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The Greatest Ryder Cups: 1999 - The Battle of Brookline

After the unpleasantness of the 1991 Ryder Cup – dubbed the ‘War on the Shore’ before the golf had even begun – both sides called for order in 1993, as Europe returned to more comfortable territory in the Belfry.

The USA would win on European soil 15-13, before Europe regained the Ryder Cup with two narrow 14.5-13.5 wins in 1995 and 1997.

But after six years of relative calm came the Battle of Brookline.

Not for the first time, the United States had got under European skin regarding pre-event comments.

A decade after Ray Floyd introduced his team as the 12 best golfers in the world, Jeff Maggert did the same.

Payne Stewart went a step further, suggesting the European players should be caddying for the Americans.

David Duval, one of the stars of the all-star team, opined that golfers should be paid for the Ryder Cup. 

His point was that the Ryder Cup had become more than an exhibition and was a lucrative event that everyone was getting paid for bar the players.

But the message was that the greedy Americans thought they were bigger than the event and Colin Montgomerie couldn't resist returning fire, declaring that no European would ever want to be paid, and that the Ryder Cup should be played for flags, not money.

The war of words had begun, but as far as Stewart's remarks was concerned, the words weren't exactly unfounded. 

Everyone on the US team bar Tom Lehman and Steve Pate – both captain’s picks – were ranked in the world’s top 20, while the Europeans had just Montgomerie, Lee Westwood and captain’s pick Jesper Parnevik.

The United States also had vastly more experience, with 85 Ryder Cup matches between them; Europe had 64, and 43 of them had come from Jose Maria Olazabal – no longer playing with Seve Ballesteros – and Montgomerie.

There were also seven rookies, including a 19-year-old Sergio Garcia; Paul Lawrie on the back of his Open win; Jean van de Velde on the back of his Open collapse. Jarmo Sandelin and Andrew Coltart were two of Europe’s four players not even ranked in the world’s top 50.

And if the Europeans thought fans at Kiawah Island were rowdy in 1991, Boston was about to introduce them to something else.

The home of the Boston Red Sox, the New England Patriots and the Boston Celtics, the locals – the most passionate and vocal of all of America’s sports fans – were desperate for something to savour. 

The Celtics hadn’t reached the NBA Finals in 12 years; the Red Sox hadn’t reached a World Series in 13 years; and the Patriots were in decline after their Super Bowl defeat two years earlier.

But remarkably, Europe tore up the script to win the first two matches, taking a 2.5-1.5 lead into the afternoon session, which they’d win 3.5-0.5. 

Parnevik and Garcia had struck up a potent partnership, with the former holing out with a 9-iron sparking wild celebrations in the eighth fairway.

There wasn’t all that much to choose between the sides tee-to-green, but on the putting surface, Europe had established a clear advantage to take a 6-2 lead into Saturday.

Things would take a turn on day two, however, when the home crowd felt they needed to make their voices heard. 

After a Hal Sutton birdie putt prompted prolonged cheers, Montgomerie waited for the noise to eventually die down before his attempt to secure a half. A heckler called out as Monty was stood over the putt, causing the Scot to back off. 

Impressively, Montgomerie would hole his putt, prompting a most uncharacteristic fist pump from the man whose greatest show of emotion was normally no more than a steely glare to a noisy photographer.

Miguel Angel Jimenez also felt the need to point out a vocal fan when playing an approach shot as things began to bubble up.

Amid an increasingly boisterous crowd, Europe tied both sessions 2-2. Beyond all expectations, Europe led 10-6 going into Sunday and needed four points from the 12 singles matches, but the advantage they'd built up came at a cost.

Understandably, captain Mark James was reluctant to bench the players that were winning points over the first two days. There were also supposedly weaker players in Coltart, Van de Velde and Sandelin, who James was reluctant to expose. 

It meant come Sunday, three players had yet to hit a shot all week, while seven players had played all four matches in two days.

The US had no choice but to top-load the team. Out first were Tom Lehman, Hal Sutton, Phil Mickelson, Davis Love III and Tiger Woods. For Europe, after Lee Westwood and Darren Clarke, were the three rookies yet to play their first shot in a Ryder Cup.

The United States had been given a huge boost before stepping onto the course. Looking down the matches, the hosts didn’t look at the 8.5 points they needed, but realised that match for match, they still had every chance.

Not only did Europe lose all five of those opening matches (as well as the sixth between Parnevik and David Duval) none had reached the 18th hole. They’d not even reached the 17th hole. It was still fairly early days, but Europe were being trounced, and the locals were all too aware of it.

The Europeans going out in the second half of the singles had to stare at the red sea on the leaderboard all afternoon, as the noise grew louder and louder. 

Steve Pate beat Miguel Angel Jimenez 2&1 to make it seven straight for the US, who were now just 1.5 points away from regaining the Ryder Cup as Jim Furyk was putting Sergio Garcia to the sword. In the final match, Paul Lawrie would beat Jeff Maggert after Padraig Harrington beat Mark O’Meara. 

It was close; agonisingly close. If the US were to win, it had to be agonisingly close. 

Justin Leonard had somehow clawed his way back into the match with Olazabal, having been 4DN thru 11. Winning the 12th, 13th and 14th, Leonard, who’d holed nothing all week, was suddenly finding the bottom of the cup from all over. The putt on 17 will always be remembered, but the putt on 15 was arguably even better. From miles away, Leonard had got back to A/S.

Olazabal was making mistakes and making bogeys. Suddenly, the crucial match was winnable for the States.

So to the 17th. Both men had wedges into the green, with Olazabal finishing about 20 feet inside Leonard on the same line despite a spectator calling out in his backswing, which the Spaniard pointed out afterwards.

Against all odds, Leonard found another birdie, and while it went a huge way to securing the Ryder Cup, Olazabal still had a makeable putt for a half.

Nevertheless, the green was invaded by US players, wives of players, even cameramen, one of whom had run across Olazabal’s line. 

There are countless rules to follow when it comes to golf etiquette, but there weren't many that hadn't been broken on the 17th hole. It took Leonard himself to clear the green once the celebrations had finally died down, remembering the match wasn’t over.

If there was one saving grace on the behalf of the US, it was Payne Stewart’s decision to concede a putt to Montgomerie on the 18th green. 

The home fans had crossed the line from jocular banter to all-out abuse. Montgomerie’s dad, upon hearing the invective aimed at his son, left the course. Monty eventually snapped, calling for a marshal to remove one spectator, with Stewart himself even calling for calm. 

Monty pointed out the offender and said: “We don’t need this; it’s a game of golf, not a football match. Anyone else says it, they go as well.” 

Stewart had his opponent’s back, informing him he’d help deal with the crowd if it got too much. 

After the outcome had been decided, Stewart had the chance to halve his match with Montgomerie, making the final score a more convincing 15-13. Instead, he didn’t want to risk Montgomerie losing the final hole to halve his match and so conceded.

Sam Torrance was a member of the 1991 Ryder Cup team, but in his autobiography called the Sunday at Brookline the ‘most disgraceful and disgusting day in the history of professional golf’.

Six years after the respective calls for calm, the atmosphere had reached fever pitch once again.

Golf had always been a gentleman’s game, played in a genteel manner and the Ryder Cup was meant to be no different. But it had now become a win-at-all-costs event.

The team and spectators had again overstepped the mark, and the US media weren’t shy about calling it out. The Washington Post went as far as to say "It seems an American team can't get through an international competition without acting like jackasses at some point."

Another outlet declared it “the day golf died”.

It was a competition that should only have been remember on its sporting merit, as one of the greatest comebacks in any sport. 

But veteran broadcaster Alistair Cooke said that the Sunday of the 1999 Ryder Cup was a day that would live in infamy. 

He wasn’t wrong.

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