Broken Sporting Curses - Europe winning the Ryder Cup
Europeans become more than just good competition
Sporting Curses Broken - Europe in Ryder Cup Golf.
The Ryder Cup started in 1927, as a biennial golf match between golfers from America and those from Great Britain and Ireland. When the event you are trying to win is just one match played over three days every two years, then the curse seems different. It’s not the only thing the players are obsessed with, they have their own individual careers to worry about most of the time. Merely making the team can be a career goal, they can worry about winning it when the week of the competition itself comes around. What also makes the Ryder Cup different from the rest of these curses is that they only had one opponent to beat, getting beat over and over again at anything is demoralising, but when it’s the same team handing out the beating then the demoralising effect is so much worse. Only having one team to beat, also meant they had fewer excuses for not breaking the curse.
In the first twelve events Great Britain only won three times, including a big upset win in the last of those twelve in 1957. However this period was to look like the halcyon days of British golf, compared to the next thirteen matches that consisted of one tie and twelve wins for America – a lot of those being by big margins. In 1979 the British team finally acknowledged that they could do with some help, and allowed players from anywhere in Europe to be eligible for their team. Top American players had been saying that unless their opposition gets stronger, then there is no point playing the event anymore.
The introduction of the continental players was the first step in reversing the fortunes, particularly as this included the inspirational Seve Ballesteros from Spain. He was the one European player at the time that didn’t feel inferior to the Americans and had a true belief that he could beat them. The turnaround wasn’t instant thought, defeats came in 1979 and a particularly severe hammering on home soil in 1981. After that came the next significant change, with Tony Jacklin being offered the role of team captain. Other than Seve he was the only European for the last thirty years to have won a Major Championship, one of his two wins coming in America in their open championship. He had reached the top as a player and knew how to beat the Yanks at their own game. Jacklin wanted the captaincy, but he made it clear he would only take it on some conditions. He did not want to be captain and to oversee more hammerings. His various demands could be best summed up by saying he wanted the European team to be more professional. Until this time the contest had looked like a bunch of enthusiastic amateurs taking on a team of elite professionals, one thing Jacklin insisted on was that the team travelled to America together and on a Concorde for the 1983 match. The team outfits were of much better quality than they had been and players were made to feel special and as if they were on a par with the Americans. Along with this special treatment, the European players were left in no doubt that they weren’t going over to America for a fun week away and to make up the numbers. Their new captain would be reminding them for months leading up to the match that they were going to America to win.
Europe travelled in 1983, looking to hand the Americans their first ever defeat on home soil. From the start the Americans could tell there was something different about this European team, they weren’t just there to play, they were there to compete. For the first time since the tied match in 1969, it was truly a competition. The result was in doubt until the end of the final days play. A magical wedge shot from Lanny Wadkins on the last hole, helped America squeeze out a victory by the narrowest margin possible.
In the locker room afterwards the European players were devastated, they had given their all and stood toe to toe with the giants of the game for three days of competition, yet still they couldn’t end the winless run. Seve looked around at his distraught team mates and then gave an impassioned speech, asking them why they were so sad, when they had just produced a performance that had finally backed up the belief that Captain Jacklin and Seve himself had been telling them they should have. The speech was perfectly timed and delivered, the European players finally felt that they could compete with the Americans. Once you feel like you can compete with someone and deserve to be in the same contest as them, then it’s not too much of a jump to believe you can beat them.
In 1985 with Jacklin still at the helm and Seve still in his pomp, the Europeans handed out a hammering of their own, and the Americans certainly weren’t claiming it was too easy anymore. From that year onwards, the sixteen matches have resulted in ten wins for Europe, just five for America and one tied match.
Lesson to be learned from breaking this curse:
If you want your opponents to respect you, then you must first respect yourselves. To produce a championship performance, you have to act like champions.