Memories of the 2002 Ryder Cup

ClarkeMcGinleyResponding to the COVID-19 pandemic the 2020 Ryder Cup was pushed back to 2021 bringing back memories of another Ryder Cup postponed 20 years ago.

Terrorist attacks in 2001 shut down air travel worldwide causing a cancellation of the 34th Ryder Cup matches and pushing them back a year. The decision by the PGA of America was made in an announcement citing, “the scope of the last Tuesday’s tragedy is so overwhelming that it would not be possible for the United States Ryder Cup team and officials to attend.”

The host course for 2002 was The Belfry in Sutton Coldfield, England and on paper Captain Curtis Strange’s U.S. squad was formidable led by the three top players in the world rankings: Tiger Woods (1), Phil Mickelson (2) and David Duval (3). For Team Europe captained by Sam Torrance the highest ranked players were Sergio Garcia (7), a captain’s pick, and Darren Clarke (8) the leader in qualifying points for the team.

Since 1979, when the team comprised solely of professionals from England and Ireland, was expanded to allow inclusion of players from continental Europe, the United States had the most wins with six against four for Team Europe and one tie. Most recently the U.S. had taken home the Cup in three of the last five meetings.

Pre-match wisdom in 2002 was convinced the Euros were underdogs with odds at local bookmakers strongly in favor of the Americans and after two days things seemed to be falling into place for a U.S. victory.

Each side had won eight points and in the individual matches on the final day Americans had historically done very well, in fact had dominated for years.

However, for Sunday’s finals Torrance made a decision viewed by many at the time as a tremendous risk. The experienced Scot opted to go against conventional wisdom sending his best players out in the first matches, the reverse of the usual order and how Strange had handled the American lineup.

The risky reversal worked.

First out on Sunday for Europe was Colin Montgomerie who trounced American Scott Hoch five up with four to play thus setting the tone for the entire day. Team U.S. was only able to earn 4½ points versus Team Europe’s 7½ which gave them the victory.

In the ninth match out Irishman Paul McGinley fought Jim Furyk to a tie and then treated fans with a plunge into the pond fronting The Belfry’s 18th green wrapped in the Irish flag. The top Americans did not fare well on Sunday. Playing in the eleventh and twelfth matches of the day Mickelson’s loss to Phillip Price and Woods’ half with Jesper Parnevik came after the final had been decided.

In succeeding biennial matchups Europeans have consistently beaten the Americans with a record of six wins in eight Ryder Cups including a blowout at Le Golf National outside Paris 17½ to 10½ in 2018.

And in the for-what-its-worth department, early betting odds for the 2021 matches still favor the United States. Go figure.

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