The True Beginning of the Modern Day Ryder Cup

Michael FitzpatrickFeatured ColumnistSeptember 26, 2012

Golfers Tony Jacklin (left) and Severiano Ballesteros (right) celebrate the victory of the European team in the Ryder Cup matches at Muirfield Village, Ohio, 27th September 1987.  (Photo by Simon Bruty/Getty Images)
Simon Bruty/Getty Images

This weekend, 40,000 spectators per day descend upon Medinah Country Club and turn this sleeping little town into golf’s version of Woodstock.

You’ll hear cheers that will make major championship roars sound like nothing more than a whisper. Heck, the roars at Medinah will probably be louder than anything you’d hear down at Soldier Field.

You will hear the crowd jeering the European team as if their goal were to draw tears, or at the very least increase their anger to the boiling point.  

You will see American flags scattered throughout the gallery and chats of “U.S.A.” will be heard from Medinah all the way to downtown Chicago.

The Ryder Cup has indeed turned into World War III for the golf world. It’s a war that most believe began on the shores of Kiawah Island back in 1991 when the American side narrowly squeaked out a win to end the first real losing streak.

However, the War by The Shore, a name the media bestowed upon the 1991 matches, was actually just the first large battle in this ongoing golfing war between the United States and Europe.

The war really began in 1977 and the first shots were fired in 1987, a full four years before we entered the twilight zone at Kiawah Island where Mark Calcavecchia suffered a mental breakdown on the golf course, Seve Ballesteros accused Paul Azinger of cheating and Bernhard Langer missed the biggest putt of his life.

The United States had won every single Ryder Cup match between 1959 and 1977 against a team consisting of the best players from Great Britain and Ireland. It was truly nothing more than an exhibition match that virtually no one paid any attention to.

Heck, Tom Weiskopf even decided to skip the 1977 matches to go big-game hunting …that pretty much summed up how important the Ryder Cup had become by the late 1970s.  

But that all began to change in 1977.

Following the 1977 Ryder Cup where the United States once again trounced GB&I, even without Weiskopf who was out somewhere tracking down bears, rhinos and who knows what else, Jack Nicklaus sat down and met with the Earl of Derby, who was serving as president of the British PGA at the time.

Nicklaus knew the matches were in trouble and he knew that the reason why the matches were in danger of completely disappearing was because the United States was demolishing the BG&I team every other year.

So, Nicklaus suggested that the GB&I team be turned into a European team, where they would have the opportunity to select players from BG&I as well as throughout mainland Europe. Nicklaus thought that this would at the very least improve the level of competition and quite possibly save the Ryder Cup…and boy was he right.

The PGA Tour of America immediately implemented Nicklaus’ idea and the first true European team was on the course for the 1979 matches at the Greenbrier. America still won the 1979 matches handily but new era in Ryder Cup play was born.

The European team began to improve over the next six years and finally managed to defeat the America side in 1985 at The Belfry. But that still was not the first shot in this war. Americans viewed this defeat as a fluke. It was simply an off week which every great sports team in history had experienced at one time or another…nothing to worry about.    

The first shots were officially fired in 1987, and, ironically enough, they were fired right in Nicklaus’ own backyard.

It was not until the European side defeated the Americans on U.S. soil that the Americans truly sat up and began to take notice. And not only did the European side defeat the Americans on U.S. soil, they defeated an American team captained by the greatest American golfer of all-time—Jack Nicklaus.

And not only did they defeat an American team captained by Nicklaus on U.S. soil, they did so right in Nicklaus’ backyard at Muirfield Village in Dublin, Ohio.

The modern day Ryder Cup was born when the European team first began celebrating on U.S. soil and Jose Maria Olazabal danced his way across Nicklaus’ 18th green at Muirfield Village.

This was the true beginning of this war and essentially set the stage for the first large-scale battle which occurred four years later at Kiawah Island, which was the next time the Ryder Cup matches were held on U.S. soil following the embarrassing defeat at Muirfield.

Many people immediately point to the War by The Shore as the beginning of the modern day Ryder Cup, but that is not at all the case. The modern day Ryder Cup began in an office back in 1977 and the first shots were fired in Dublin, Ohio in 1987.  

The War by The Shore was simply the first large-scale battle in what would become an ongoing bi-annual war between the top golfers from the United States and Europe.

Check out The Tour Report for the top-6 moments in Ryder Cup History.