Thirty years of hurt: when USA last won the Ryder Cup in Europe | Ryder Cup

Welcome to 1993. Take That have teamed up with Lulu. There are four terrestrial TV channels in the UK. England are preparing for a crucial World Cup qualifier in the Netherlands. The internet is still a thing of the future. Five players who will represent the USA in the 2023 Ryder Cup have not been born. And Prince Andrew is allowed to present the Ryder Cup to the winning captain.

As Tom Watson lifted up the Ryder Cup at the Belfry on 26 September 1993, you would have been given long odds on the American team having to wait at least 30 years to triumph again on European soil. But since that Sunday in the Midlands, six USA captains – including Watson again in 2014 – have tried and failed to take the trophy back across the Atlantic. Thirty years of hurt.

At the time it felt like the start of an era of American dominance. Their strength in depth coupled with the apparent lack of successors to Europe’s ageing stars painted a worrying image for the future. Yet history tells us another tale. America’s win in 1993 remains the last time they have retained the cup.

The buildup

The USA arrived in England as champions and favourites. Seven of their team had won majors – Paul Azinger, Fred Couples, Tom Kite, Lee Janzen, Payne Stewart and captain’s picks Ray Floyd and Lanny Wadkins – and Corey Pavin would join this group two years later. Priced at 10/11, with Europe evens, Watson’s team looked likely to win their first Ryder Cup in Europe since 1981.

Bernard Gallacher, who had played in the Ryder Cup eight times and already been on the wrong side of a painful one-point defeat as captain in 1991, had concerns about form, fitness and partnerships. Seve Ballesteros was without a win on the European tour all season and José María Olazábal was struggling with his game. Both Spaniards were captain’s picks, alongside the 24-year-old Joakim Haeggman, who became the first Swede to play in the Ryder Cup. Peter Baker, Barry Lane and Constantino Rocca were also making their debuts, with Janzen, Davis Love III, Jim Gallagher Jnr and John Cook the four rookies on the American team. The pressure was almost suffocating and some of them were overwhelmed by the tension.

A lot of the talk in the buildup centred on the events in 1991. “I hope we don’t get any more of that ‘War by the Shore’ stuff we had at Kiawah last time,” said Ian Woosnam. “A load of crap, that is. The Americans got so hyped up that they were going to win whatever way they could, and that’s not in the spirit of the game.”

Watson tried to calm things down. “I want the event, the Ryder Cup, to win,” he said when asked about the American conduct at Kiawah Island. “For that to happen everyone has to understand that the spirit of the game is to do what’s fair rather than what it takes to win.”

Ironically, Watson then caused a stir at the gala dinner by refusing to sign a menu for Sam Torrance, telling him: “Sorry Sam, if we sign yours then we’ll have to do everyone’s.” The British press seized on the supposed snub. Torrance was embarrassed and fuming, but Gallacher did his best to smooth over the incident.

Thankfully the talking finally stopped and the 30th Ryder Cup began, although a 2½-hour delay due to fog proved frustrating for fans on the course, those watching for the final time on the BBC, and the American viewers seeing the event live on European soil for the first occasion on NBC.

Seve Ballesteros and José María Olazábal line up a putt at the Belfry.
Seve Ballesteros and José María Olazábal line up a putt at the Belfry. Photograph: Gary Newkirk/Getty Images

Friday: Europe take an early lead

Eventually Pavin hit the first shot in the foursomes. “I couldn’t get the tee in the ground,” he said later, admitting nerves got to him. “And trying to get the ball on the tee was tricky.” Fortunately for Pavin and his partner, Wadkins, they were up against Mark James and Torrance, who were short of form. Torrance was coming back from injury, having collided with a plant pot while sleepwalking at the Belfry during the English Open.

Europe fought back, with the Colin Montgomerie-Faldo partnership and the Bernhard Langer-Woosnam pairing winning easily in the morning foursomes. The only surprise was the defeat for Ballesteros and Olazábal against Kite and Love III.

The scores were level at 2-2 when the fourballs started and the feelgood story of Peter Baker commenced, the Shropshire-born 25-year-old teaming up superbly with his boyhood hero Woosnam. He sank putt after putt and it was fitting that a 30-foot birdie on the last clinched victory for the pair against Gallagher Jnr and Janzen. “I’ve been a spectator this afternoon,” Woosnam joked. “I just went out there for a stroll.”

Pavin and Wadkins won their second match of the day for the USA, defeating Langer and Lane, but Ballesteros and Olazabal had their revenge on Kite and Love III, giving Europe a 4-3 lead at the end of the day.

Saturday: USA fight back in fourballs

One match remained unfinished due to the delayed start. The Faldo-Montgomerie match against Azinger and Couples was a classic, with Faldo and Azinger in particular performing superbly. All square at the 17th when darkness set in, the four played the final hole early on the Saturday, Faldo’s magnificent par putt ensuring a half to maintain Europe’s lead.

Come the end of the Saturday morning foursomes it looked as if Europe had taken a decisive step towards regaining the trophy. Lane and Baker had lost to Floyd and Stewart, but wins for Faldo-Montgomerie, Langer-Woosnam and Ballesteros-Olazábal put Europe 7½-4½ up.

But there was trouble ahead for Europe’s skipper. With the fourball pairings due to be announced at midday, Ballesteros told his captain that he wanted to stand down from the session. To compound Gallacher’s problems, Langer said he should be rested too as the course was playing too long for him. “Maybe other captains would have forced them on the course and got the results, but I decided the players knew best,” said Gallacher. They were both excellent in the singles on Sunday, but the captain must have rued their absences on Saturday afternoon.

Momentum is key in sport. “We lost those fourballs 3-1 and also the psychological advantage,” Ballesteros said as he apologised to Europe’s fans in the post-mortem. Woosnam and Baker won again, but Cook and Chip Beck stunned Faldo and Montgomerie; Rocca and James were hammered by Pavin and Gallagher Jnr; and Haeggman and Olazabal lost to Floyd and Stewart.

Nick Faldo chips in at the 14th hole on the first day.
Nick Faldo chips in at the 14th hole on the first day. Photograph: Stephen Munday/Getty Images

Europe still led 8½-7½ but Gallacher had hoped for a bigger buffer going into the final day. “We could have gone for victory with the first half dozen matches rather than thinking tactically about going down to last place.” Already frustrated that his plans had been scuppered, Gallacher was now confronted with two further issues.

Baker’s participation looked in doubt when he rushed to hospital after his 11-month-old daughter took ill. Fortunately she recovered, the American team kindly sending Baker a telegram in support. A tired and relieved Baker declared himself ready for the singles. Alas, Torrance had to step down injured.

Torrance was ruled out with a septic toe, leaving Watson facing two grim tasks: confirming the injury once the European took off his sock and then asking one of his players to sit out the singles. Wadkins volunteered immediately. “I felt it was unfair for one of the other 10 players who had qualified for the team to be withdrawn,” he said. Watson told the remaining players to think of Wadkins and his sacrifice when out on the course.

Sunday: USA turn it around to clinch cup

With half a point awarded to each of the withdrawn players, Europe needed 5½ points to regain the trophy. At times the situation looked bright. Woosnam halved a fine match with Couples. Montgomerie, Baker and Haeggman all won their matches on the 18th against Janzen, Pavin and Cook, respectively. With Lane and Rocca also in strong positions, all looked good for Gallacher.

Sadly there are always stories of woe during Ryder Cup Sundays. Lane lost to Beck on the last after being three up with five to play. Rocca led going down the 17th, but a three putt on the penultimate green sounded alarm bells. A bogey down at the last gave Love III the pivotal win. The Americans celebrated; Rocca broke down. “I cried in the locker room with Seve but he was crying more than me,” said the distraught player.

The tide was turning against Europe. Ballesteros lost to Gallagher Jnr; Langer was thrashed 5&3 by Kite; Olazabal was beaten by 51-year-old Floyd; James completed a poor weekend by losing to Stewart; Faldo hit a hole in one at the 14th but only halved his match with Azinger.

The final score is updated as USA beat Europe.
The final score is updated as USA beat Europe. Photograph: Gary Newkirk/Getty Images

America picked up 5½ points on the final day to win 15-13. It was a tough day for Gallacher, whose time as captain seemed over. “Gallacher ultimately lacked the instinctive touch, the flair for man-management that Tony Jacklin brought to the job,” wrote David Davies in the Guardian. With many fans and pundits critical of his decision to rest Ballesteros and Langer, thoughts turned to who would be Europe’s next skipper. Yet, despite the criticism, Gallacher was a popular leader with his players. He was persuaded to stay on and he finally lifted the trophy as captain in 1995, when his team came back from 9-7 down to stun the hosts.

USA are favourites again this year in Rome. But since Watson took the trophy back across the Atlantic in 1993, the Americans have won the Ryder Cup just four times, all in their own country. Trips to Spain, England, Ireland, Wales, Scotland and France have proved fruitless. Luke Donald will be hoping Italy can be added to that list.