PGA Championship at Kiawah Island: Rory McIlroy and Team USA among former winners at the venue
The PGA Championship returns to one of the most picturesque courses in the world this year, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Kiawah Island produce drama to match the beauty in May.
The Ocean Course was a happy hunting ground for Rory McIlroy in 2012 when he romped to his second major title in the same dominant manner as his first, his record-breaking eight-shot procession matching his margin of victory at the US Open the previous year. But it was a far less happy venue for Europe’s Ryder Cup team in a 1991 contest memorable for mostly negative reasons.
McIlroy was only two years old when Team USA wrestled back the golden trophy with the final putt of the final match of the “War on the Shore”. Unfortunately for Europe, that putt was Bernhard Langer’s six-footer for par. Had he made it, he would have snatched victory over fellow veteran Hale Irwin, halving the overall score at 14-14 and retaining the Ryder Cup.
Langer’s devastated recoil as his ball trickled wide of the target was replayed countless times, led news bulletins all around the world, and his grief was also broadcast on many big screens at Medinah 21 years later, just as fellow German Martin Kaymer was lining up a putt of similar length in the exact same situation – this time with a vastly different outcome.
It was, perhaps, a fitting end to the 29th edition of the Ryder Cup that was shrouded by controversy before a ball had been struck in anger. Corey Pavin is credited with the idea of using the Gulf War as ammunition to whip up the boisterous home crowd, hence the camouflage caps for the Americans, and there was the simmering rivalry between Seve Ballesteros and Paul Azinger that was gathering pace on and off the course.
The first rumblings that this would be a Ryder Cup like no other began as the players arrived for Wednesday’s gala dinner, when Steve Pate was thrown to the floor in a collision between two limousines. Pate made light of the incident and insisted he had suffered only minor bumps and bruises, and he sat down in the ballroom to enjoy a historical highlights reel from past Ryder Cup competitions that infuriated the European squad.
Captain Bernard Gallacher recalled: “The film they showed at the dinner was a joke, all they showed was American players hitting shots. Ken Schofield (European Tour chief executive at the time) wanted to walk out, but we stayed to the end.”
When the matches finally got under way on Friday, the Pavin-inspired Desert Storm hats went down well with the locals, which also served to heighten some of the abuse aimed at the visiting players. And then the fractious atmosphere boiled over on the 10th tee as the “Spanish Armada” pairing of Seve and Olly (Jose Maria Olazabal) took on Azinger and Chip Beck in a feisty foursomes.
Olazabal noticed that the American pair has been switching balls, using different compressions depending on the hole and the wind direction, a clear breach of the rules that had been noted on the seventh hole, reported to Gallacher, who then challenged Azinger and Beck on the 10th. The subsequent argument became “heated and nasty”, according to Billy Foster, who was on the bag for Ballesteros. Azinger initially denied any wrongdoing, backtracked a little when the Europeans made it clear they were not accusing him of cheating, just a misinterpretation of the rules.
Once everything had calmed down, Ballesteros and Olazabal dented Azinger’s pride a little further when they close out a 2&1 victory, Europe’s only point of the first session. And by a welcome coincidence from a European standpoint, the same two pairings met again in the afternoon fourballs, with exactly the same result, although Gallacher’s troops won this session to reduce the deficit to a point after day one.
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Nick Faldo then hit the headlines for apparently offering little support and encouragement to partner and Ryder Cup rookie David Gilford on Saturday morning, during a 7&6 thrashing against Azinger and Mark O’Meara. Faldo had endured a poor run of form leading into the contest and was still struggling to find his game at Kiawah, although Gilford’s caddie later insisted there was little Faldo could have done to redress the situation.
For Gilford, his first experience of the Ryder Cup was a miserable one. He and Colin Montgomerie had been soundly beaten on Friday morning, and he was to be denied the chance to prove his worth to the European team in the singles when American captain, Dave Stockton, withdrew Steve Pate due to the injuries received in his limo accident. The half point from the non-played match proved decisive in the overall outcome, and led to widespread criticism of Stockton for alleged poor sportsmanship, with many sceptical about the severity of the injuries to one of his weaker players.
Meanwhile, Europe launched a valiant fightback in the Saturday fourballs, with an out-of-sorts Faldo on the range trying to find a fix for his swing issues, and three wins and a halved match took the teams into the final day locked together at 8-8. Faldo obviously found something as he led Europe off in the singles and beat veteran Ray Floyd, with David Feherty putting more blue on the board when he took out Payne Stewart.
But the Americans looked dominant in the middle order, and victory looked assured when Mark Calcavecchia went four up on Montgomerie with four to play. Inexplicably, Calcavecchia imploded under the pressure and gifted the final four holes to the Scot, who won the 16th with a double-bogey after both players had found water.
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With the match halved, and Calcavecchia finding a lonely spot down the beach to recover from his collapse, wins for Seve and Paul Broadhurst kept European hopes alive, and it soon became apparent that a drawn match was the best the visitors could hope for if Langer could fend off the resilient Irwin.
The German made clutch putt after clutch putt, ignoring the cheers from outside the galleries whenever he hit a poor shot, and the final pair arrived on the 18th tee all square, with Langer needing a win to retain the trophy for Europe. Irwin then pulled his drive way left into the galleries, with the visiting side and media questioning how he came to have a perfect lie when he arrived at his ball.
However, the previous year’s US Open champion did not take advantage of his good fortune and was unable to save par, while Langer left himself another testing putt for par. After conceding Irwin’s bogey, Langer and caddie Pete Coleman carefully studied the line and picked out a spike mark to slide past en route to the cup. The rest is history.
Americans celebrated, Europeans were inconsolable, insults were traded, order was restored. It was credited as the week that changed the Ryder Cup, transforming it into one of the most watched sporting events in the world every two years. And however volatile the atmosphere was, it did seem a little tame compared to what transpired at Brookline eight years later.
And when big-time golf returned to the South Carolina resort in 2012 for the PGA Championship, McIlroy’s huge win was devoid of incident, other than some exceptional golf and a number of records broken.
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