For more than 90 years, the Ryder Cup Matches have delivered countless memorable moments. Some of those moments have been tinged with elation, others with agony, but the bottom line is that they were unforgettable. Combining the pressure of the occasion with the emotion of competing for one’s country, it’s inevitable that meltdowns will happen.
Here are the nine most momentous Ryder Cup disasters of the past nine decades.
Down the Shute: 1933
With the Prince of Wales looking on (and chatting with American Captain Walter Hagen), Denny Shute came to the 18th tee at Southport & Ainsdale Golf Club all square with Britain’s Syd Easterbrook. Theirs was the last match on the course and the overall team score was knotted at 5 ½. Shute found sand with his drive and again on his approach and was staring at a 20-footer for par. Easterbrook hadn’t fared much better and faced his own par putt from just outside Shute’s ball. Easterbrook cozied his first putt to three feet. Shute could have merely two-putted for the half and the U.S. would retain the Ryder Cup, but that isn’t what happened. Shute charged his first putt well past the hole, by some accounts four feet and by others six feet. Whatever the actual distance, he missed the comebacker for a three-jack of epic proportions. When Easterbrook dropped his bogey putt, Great Britain grabbed the victory.
Alliss in Blunderland: 1953
In a see-saw encounter at London’s Wentworth Club in 1953, Great Britain’s Peter Alliss arrived at the par-five 18th hole 1 down to Jim Turnesa but looked to pick up the half-point after Turnesa fanned his drive into trees on the right, forcing a chip-out. Alliss found the fairway, then popped a 2-iron just to the right of the green, though close to a grandstand. He faced a simple chip shot—but stubbed it. “I had the fear that if my backswing was a little too long, I would hit some of those shoes sticking out of the stands,” said Alliss. “I took a long steady swing at it, and at the last moment I forgot all about the ball and bumbled it a yard short of the green.” He managed to chip to three feet with his next effort—but missed the putt. The half in six left him a 1-down loser. The U.S. defeated Great Britain 6 ½ to 5 ½. “I feel I’ve had to live my whole life with the guilt of messing up that chip,” said Alliss later.
The Horror by the Shore: 1991
On the final day of perhaps the most contentious Ryder Cup ever, Mark Calcavecchia led Colin Montgomerie 4 up with four to play at Pete Dye’s brutal, wind-addled Ocean Course at Kiawah Island. With a 2-up lead and two to play, Calc watched Monty deposit his tee shot into the pond that guarded the green at the par-three 17th. All he needed to do was hit the green and the match would be his. Calc’s effort was even worse, described by David Feherty as something between a shank and a slice. Still, a three-foot putt would give Calc the victory. He missed. When Monty won the 18th to earn the half, Calc retreated to the adjacent beach in tears, fearing he had cost the U.S. the Ryder Cup. Instead, the needle swung in Bernhard Langer’s direction. Langer’s opponent Hale Irwin limped home with a bogey on the final hole, stating, “The pressure was so great; I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t swallow.” Langer needed to hole a six-foot putt for par to win the hole and the Cup. His putt grazed the right edge—and stayed out. Langer grimaced in agony. The hole was tied with fives, which meant the match was halved, which meant the two teams were level at 14 apiece—which meant the U.S. retained the Ryder Cup in the greatest choke-fest of them all.
Strange Days at Oak Hill: 1995
Lanny Wadkins used one of his two Captain’s picks on Curtis Strange, who had won the U.S. Open in 1989 at the same venue, Oak Hill Country Club in Rochester, N.Y. Yet, many questioned the wisdom of the pick, given that Strange hadn’t won on the PGA Tour since 1989 and his Ryder Cup record was under 50 percent. In a tight match that fell to Europe, 14 ½ to 13 ½, there was plenty of finger-pointing at the U.S. team, but the primary scapegoat was Strange, who went 0–3 and coughed up a 1-up lead with two to play to Nick Faldo by bogeying the final two holes.
Hal’s Folly: 2004
After getting thumped by Europe in the 2002 Match, U.S. Captain Hal Sutton was determined to kick off the 2004 Ryder Cup with both barrels blazing. That’s the only explanation for committing what’s widely considered the greatest Captain’s gaffe ever, pairing Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson on the first day. There was zero chemistry between the two to begin with and predictably, the dream pairing turned into a nightmare at Michigan’s Oakland Hills Country Club. They lost the very first hole of the Ryder Cup to Colin Montgomerie and Padraig Harrington on their way to a 2 and 1 Fourballs defeat. For good measure, Sutton joined Tiger and Phil again in the afternoon Foursomes—where they were beaten by the team of Darren Clarke and Lee Westwood. The U.S. would endure its worst-ever trouncing on home soil, losing 18 ½ to 9 ½.
A Wet and Lonely Hunter: 2010
When Nick Faldo was informed that the 2010 Ryder Cup had been awarded to Celtic Manor in Wales, he indelicately remarked, “Bring your wellies.” Rather than being castigated for his jab, he should have been congratulated. It poured early and often, most tragic-comically on Friday morning, when it soaked the Americans’ incomprehensibly porous rainsuits. During a delay, the Yanks purchased new suits in the merchandise tents that actually stayed dry, charging all 20—at roughly $550 a pop—to the PGA of America. A massive crowd was on hand for the rare Monday finish, when the U.S. charged back, leading to a suspense-filled showdown between Graeme McDowell and Hunter Mahan, the final pairing. When McDowell rammed home a 15-foot birdie putt at 16 and Mahan badly duffed a chip at 17, Europe regained the Cup by a 14 ½ to 13 ½ tally.
The U.S. Team Self-destructs, Part I: 2012
For European supporters, the 2012 Match became known as “The Miracle at Medinah.” To American fans, it was “The Meltdown at Medinah.” Either way, the comeback achieved by Europe, which at one point late Saturday was trailing 10 to 4, yielded one of the most dramatic tournaments ever. With 12 Singles matches to play, the U.S. needed only to win 4 ½ points to retake the Cup. They could only muster 3 ½. Sensational putting from Ian Poulter and Justin Rose fueled the comeback both late Saturday and early Sunday, but critical misses from Jim Furyk, Steve Stricker, and Tiger Woods, among others, formed the defining story. Europe stormed out of the gates with five straight Singles victories and when an out-of-form Martin Kaymer rolled in a five-footer to edge Stricker on the final green, Europe had made history. For the U.S., it was history of the wrong kind.
The U.S. Team Self-destructs, Part II: 2014
It was supposed to be vindication for the U.S. team. A big blown lead in Chicago in 2012 would be forgotten with a solid win at Scotland’s Gleneagles in 2014. The Yanks had an American-style course to play (designed by Jack Nicklaus) and leading the team was Tom Watson, who was the winning captain at the 1993 Match, the last time the U.S. had won on foreign soil. Watson had supposedly mellowed since then, when he infamously refused to let his players take part in a routine menu signing at the gala dinner. Turns out, he hadn’t. He controversially chose Webb Simpson as his final Captain’s pick. Not in great current form, Simpson hit the first shot for the U.S. team—a pop-up that barely reached the fairway. He and Bubba Watson got spanked 5 and 4 and Simpson sat until the Sunday Singles. Watson also sat his most effective Friday morning pairing, Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed, for the afternoon Foursomes and the U.S. was crushed, 3 ½ to ½. Perhaps worst of all, he confined Phil Mickelson and Keegan Bradley to the bench for the entire day on Saturday. Europe drubbed the U.S. 16 ½ to 11 ½, but Mickelson’s subsequent grousing about Captain Watson’s decision-making and communication skills led to massive second-guessing and the creation of a Ryder Cup Task Force to address these issues for future competitions.
The U.S. Team Self-destructs, Part III: 2018
Supposedly, U.S. team dysfunction was a thing of the past after the raucously fun victory at Minnesota’s Hazeltine in 2016. Outside of Paris in 2018, however, it reared its ugly head again. Trailing 3 to 1 after the Friday morning Fourballs, Europe took seven of the next eight points and entered the Sunday Singles with a commanding 10 to 6 lead. In the end, they blitzed the Americans, earning a 17 ½ to 10 ½ romp. Blame revolved around Tiger Woods (0–4–0), Phil Mickelson (0–2–0), and Bryson DeChambeau (0–3–0), but most significantly it centered on Patrick Reed. Previously hailed as a U.S. Ryder Cup hero which earned him the sobriquet, “Captain America,” Reed was a peevish villain this time. He pouted over Captain Jim Furyk’s decision to break up Reed’s pairing with Jordan Spieth, which had been successful in past Ryder Cups—and pointed his finger at Spieth as the reason behind it. He played poorly in the Friday morning Fourballs loss and was benched in the afternoon. He was so awful in the Saturday morning Fourballs, again paired with Woods, that some observers speculated he would have shot in the 80s if they had kept score, with several balls far offline into lakes and OB structures. Yet, Reed publicly questioned Furyk sitting him on Saturday afternoon, given his previously stellar Ryder Cup performances. As the U.S. went down in flames, so did Reed’s reputation as a Ryder Cup teammate.
What Ryder Cup disasters did we miss?