1995 Ryder Cup

In recent years Europe has dominated the Ryder Cup Matches, and you can trace the turning of the tide back to a never-to-be-forgotten September Sunday afternoon in 1995 with Oak Hill – Heartbreak Hill as it was labeled, at least for the Americans - serving as the landscape.

From 1927, when English seed merchant Samuel Ryder donated the small trophy named in his honor that is now one of the most-coveted pieces of hardware in sports, into the mid-1980s, the Ryder Cup had resided almost exclusively on this side of the Atlantic Ocean as the United States won the biennial competition 21 of the first 25 times it was contested.

But Europe ended a 28-year drought by winning in 1985, then continued to close the gap in the next decade, so by the time the Matches came to the East Course, the sides were virtually even.

On the first day, played in cold, rainy, downright miserable weather that should have favored Europe, the U.S. opened a 5-3 lead, and the Americans were still ahead 9-7 as the second day came to a dramatic conclusion when Corey Pavin chipped in for a winning birdie that produced a roar so loud it would have drowned out the Concorde had it flown over the course at that moment instead of its first pass earlier in the week.

Heading into their strongest segment, the Sunday singles, the U.S. appeared poised to retain the Cup it had recaptured in 1991 and defended in 1993. Instead, the Europeans shocked the world by winning seven matches, losing four and tying one to produce a 14 ½ to 13 ½ victory, and the Ryder Cup has never been the same as Europe has won five of the last six.

Oak Hill honored the European team with a tree on the Hill of Fame and the plaque affixed to the tree sums up their accomplishment: “Their magnificent comeback victory is in the first rank of the most stirring triumphs in the history of golf and reminds us, once again, why golf is the best of games.”

One of the controversial issues of the 1995 Ryder Cup was U.S. captain Lanny Wadkins’ selection of Curtis Strange as one of his captains’ picks. Strange had not won a tournament since his victory in the 1989 U.S. Open at Oak Hill, and while recognizing that, Wadkins pointed to Strange’s previous success on the East Course as one of the reasons he selected him. Alas, Nick Faldo won the final three holes of his critical singles match with Strange which ultimately turned the matches in Europe’s favor.

During Saturday morning’s alternate shot play, Italy’s ebullient Costantino Rocca aced the sixth hole as he and Sam Torrance drummed Davis Love III and Jeff Maggert by 6-and-5. “It’s hard to lose the hole with a one,” Rocca said in his halted English.” It was just the third hole-in-one in the history of the Ryder Cup, and the next day, during the singles, came the fourth when Englishman Howard Clark dunked his tee shot at the 11th hole on his way to defeating Peter Jacobsen.

European captain Bernard Gallacher had presided over two losing Ryder Cup teams, but in his final year at the helm, his players responded with a stirring victory on the foreign soil of Oak Hill. Of the European press who were predicting an American runaway victory, Gallacher said “They got it wrong.’’