Ryder Cup Memories: Putt Heard ‘Round the World

April 12, 2018
Ryder Cup

By Jim Ward, President of Premier Golf

The 33rd Ryder Cup Matches, dubbed “The Battle of Brookline”, were held September 24-26, 1999 at The Country Club in Brookline, Massachusetts, a suburb near Boston. Established in 1882, The Country Club was one of five charter clubs that founded the United States Golf Association (USGA).

The Europeans had held the Ryder Cup for four years. After two heart breaking one point losses in 1995 and 1997, Captain 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 sizzling and by the end of the first day the Americans were already down 6-2. The US came 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 large of a deficit to win. Everyone, including me, thought it was over. Everyone, except the gutty competitor Ben Crenshaw.

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 imploded. 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.” He then exited the stage as many in the room stared quietly in disbelief at what they had just heard.

Although I wasn’t there, I’ve talked with several 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.

That Sunday was a beautiful sunny day in Boston. Although we didn’t have 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, Hal Sutton 4&2 over Darren Clarke, Phil Mickelson 4&3 over Jarmo Sandelin, Davis Love III 6&5 over Jean Van de Velde, Tiger Woods 3&2 over Andrew Coltart, and David Duval 5&4 over  Jesper Parnevik. The Americans went on to win the first six matches. Only one American came through, down four holes and he had the look of a loser. After he holed out on number 10 we saw Davis Love go over to him, shaking his fist and giving him a pep talk….

Justin Leonard never lost another hole. He sank the famous 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. Indeed, at that moment, it certainly was “the putt heard ’round the world”. All these years later, I still get chills thinking about the 1999 Ryder Cup.