Seve Ballesteros had just led Europe to its second straight Ryder Cup victory over the United States on Sunday, and as roars resounded from the amphitheater surrounding the 18th green at the Muirfield Village Golf Club in Dublin, Ohio, he grabbed a magnum of champagne and wildly sprayed any teammate in sight. This simple celebration, right in Jack Nicklaus's backyard, marked the end of America's 60-year domination of international golf.
For the first time since the biennial competition began in 1927, America had lost on its home soil, its 12 best players falling 15-13, smack in the middle of Heartland U.S.A. And while for three days the Americans fought snap hooks, snapped nerves and, finally, Ben Crenshaw's snapped putter shaft, the European side displayed international homogeneity. Anchored by big guns Ballesteros of Spain—who, at his passionate best, won four of his five matches—Bernhard Langer of West Germany, Sandy Lyle of Scotland, Nick Faldo of England and Ian Woosnam of Wales, Europe built a 10�-5� lead over the two days of four-ball (better ball) and foursomes (alternate shot) competition and then hung on against the U.S. team in Sunday's climactic singles.
The United States team might have pulled off the greatest comeback in the event's history if it could have handled the special pressure of the 18th hole in match play. The U.S. had to win nine of the 12 singles matches for a victory, but of the eight matches that were decided on the final hole, the U.S. lost three and halved five. With his match even going to the 18th, Dan Pohl skulled a sand shot to make 6 and lose to Howard Clark of England, one down. Then Larry Mize, one up through 17 on Sam Torrance of Scotland, hooked his tee shot into the creek that runs along the left side of the fairway and made 5 to gain only a half. Crenshaw, who had broken his putter after three-putting the 6th and had to make do with an iron the rest of the round, bogeyed the 17th and found the same water that Mize had on 18 to lose one down to Eamonn Darcy of Ireland. It was left to Ballesteros to shoot three under par to close out Curtis Strange 2 and 1 in the third-to-last pairing to retain the Cup that the Americans have lost only five times in 27 competitions.
"The 18th was the difference," said Nicklaus, the nonplaying captain vanquished near his hometown of Columbus on a course he had designed. "That's where I would have expected to win. But our guys weren't quite as tough as the Europeans."
Such a statement would have been blasphemy 10 years ago. If nothing else, American golfers used to feel they had more guts than a bunch of artsy-craftsy Europeans. But this Ryder Cup, more than any other, gave credence to the cries that the lucre and comfort of the PGA Tour, which exempts 125 players from qualifying, have created a breed of American pros who think winning a tournament should occur with roughly the same frequency as hitting the lottery. All but one player on the American team came into the Ryder Cup with more than $300,000 in 1987 winnings, but as a unit the team had a disturbing inability to finish off opponents.
Meanwhile the rivals from across the pond have got the lean and hungry look down pat. Europe proved that its 16�-11� victory in 1985 at The Belfry outside Birmingham, England, its first Cup win in 28 years, was no fluke. That loss had embarrassed the U.S. golfers, in part because a seemingly inferior team had outplayed them. The defeat had also engendered the persistent taunt that Ballesteros and Langer are better than any American pro. Put it all together and U.S. players had more motivation to win back the Ryder Cup than they could have mustered for three weeks' worth of million-dollar purses.
"This has nothing to do with money," said Tom Kite, a member of five consecutive U.S. teams. "It's bigger than that. This is playing for Uncle Sam, and Sam expects a lot."
The Europeans were quieter, but their resolve perhaps runs deeper than an American golfer can know when it comes to the Cup. "We don't need any motivation," said Faldo, the '87 British Open champion who helped win 3� points for Europe. "We are playing for history. It's like playing for your life."
Sensing American vulnerability and still on a two-year victory high, nearly 1,500 European golf fans made the trip to the U.S. They cheered lustily for their side, at times even louder than the 20,000 Americans who were on hand. Captain Nicklaus knew why the Europeans could smell blood. A few months ago he had described his team as a "bunch of guys who get the most out of their games, but we just don't have the kind of player with the game that can be dominant. And I don't see him emerging right away."
Still, Nicklaus said he was confident. He felt that the dry and fast September conditions on his home course would favor the Americans. Woosnam, the 5'4" power plug who is the leading money winner in Europe this year, disagreed. "We can handle the shots Jack is trying to put up for us," said Woosnam.