SI Vault
 
Winners and Losers
October 02, 1995
The birds, when you think about it, don't care who wins the Ryder Cup. The squirrels keep right on gathering nuts. Even the grass around the clubhouse at Oak Hill, reduced to mud by thousands of spectators, will sprout again in the spring.
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October 02, 1995

Winners And Losers

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Then you have the joke that turned on its tellers: Costantino Rocca. Oak Hill overwhelmed many of the Ryder Cuppers, but not the goat of Ryder Cup '93. Rocca played five matches, scored three points and made one of Europe's two holes in one. No more being lumped with the losers. At Rochester, Rocca emerged as one of the world's premier ball strikers.

On the American side three rookies showed they could win both points and respect. Lehman starred as a genuine—and genuinely likable—tough guy. He not only scored two points in three matches but also went eyeball-to-eyeball with two of golf's great intimidators. On Friday he refused to let Faldo get away with rudeness and sarcasm when the Englishman made an ambiguous concession of a putt. On Sunday he weathered a desperate gambit by Ballesteros in which the Spaniard made him re-mark his ball after Lehman had tapped in a six-incher on the 12th green. Why? So Ballesteros could use the coin as a target.

Loren Roberts was solid, too, winning three matches and hitting a brilliant wedge shot on 18 that set up his team's only victory in Saturday's foursomes. Said Jacobsen, his partner in that match, "Loren's control is so good, not only with his clubs but with his emotions. He was very cool out there."

As for Mickelson, the joke on the U.S. team was that he wanted to play six of the five matches. Too bad he didn't. He was the only player on either team to go unbeaten and untied, winning three matches. As the Cup slipped away on Sunday, it was Mickelson who bucked the trend. Three down on the front side in his match with his former Arizona State roommate, Per-Ulrik Johansson, Mickelson roared back with birdies on 10, 11 and 12. He was about to save the Cup for the U.S. with a match-winning putt on 17 when a thin roar from 18 announced that it was too late.

The most encouraging "winner" on the U.S. side had to be Couples. You can't say he quieted the whispers that he is unreliable, but he did something on Sunday that he has rarely done—he made pressure-packed putts. At the end of a day in which he had been the victim of his usual yippy short putting, Couples drained testers on the 17th and 18th holes to salvage a critical halve with Ian Woosnam.

As for Corey Pavin, the Ryder Cup's only four-point winner, Faldo said it best: "Expletive deleted, expletive deleted, expletive deleted!" At least that's how Faldo remembered his immediate reaction to Pavin's winning chip-in on the 18th hole of Saturday's four-ball masterpiece. For conventional press outlets, Faldo added, "Corey is simply magic with the putter. I watched him on the practice green before he went out. He threw down three balls and made two of them every time. Then he holed a 50-footer on the first hole."

Pavin has only one major championship to show for a 12-year career, but Oak Hill confirmed his reputation as the best match player currently working the globe.

The biggest winner, though, was the Ryder Cup itself. There was concern this year that the underdog Europeans, graying noticeably and with little talent in the pipeline, would lose decisively. That could have destroyed the competitive equilibrium that has transformed this series from a biennial snooze into golf's most compelling spectacle. Europe's victory guaranteed that the Ryder Cup will inflame passions at least into the next century.

Even in his despair Strange could see the necessary connection between this greater good and his own loss. "Big matches," he said. "That's why some people are goats and some people are heroes."

Losing, he didn't have to add, is strictly for the birds.

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