Golf

10 Ryder Cup moments for the Irish: Rory McIlroy's bust-up with US caddie makes the list

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.

McIlroy sees red after confrontation with US caddie (Marco Simone, 2023)

Rory McIlroy found himself at the center of tensions during Sunday's singles matches. After an angry exchange involving American Patrick Cantlay's caddie, McIlroy had to be held back by Irishman Shane Lowry from confronting more Team USA members in the car park.

While lacking the joy of past Irish celebrations, the controversial incident reflected McIlroy's fiery passion for the Ryder Cup and kickstarted raucous European celebrations after a dominant win.

Managing McIlroy-McDowell feud (Gleneagles, 2014)

During the 2014 Ryder Cup, captain Paul McGinley faced the challenge of handling the feud between Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell, stemming from a legal dispute.

He revealed: “Always have some good news to go with the bad news. For example, sitting down with Graeme, big ego, former US Open champion, hero the last time we played at home.

“Coming in as a senior guy expecting to play all five matches, me seeing him in a different role where I wanted him to look after Victor in the foursomes but being prepared with my conversation with him that, ‘Look, if you do this and play with Victor the first two days, the carrot at the end of the stick would be I will put you out No.1 in the singles’,” said McGinley.

“I really believe the street fighters are the best No.1s, not the best players.

“His immediate first thought to that was, ‘What would Rory say if I’m playing No.1?’

“And at that stage as well, you talk about managing dynamics? Again, this is all public knowledge, but Rory and Graeme were in the High Court against each other at the time with a management dispute that was going on, on other sides of the fence.

McGinley's adept diplomacy and promise to McDowell played a pivotal role in resolving the situation and contributed to Europe's triumph.

His ability to manage the fallout between the two players stands out as a significant Ryder Cup moment.

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Teams Europe's comeback and McIlroy's tee time controversy (Medinah, 2012)

At Medinah in 2012, the Northern Irish duo of McIlroy and McDowell catalysed Europe's unforgettable "Miracle" comeback. McIlroy's points on Sunday ignited an 8-4 singles rout to stun the Americans 14.5-13.5.

McIlroy gained redemption on Sunday after nearly missing his singles tee time that morning.

Earlier that week, McIlroy had gotten his tee times mixed up between Eastern and Central Time Zones.

He showed up with minutes to spare before his Sunday match, speeding to the course in a police escort.

McIlroy took the blame for the mix-up, saying "I've never been so worried driving to the golf course before."

He frantically warmed up in front of fans before firing an opening shot wide right of the fairway.

Reed denies McIlroy in epic duel (Hazeltine, 2016)

The McIlroy-Reed showdown at Hazeltine in 2016 exemplified an American team that simply refused to yield.

With Europe needing a comeback on Sunday, Rory McIlroy and Patrick Reed battled in a thrilling singles match.

At the par-4 8th hole, McIlroy sank an improbable 60-foot birdie putt, erupting in a fist-pumping celebration. But Reed calmly responded by draining his own 20-footer, capping it with a waggle of his finger at McIlroy.

Despite McIlroy's Herculean efforts, Reed slammed the door shut. He won 1-up, playing the perfect foil to stymie Europe's attempted rally.

The Americans emerged 17-11 victors, led by fiery young stars like Reed.

While McIlroy's passion briefly ignited hopes, Reed's steely resolve symbolized Europe leaving Minnesota empty-handed.

McIlroy and McDowell team up (Celtic Manor, 2010)

In 2010, Rory McIlroy formed an instant bond with Graeme McDowell.

The duo's remarkable performance, finishing 3&1 against Zach Johnson and Hunter Mahan with a birdie putt at the 17th hole, laid the foundation for what would become one of the greatest European partnerships

"To get that first win under my belt in the Ryder Cup is fantastic and to do it alongside this guy (McDowell) is even more special," McIlroy expressed.

McDowell's putt seals historic Ryder Cup comeback for Europe (Celtic Manor, 2010)

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 Irishman 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 McDowell.

“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.

Clarke plays through grief to lead Europe to dominant Ryder Cup win (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.”

O'Connor's iconic 2-Iron stuns couples and spurs Europe (Belfry 2002)

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.

Walton sinks cup-clinching putt as Europe stun US (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

“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.”

McGinley's nerves of steel secure dramatic European fightback (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.