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Ryder Cup 1995: Wrong Man, Wrong Time

Phillip Walton at 1995 Ryder Cup
Jon Cuban/Allsport/Getty Images
Walton's win secured the Cup for Europe.

This artlce first appeared in the October 2, 1995, issue of Sports Illustrated.

America lost the Ryder Cup Sunday to a two-putt bogey.

America lost the Ryder Cup Sunday when a simple par on the last hole by Curtis Strange, Brad Faxon or Jay Haas would have kept it.

America lost the Ryder Cup Sunday when a simple par by Strange on any of the last three holes would have kept it. America lost the Cup in a week in which Nick Faldo made two birdies, Seve Ballesteros hit three fairways and the European captain forgot that Ian Woosnam existed. And America lost the Cup with the No. 1 U.S. player on the PGA Tour money list, Lee Janzen, sitting on his couch at home in Kissimmee, Fla.

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It wasn't easy. It took a team effort. It bucked all the odds. But somehow, someway, America lost the Ryder Cup Sunday at Oak Hill Country Club in Rochester, N.Y., in the greatest come-from-ahead pratfall since DEWEY DEFEATS TRUMAN.

Officially America lost the Cup when Ireland's Philip Walton, a man many of the U.S. players had never even heard of, picked up his ball on the 18th green, his six-inch putt having been conceded by Haas, who, needing a 4 to win the hole and square the match, still had a six-footer left for 5. That backed the Cup into the laps of the Europeans, who won 14 1/2 - 13 1/2, for their first victory in this biennial event since 1989.

Unofficially America may have lost the Cup six weeks ago, when its Sta-Puf team was determined. Working with a group that accumulated points based on Top 10 finishes on the PGA Tour and in majors over the past 20 months, U.S. captain Lanny Wadkins was stuck with a lot of guys who were wonderful at finishing a strong fifth or grinding out a heroic ninth. Yet none of his players had won a tournament since June, and four of them—Faxon, Haas, Jeff Maggert and Strange—hadn't won a tournament since at least 1993.

"I probably deserve what I'm gonna get now [from the press]," said Strange, the more controversial of Wadkins's two captain's picks (Fred Couples was the other). "No matter how bad you beat me up, it's not gonna hurt as much as what I'm gonna do to myself."

Perhaps not, but here goes: When Strange got to the hardest miles—the last three holes against Europe's finest, Faldo, with the Cup on the line-he staged his own Heimlich festival, making three straight bogeys when one measly par would've been enough. It was Bill Buckner letting three straight balls go through his legs. It was Jackie Smith dropping three straight in the end zone. It was unthinkable, not possible. And yet, it happened.

This was supposed to be an American anthem a walkover, mostly because Europe brought a cast that looked like it had been starring in the West Enc about five years too long. It came with its usual Fat Four—Ballesteros, Faldo, Bernhard Langer and Woosnam—and a Volvo full of other guys named Mark and Per-Ulrik. But somewhere along the way, the Fab Four had lost some of the Fab. Ballesteros hadn't hit a fairway since the Berlin Wall fell. Faldo hadn't had a top-20 finish in a major in '95. And Woosie wasn't even on the team until Jose Maria Olazabal withdrew in deference to his famous toe.

Better yet, America had rigged the whole thing. It had picked one of its hardest courses, grown the rough higher than June corn, cut a little footpath for fairways and dried out the greens. The teams would play a U.S. Open and a Ryder Cup at the same time. Let's see the Euros handle that.

For the first two days it went every bit as planned. The Americans took to a rainy Friday and jumped to a 5-3 lead, mostly by beating Europe's King and Kong, Faldo and Colin Montgomerie, in the morning foursomes and the afternoon four ball.

Even after Costantino Rocca recorded the third ace in Ryder Cup history, a 5-iron at the 6th that ignited a Saturday morning European rally that knotted the score at 6-6, the U.S. rebounded to win three of the four afternoon matches, the last on Corey Pavin's electrifying chip-in from above the slick 18th green, which sank Langer and Faldo and turned a one-point U.S. lead into two, 9-7.

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