With the world’s top players accustomed to competing for absurd amounts of money, you might expect team events that offer no monetary compensation to be dead in the water. This is not the case, writes BRENDAN BARRATT.
For many, these team events are viewed as the pinnacle of a golfer’s career – a place where reputations are made and lost. In other words, it seems that passion, pride and patriotism might still be marginally ahead of cold hard cash when it comes to pro golf – for now.
When matches mean so much to players, it is inevitable that emotions occasionally boil over in the heat of the moment. For some it plays out in exaggerated fist or chest pumps or getting a rise out of the galleries. For others it turns downright nasty.
1989 Ryder Cup: The damaged ball
A particularly nasty rivalry began when Paul Azinger and Seve Ballesteros met in the singles matches at The Belfry. Ballesteros sought to change his ball on the 2nd green, claiming it was cut, but Azinger disagreed and called in the match referee for a ruling. The referee agreed with the American, which the Spaniard clearly didn’t like. As the tense match reached the 18th hole, Ballesteros was visibly angered when Azinger received what he felt was a favourable drop, having found water off the tee.
1991 Ryder Cup: Seve vs Zinger, Part II
The whole 1991 Ryder Cup was a tense affair, arguably provoked by Ballesteros and Azinger in the opening foursomes at Kiawah Island; an event known as ‘The War on the Shore’. The Spaniard, arguably still smarting from his loss against Azinger two years prior, noticed on the 7th tee that Azinger’s partner Chip Beck had changed the type of ball that the Americans were using. The Americans escaped any penalty as the referees did not pick up on the incident at the time, but they did later admit to their mistake, further angering the Europeans. ‘We made a mistake, but we certainly weren’t cheating,’ said Azinger, to which Ballesteros replied: ‘It has nothing to do with cheating. Cheating and breaking the rules are two different things.’ The hosts later complained that Ballesteros, a master of gamesmanship, was coughing during their backswings – with Ray Floyd confronting Seve during the match.
1999 Ryder Cup: The early celebrations
Europe had one hand on the 1999 Ryder Cup at Brookline, entering the final day 10-6 up on their hosts. However, a remarkable American comeback saw things get very tight towards the end of the final day. With all the players gathered round the final match, Justin Leonard sunk an improbable 45-foot birdie putt on the 17th hole that sent the gallery into delirium. Players rushed the green to congratulate Leonard, with some reportedly stepping on the line of the putt still awaiting Jose Maria Olazabal. The Spaniard waited an age for the green to clear but then missed his putt to hand the Americans a stunning victory.
2000 Solheim Cup: The replayed shot
Having just holed a chip for birdie at the 2000 Solheim Cup, Swede Annika Sorenstam was called back to replay the shot. The reason? American captain Pat Bradley believed she had played out of turn. Unfortunately, Sorenstam was unable to hole the next chip and the Europeans ultimately lost the match, reducing the Swede to tears. ‘It is just really sad when you have tournaments like this,’ Sorenstam said. ‘It is sad to see that the ugly part of them [Americans] came out because both [opponents] Pat [Hurst] and Kelly [Robbins] are the nicest they have. And it is just sad to see that – that they don’t even have sportsmanship.’
2021 Solheim Cup: The overhanging ball
In a tight match at Inverness Club in the USA, American Nelly Korda left an eagle putt fractionally short on the par-five 13th hole. With the ball hanging over the edge of the cup – and Korda on her knees – her opponent, Madelene Sagstrom, quickly picked up the ball and tossed it to Korda, conceding the unmissable birdie putt. However, LPGA rules official Missy Jones judged that Sagstrom had been too hasty in lifting the ball – a violation of Rule 13.3b – as Korda was entitled to wait 10 seconds to see if the overhanging ball would fall in. Korda’s eagle putt was considered holed, giving the Americans a 1-up lead they would not relinquish.
– This article first appeared in the October 2023 issue of Compleat Golfer magazine.
Photo: Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images