By Travis Puterbaugh, Curator
In the history of Ryder Cup competition dating back to 1927, the United States had never experienced defeat by more than five points until 2004, when Europe humiliated the U.S. team on their own soil by a score of 18 ½ to 9 ½, a nine-point washout. At the K Club in Ireland two years later, the U.S. sought out redemption, while Europe hoped to win for the fifth time in six outings in what was increasingly becoming a one-sided affair. Despite having the home course advantage, certainly Europe could expect a tighter competition this time around from the U.S.
Ian Woosnam of Wales, a 2017 inductee into the World Golf Hall of Fame and eight-time Ryder Cup competitor, would serve as a first-time captain for Europe in 2006. He found himself in a good spot – golf pundits said that while the United States may be fielding its weakest team ever, Europe may have assembled the best in its history. Europe featured eight members in the top 20 in the World Rankings compared to only four on the U.S. side. The squad also featured Ryder Cup assassin Colin Montgomerie, appearing in his eighth consecutive Ryder Cup and who came into the event with a perfect career record in singles (5-0-2).
Ever aware of the trap that comes from being a heavy favorite, Woosnam erred on the side of humility prior to the start of the matches.
“I don’t want to say that we’re favorites at all,” Woosnam said. “I want to feel like we’re going to get back in that team room and feel like we’re still underdogs. I still think it’s going to go down to the wire. A lot of people said their team is one of the weakest they have ever had and I just don’t agree with that.”
A career underdog himself as a player, it seemed unlikely to the point of impossible that as a captain Woosnam would permit overconfidence to permeate his group. The United States still had the top three players in the world – Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, and Jim Furyk – and would be eager for redemption after the drubbing they took at Oakland Hills in 2004. No, Woosnam took nothing for granted in preparing for the Cup and assembling his own squad.
“I always seem to have battled all of my golfing career to prove something to someone,” Woosnam said prior to the start of play. “Hopefully that will come through the way I’ll captain my team this week.”
One of the best moves Woosnam made came when he selected Darren Clarke of Northern Ireland with one of his captain’s picks. Just six weeks earlier, Clarke’s wife Heather passed away after a four-year battle with cancer. In rallying around their friend and teammate Clarke, Europe would benefit from the emotional lift and add one more incentive to win.
Woosnam also tried as a captain to learn from some of the flaws in his own game as a Ryder Cup participant, chiefly, his winless record in Singles play. He lost from everywhere in the lineup over eight Ryder Cups – as the first man out, the last man out, and at various slots in between. Woosnam learned that putting too much pressure on himself to put up a point for the team led to many of his defeats. The message to his team: play for yourself.
“Be a little selfish,” Woosnam said. “Try to win for yourself, not the team, then you can concentrate on your own match instead of looking at the boards and listening to the roars. That’s the sort of advice I tried to give the other players.”
When all was said and done, Woosnam pushed all the right buttons, said all the right things, and in the end let his team play. Europe once again routed the United States 18 ½ to 9 ½ and somehow it did not even seem that close.
In dominating fashion, Europe won 22 out of 28 matches played. For the first time ever, Europe won all five sessions, something that neither side had accomplished since the United States team defeated Great Britain in 1967 when the event featured six rounds. Europe also won Singles play for the third Ryder Cup in a row, by a score of 8 ½ to 3 ½, its most decisive margin ever. Sergio Garcia, who went 4-1-0 for Europe, quipped afterwards that “hopefully we won’t get asked if the Nationwide Tour is the second best tour in the world anymore.”
Stalwart Montgomerie ended his Ryder Cup playing career with one final singles win, leading off Sunday with a 1 up win over David Toms. Six players from Europe finished the competition with undefeated marks, while Lee Westwood and Garcia led the way with four points apiece. Finally, Clarke proved to be more than a sentimental pick, posting three points in three matches, successfully pairing twice in four-ball play with Westwood and then knocking off Zach Johnson in singles, 3&2.
“Every single one of us dedicated this to (Heather),” Woosnam said following the matches. “For Darren to win was an incredible feeling for him, for me and for all the team and we all know why.”
If there was but one blemish in a nearly perfect weekend, Woosnam pointed out that in Sunday’s sixth singles match between Paul McGinley and J.J. Henry, McGinley generously conceded a 30-foot putt on the 18th hole which allowed the U.S. to salvage a half point. If not for McGinley’s extreme act of sportsmanship, Europe would have won 19-9.
“I’ll be having a word with Paul McGinley later,” Woosnam joked. “It could have been a record.”
After 18 months of preparation, with victory behind him and one of the most satisfying weeks of his life in golf complete, an obviously elated Woosnam had but one last thing to say to his team, perhaps the greatest Europe ever assembled:
“When I said we’re going to have a party, I meant we are going to have party, boys!”