Ryder Cup Rewind – 1985: Jacklin and Ballesteros the gamechangers as Europe triumph

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In the lead-up to this year’s Ryder Cup in Paris, Rory Jiwani looks back at some of the greatest matches of the past. First up, Europe’s historic first victory at The Belfry in 1983.

From soon after its inception in 1927, the Ryder Cup had been almost entirely one-way traffic in favour of the United States. Every two years, with a gap for World War II, the Americans would unceremoniously bash up Great Britain – and latterly – Great Britain and Ireland.

Great Britain had actually won two of the first four biennial meetings, but their last victory came in 1957. They earned a memorable tie in 1969 at Royal Birkdale when Jack Nicklaus conceded Tony Jacklin’s final putt on the final hole of the final match with the words, “I don’t think you would have missed it, but I wasn’t going to give you the chance either.”

Nevertheless, the trophy stayed in American hands and remained so after USA’s handy 12 ½ – 7 ½ triumph in 1977. Interest on the other side of the Atlantic was waning and it was Nicklaus who suggested, in part due to the emergence of one Seve Ballesteros, a break with tradition. Exit Great Britain and Ireland, enter Team Europe.

Ballesteros and fellow Spaniard Antonio Garrido made their debuts at The Greenbrier in West Virginia in 1979 along with 21-year-old Scot Sandy Lyle. Nick Faldo was back in the team after being a rookie in 1977.

The first two USA-Europe clashes went much as before but things changed when Jacklin was asked in May 1983 to be captain later that year. It came as a surprise as the two-time major winner had been controversially left out of the 1981 team in favour of Mark James, despite James and Ken Brown blotting their copybooks quite dramatically two years earlier.

Captain John Jacobs said James and Brown “set out to be as disruptive as possible” even before the flight out from Heathrow. The pair were beaten 3 and 2 in the opening fourballs by Lee Trevino and Fuzzy Zoeller but James had to pull out of the afternoon foursomes with a chest injury which would sideline him for the rest of the weekend.

Des Smyth came in but the Irishman had a torrid time with Brown barely speaking to him. They were thumped 7 and 6 by Hale Irwin and Tom Kite – a Ryder Cup record for a team match – with Jacobs having to apologise to Smyth and the American pair for the Scotsman’s conduct. Brown was fined and banned from international team golf for a year with James also hit in the pocket.

Another source of discontent for Jacklin was Ballesteros’ omission from the 1981 side. Ballesteros had asked for appearance money at European Tour events, which was then only paid to non-European Tour players. The European Tour Players’ Division (ETPD) refused and the circuit’s leading light went Stateside.

Having missed out on automatic selection, Ballesteros needed a captain’s pick but the aforementioned James and Peter Oosterhuis got the nod with selector Neil Coles, chairman of the ETPD, adamant the Spaniard could not be included.

Even Ballesteros could not have saved Europe in 1981. Having trailed by a point on Friday night, a star-studded United States’ line-up swept the Saturday afternoon foursomes before romping to a record 18 ½ – 9 ½ victory.

With all of this in Jacklin’s mind, he needed time to think over the decision with the Ryder Cup just four months away. He had seen the professionalism of the American golfers, in contrast to the antics of James and Brown, and wanted to do things properly. No more cutting corners and just turning up to be thrashed.

Jacklin gave the European Tour a list of demands including players being allowed to bring their own caddies, first-class travel via Concorde to the United States, five-star accommodation, a team room and Team Europe clothing for all eventualities. Amazingly, his wishlist was approved with Jacklin admitting, “I had no bloody idea how they were going to pay for it.”

His next job was to bring Ballesteros back into the fold. The two soon met and, after considerable persuasion, Jacklin was told, “OK, I help you.” And so began a new chapter in the history of the Ryder Cup.

Fourteen years previously, Jacklin and Nicklaus had shared one of sport’s most memorable moments on the 18th green at Birkdale. Now they would go head-to-head as non-playing captains in the Golden Bear’s backyard of Palm Beach, Florida.

Jacklin did not quite pull off his intended aim of winning the Ryder Cup but he came mighty close. Nick Faldo and Bernhard Langer made for a formidable partnership, claiming three points out of a possible four. And Ballesteros teamed up with young Paul Way for two and a half points as the teams went into Sunday’s singles locked at 8-8.

Europe top-loaded their order with Ballesteros, Faldo and Langer leading off. Ballesteros halved with Fuzzy Zoeller as Faldo and Langer won their rubbers. But the hosts had more strength further down and Lanny Wadkins’ tie with Jose Maria Canizares ensured they would retain the cup. Tom Watson’s 2 and 1 victory in the final match over Bernard Gallacher saw them edge home 14 ½ – 13 ½.

While victory had not been forthcoming, there was no doubt that the equilibrium had shifted. Jacklin’s revolution meant Europe’s players no longer felt inferior when confronted with the opposition and now everyone knew a first Ryder Cup triumph was very much within the realms of possibility.

Fast forward to 1985 and Jacklin’s first try on home soil. His opposite number at The Belfry was Trevino, who broke the Englishman’s heart at the 1972 Open at Muirfield. Jacklin three-putted on the 17th after ‘Supermex’ had chipped in on the way to retaining his title. That was the last time Jacklin, then 28, challenged for a major having been left scarred by that experience.

In 1985, Faldo was 28 and the most experienced player on the Europe team with four previous appearances. Jose Rivero was the only rookie and a surprise pick by Jacklin over Christy O’Connor Jr who missed an automatic berth by just over 100 pounds. His selection was in part thanks to his victory at The Belfry in the Lawrence Batley International the previous year making it four Spaniards in the line-up.

Two of them got Europe underway in the Friday foursomes with Ballesteros and Manuel Pinero taking on Curtis Strange and Mark O’Meara. They won 2 and 1 but that was the only point the home team managed that morning. Faldo and Masters champion Langer went down 3 and 2 to Calvin Peete and Tom Kite with Faldo, who had been struggling with his remodelled swing and a divorce, telling Jacklin he should sit out proceedings until the singles.

Sandy Lyle and Ken Brown looked out of touch as they were beaten 4 and 3 by Lanny Wadkins and Ray Floyd with the pair sitting out the afternoon fourballs, much to Lyle’s annoyance. And Sam Torrance and Howard Clark suffered a 3 and 2 defeat to Craig Stadler and Hal Sutton.

Europe fought back in the afternoon with Paul Way and Ian Woosnam defeating Fuzzy Zoeller and Hubert Green 1 up. Ballesteros and Pinero won 2 and 1 again, this time over Andy North and Peter Jacobsen. Langer and Canizares halved with Stadler and Sutton, but Torrance and Clark were out of luck again as Floyd and Wadkins triumphed 1 up. The United States led 4 ½ to 3 ½ after day one.

The home team roared back on day two. Jacklin gave Torrance and Clark another chance by sending them out first in the Saturday morning fourballs against Kite and North and he was rewarded as the Brits won 2 and 1. And Way and Woosnam made it two points out of two with a comfortable 4 and 3 victory over Green and Zoeller to put Europe in front.

O’Meara and Wadkins restored parity with a 3 and 2 decision over Ballesteros and Pinero, before Langer and Lyle somehow salvaged a half against Stadler and Strange. The American pair were two up with two to play but Lyle holed for eagle from 25 feet to take it to the 18th. And then Stadler, known as ‘The Walrus’ on account of his rotund shape and generous moustache, missed what would have been a match-winning two-footer.

The players in the Europe team room went wild, especially Ballesteros who fell out of his chair, and made sure the Americans heard their reaction. Buoyed by that great escape, Jacklin’s men came out firing in the afternoon foursomes.

The Spaniards led the way with Canizares and Jose Rivero battering Kite and Peete 7 and 5, as Ballesteros and Pinero put Stadler and Sutton to the sword 5 and 4. Strange and Jacobsen pulled one back with a 4 and 2 victory over Way and Woosnam, but Langer and Brown despatched Floyd and Wadkins 3 and 2 to send Europe into a 9-7 overnight lead, the first time the United States had trailed going into the singles since 1949.

Two years earlier, Jacklin was made to regret his top-heavy singles selection. This time, he had something resembling a cricket batting line-up – strong at the top, star names at 4, 5 and 6, and a long tail although the lower order, with the exception of Faldo, had all put points on the board.

Trevino did open with his big guns but, on the day, they were just not up to it as Jacklin’s plan worked to perfection. However, he could not take credit for the lead-off man who literally picked himself. Knowing full well Trevino would lead off with Wadkins, Pinero stuck his hand up to go first with his team-mates less than keen to take on the American number one.

Pinero duly won 3 and 1 with his four points the highest tally of the week. But more importantly, that victory struck a huge psychological blow for the Europeans. And while Stadler made amends for his Saturday morning mishap with a 2 and 1 triumph over Woosnam, the scoreboard soon turned into a sea of blue.

A rampant Langer humbled Jacobsen 5 and 4 and Lyle beat Jacobsen 3 and 2 to put Europe 12-8 in front. Way’s match with Floyd was the first to reach the 18th with the Englishman 1 up. That became 2 up as Floyd found the water to leave Europe on the brink of victory.

Ballesteros produced a marvellous comeback from three down with five to play to go to the last all square with Kite. They halved the 18th in par-fours with Europe needing just one point more for their first triumph.

Now it was a race to see who would secure that winning point. Howard Clark should have done so on the 17th against O’Meara but missed a four-footer and ended up going down the last. Sam Torrance was ahead of him having been all square with Andy North after 17. But the defending US Open champion drove into the water leaving the moustachioed Scot with a golden opportunity to clinch the trophy.

Seconds after he hit his iron into the heart of the green, Woosnam, Way and Jacklin embraced him with the job all but complete. Three putts from just over 20 feet would be enough for the Ryder Cup to come home for the first time since 1957. And accompanied by Peter Alliss’ immortal line, “Not a million miles away, is it?” Torrance needed just the one.

Europe ran out 16 ½ – 11 ½ victors and the Ryder Cup was back from the dead. It was finally a contest attracting increasing public and TV interest. The European Tour also benefitted enormously.

Having played a huge role in reviving the competition, Jacklin stayed on for two more Ryder Cups. He inflicted the United States’ first ever defeat on home soil at Muirfield Village in 1987 and retained the trophy two years later thanks to the second tie in the event’s history.

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