Special to the Tribune-Star
TERRE HAUTE —
I fell asleep in way too many history classes to ever qualify as a history buff. However, since I have grown up a bit (not much), I enjoy learning about all kinds of history. I often have questions about how something began, or how something came to be.
This weekend the 38th Ryder Cup is being held in Wales. If you’re a history buff or a golfer, you might be interested in how this match play tournament, which has become a very prestigious event over the years, came to be.
It is under debate as to whose original idea it was, but a believable story to me is that James Harnett, a circulation representative for Golf Illustrated in 1920, wanted to attract readers by raising funds to pay expenses for a professional match between the USA and Great Britain and Ireland. At its’ annual meeting in 1920, the PGA of America voted to advance Harnett some funds, which eventually became the Ryder Cup.
The first informal matches were played at Gleneagles, Scotland, in 1921. The original matches were informal, and didn’t have a name yet. They were comprised of four foursomes (alternate shot) matches on one day and eight singles matches on the other day, each of 36 holes. The Brits won that first match 9-3.
The next match occurred in 1926 because there were regional qualifying matches for the 1926 Open Championship, forcing competitors to make their transatlantic trip earlier. The Americans met the British golfers in an unofficial match at the Wentworth Club, losing soundly by 131⁄2 - 11⁄2. Samuel Ryder, an English seed merchant, was a member of the gallery of that match. Ryder was being tutored in golf by British star Abe Mitchell, who beat the reigning Open Champion Jim Barnes 8 and 7 in the singles, and then he and his partner George Duncan defeated Walter Hagen and Barnes 9 and 8 in the foursomes.
After the matches, Sam Ryder had tea with Mitchell and Duncan. Duncan suggested to Ryder that he provide a trophy and encourage that the matches occur on a regular basis. Ryder enthusiastically agreed, and commissioned the design of the gold chalice now known as the Ryder Cup. The golfer on the top of the trophy is a likeness of Abe Mitchell.
The first official Ryder Cup was set up for June 3-4, 1927, at the Worcester Country Club in Worcester, Mass. There have since been 37 matches spanning 81 years. There was a break in the matches from 1939 to 1947 due to World War II. In Sept. 1939, the secretary of the Professional Golfers Association (GB &I) sent a cable to the PGA of America saying, “When we have settled our differences and peace reigns, we will see that our team comes across to remove the Ryder Cup from your safekeeping.”
The Ryder Cup was interrupted a second time following the Sept. 11, 2001 attack upon America. It was rescheduled for the following year, and has since been conducted in even numbered years.
After Great Britain won the cup in 1933, it didn’t win again until 1957. Interest in the event had waned drastically on the other side of the pond. But in 1969, the two teams tied, due to a gesture of sportsmanship that epitomizes the essence of the Ryder Cup. The score was tied at 151⁄2 - 151⁄2, with one match remaining on the course. Tony Jacklin had just eagled the 17th hole to make the match even. On the 18th green, Jack Nicklaus holed his putt from six feet, then with one sweeping move, picked his ball out of the cup and picked up Jacklin’s marker from 21⁄2 feet, conceding his putt and making the teams tied at 16-16.
The Ryder Cup gained in popularity after men from the European tour were added to the GB & I side in 1979, and the format was revised to include four fourball and four foursomes matches on each of the first two days, and 12 singles matches on the third day. The total amount of points were increased to 28.
The Americans still dominated the matches until 1985, now known as The Battle at The Belfry, where the Europeans won 161⁄2 - 111⁄2. The Europeans won again at The Belfry in 2002, then in America at Oakland Hills, and then in 2006 in Ireland. In 2008, at Valhalla Golf Club in Louisville, Kentucky, a U.S. team captained by Paul Azinger won, by a score of 161⁄2 - 111⁄2. So the Europeans are motivated to keep the cup on their shores with a win in Wales this weekend.
• Quote of the Day: “I don’t think you’d have missed that putt, Tony, but in these circumstances I’d never give you the opportunity” — Jack Nicklaus, as he conceded the putt to Tony Jacklin at the 1969 Ryder Cup matches, which left the teams tied at 16 points apiece.