and ready to  bring the Cup back to America.

Perhaps a little too fired up. The Euros came out hot and by the end of the first day the Americans were already down 6-2. They were able to come back on Saturday, splitting the eight points 4-4 but went into Sunday’s singles matches still down by four points. No team in the history of the Ryder Cup had ever come back from that big a deficit to win. Everyone, including me, thought it was over. Everyone that is, except Ben Crenshaw.

American Fans Storming the 18th at Brookline

It ain’t over till it’s over

Ben Crenshaw met the press following Saturday’s matches and he was defiant. After fielding several questions, basically defending every decision he had made, he finally had enough. He looked out to the roomful of reporters and shook his finger at them and said, “I’m going to leave you all with one thought, and I’m going to leave.  I’m a big believer in fate. I have a good feeling about this. That’s all I’m going to tell you.”

Although I wasn’t there, I’ve talked with a number of people who were. I’m told the American team room back at the hotel was exploding with emotion that night. Crenshaw played videos of past Ryder Cups. He also played clips of George C. Scott as Patton and John Belushi from Animal House (“Nothing’s over until we say it’s over”) Then Texas Governor George W. Bush came in and read from the famous letter from Col. William Travis who was defending the Alamo. Finally everyone spoke, wives included.  Davis Love’s wife, Robin, spoke last and quoted the late, famed instructor Harvey Penick who was like a second father to Crenshaw. “Take dead aim”, she reminded them.

Ben Crenshaw "I've have a good feeling about this"

 What a great way to spend a Sunday

That Sunday was a beautiful sunny day in Boston. Although we didn’t have very high expectations as to the results, my brother Tom and I found a perfect spot on hole ten to watch the singles matches. We had a great vantage point to see the second shot to the green and the putting. We were right next to a leaderboard and a jumbotron ( to watch the action on TV and listen on our portable radios ). We were also just a few steps from the beer tent..perfect.

We weren’t there long when we sensed a buzz in the crowd. The Americans had come out smokin’ and there was red, white and blue going up on the leaderboard. By the time the matches reached us the American momentum was clear. We watched Tom Lehman come through first on his way to a 3&2 win over Lee Westwood, Sutton 4&2 over Clarke, Mickelson 4&3 over Sandelin, Love 6&5 over Van de Velde, Woods 3&2 over Coltart, and Duval 5&4 over Parnevik. The Americans went on to win the first six matches. 

Only one American came through, down four holes and had the look of a loser. After he holed out #10 we saw Davis Love go over to him, shaking his fist and giving him a pep talk….Justin Leonard never lost another hole, sinking a forty foot putt on #17 to gain a half with Olazabal, winning the half point that assured the American victory and the greatest comeback in Ryder Cup history.

Justin Leonard after draining a forty footer
In the ten years from 1989 to 1999 the Ryder Cup competition had reached an incredible level.  Every Ryder Cup during that stretch was decided by one point. There were a total of 168 total points contested. 

The U.S won 84.5 and the Europeans won 83.5. Ten years and the teams were separated by just one point, arguably the most competitive ten year stretch in the history of sports. 

And so the Cup was safe, back in America. We made plans to return to the Belfry in 2001 to defend. Little did we know what was to happen.

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