Golf

From Christy to G-Mac: The top five Irish moments in the Ryder Cup

Europe's Rory McIlroy (left) and Graeme McDowell during the Ryder Cup in 2012
Europe's Rory McIlroy (left) and Graeme McDowell during the Ryder Cup in 2012 Europe's Rory McIlroy (left) and Graeme McDowell during the Ryder Cup in 2012

The Ryder Cup sparks unusual emotions in the normally placid world of professional golf.

Stuck in a team environment golfers from Europe and the USA turn into a group of nervous wrecks who fist bump and air punch with every holed putt.

It makes for a compelling contest, creates heroes and villains and can be career-defining. For those golfers who normally toil in the shadows, away from the glare of competing for major titles this can be their chance to grab a moment in the spotlight.

Over the years, Irish golfers have found themselves at the very sharp end of the Ryder Cup. Luckily, when push came to shove, they managed to stand up and be counted.

Here, in no particular order, Golf correspondent Paul Kelly reflects on five memorable Irish moments at the Ryder Cup.

1 Graeme McDowell (2010 Celtic Manor)

PORTRUSH golfer Graeme McDowell etched his name into the Ryder Cup history books by holing the winning putt in his singles match against Hunter Mahan.

Europe started the final day with a three-point lead but when Zach Johnson saw off Padraig Harrington the teams were tied at 13.5 points each.

Mahan was three down early but bounced back within one with three holes to play, only for McDowell to drain a timely putt at the 16th to give him control of the contest.

“Monty made it clear [at 16] that I needed to win my match against Hunter,” said Graeme.

“I was so nervous at the time that it didn’t really matter.

“I hit a really great six iron in just left of the pin. I knew the green really well from playing in the Welsh Open. It was one of the coolest putts I have ever made in my life."

McDowell would go on to win the 17th as well to close out the match and spark wild scenes of celebration.

2 Darren Clarke (The K Club 2006)

JUST six weeks after the death of his wife Heather, Darren Clarke managed to win all three of his matches at the K Club.

Clarke’s selection by captain Ian Woosnam was viewed as a gamble but the team were inspired by his commitment to the European cause and hammered their opponents 18.5 to 9.5.

Remarkably, Clarke somehow managed to finish with a perfect record – three wins out of three, claiming the scalps of Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson along the way.

When he managed to beat Zach Johnson in the Sunday singles, he dissolved into floods of tears.

“It was a brave call to pick me to be part of the team,” said Darren.

“I kept all my stuff together but I got onto that 16th green and the emotions got to me. I couldn’t contain it anymore. There was a lot of emotion. The thing I’m most proud of is that I helped the team and we won.”

3 Christy O’Connor Jnr (The Belfry 1989)

IT is one of the iconic images in sport. Christy O’Connor on the fairway, an iron in hand, and a packed grandstand in the distance.

Under the greatest pressure, the then 41-year-old made his name with one swing of the club at the Belfry.

With the match finely poised at 12-10 to Europe, O’Connor stood on the 18th tee alongside opponent Fred Couples with the tie level. He played first from the tee and safely found the fairway but a long, long way behind his opponent.

With just a nine iron left for the American, it was definitely advantage Couples but O’Connor wasn’t concerned; urged on by captain Tony Jacklin, his two-iron from some 230 yards found the green and ran up to within five feet of the flag.

“I hit a perfect shot, I caught it 110 per cent,” said O’Connor.

The shot unnerved Couples who missed the green with his approach and eventually conceded the hole to seal a vital point for Europe.

Christy O'Connor jr is a Ryder Cup hero
Christy O'Connor jr is a Ryder Cup hero Christy O'Connor jr is a Ryder Cup hero

4 Philip Walton (Oak Hill 1995)

DUBLINER Philip Walton played in only one Ryder Cup and yet it fell on him to hole the winning putt in 1995.

Europe trailed their opponents 9-7 going into the singles with Walton out in the 11th match of the day against the more experienced Jay Haas.

“I fancied our chances,” said Walton.

He never trailed Haas but three up with three to play he saw his lead cut by losing the 16th and 17th. The duo both struggled playing the 18th but it was Walton who finished stronger, his two putt from 10 feet sealing a surprise win for Europe.

“I knew it was down to my putt because the crowd had grown around us,” he said

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“My match should have been over, it’s just fate how things work out.

“You’ve just got to focus on yourself.

“I always felt the more you could hang on to the Americans at the turn, the better chance you’ve got of winning. Because they expect to win. If you’re level with him or up at that stage, you’ve got him.”

5 Paul McGinley (The Belfry 2002)

PAUL McGinley’s love affair with the Ryder Cup started in 2002 when, as a rookie, his decisive putt on the 18th green clinched the half-point Europe needed as they went on to seal success by a margin of 15.5-12.5.

Despite going into the last day all square at 8-8, it was Sam Torrance’s men who held their nerve against their United States counterparts at the Belfry.

McGinley thrived in the Ryder Cup environment. He trailed opponent Jim Furyk right from the start but dug in and pegged him back to all square by holing a 12-footer on the 17th.

Standing over a 10-footer on the 18th green for that decisive half point the pressure wasn’t an issue.

“I knew exactly how important the putt was but I never dwelt on the prospect of missing,” he said.

“I saw the line and knew the pace. Then it was just routine. I knew I was going to hit a great putt and that made me feel good no matter what.”

McGinley slotted the ball home and ended up in the lake holding aloft a Republic of Ireland flag.

Europe's Ryder Cup captain Paul McGinley (centre) with Des Smyth (left) and Sam Torrance during a press conference at The Government Buildings, Dublin
Europe's Ryder Cup captain Paul McGinley (centre) with Des Smyth (left) and Sam Torrance during a press conference at The Government Buildings, Dublin Europe's Ryder Cup captain Paul McGinley (centre) with Des Smyth (left) and Sam Torrance during a press conference at The Government Buildings, Dublin