Is the tide turning? A short history of the Ryder Cup since 1981

Forty years ago the Ryder Cup was struggling to find sponsorship, the 2021 match reiterated that it is one of the planet's great sporting events.

It's possible that we don't know how lucky we are with the Ryder Cup.

That's quite a claim when you consider that no other golfing event prompts so much pre- and post-match chitter-chatter, or that it is golf's most marketable event, not to mention the only one which is ranked among the most-watched sporting spectacles on the planet.

And yet the contrast between what the event was in the 1970s and what it is now is profound and astounding.

In truth, the Ryder Cup of the 1970s was something of a joke.

Consider that in 1971 the Great Britain and Ireland captain Eric Brown led a sing-song on the place home to celebrate defeat (in mitigation, it was the narrowest defeat on foreign soil in the team's history).

By 1977 even the Americans wanted a better fight. Tom Weiskopf, for example, had opted to go fishing instead of join his countrymen in yet another facile triumph.

Europeans entered the fray in 1979, but there was little immediate change. The first match was yet another straightforward success for the Americans.

But change did come, albeit slowly.

At the start of the 1980s interest was waning, but by the end of that decade the Ryder Cup was on course to be in the situation it is today - undeniably one of the world's greatest sporting events, amassing enormous viewing figures and generating astonishing sponsorship deals.

Team USA's victory in September has led many to believe that the tide has turned; following decades of long-term European success might the new young generation of Americans be ready to re-assert their nation's dominance?

Let's remind ourselves how the match has evolved over the last four decades and then take a look at the prices for the next match in 2023.


Europe might have become involved in the match two years previously, but the chaos of the 1970s was lingering and Seve Ballesteros was not selected as the US murdered Europe 18.5-9.5.

The exact financial state of the contest was revealed in the book 'Ryder Cup Revealed' in which Ross Biddiscombe writes: "Sponsorship prospects looked so bad at one stage that the best offers on the table consisted of £80,000 worth of cigarette coupons or £100,000 Green Shield stamps."


Another gem from Biddiscombe reveals that the match was still not out of the 1970s woods: "Roone Arledge, the president of ABC Sports at the time, is reported to have made a rather unusual offer to the PGA of America: he wanted to pay them back $1 million in order that he did not have to broadcast the Ryder Cup from PGA National."

It half-explains why there is no footage of what many believe was Ballesteros' greatest-ever shot, a fairway wood from a bunker. New captain Tony Jacklin had tempted him back, Europe threatened to win ahead of ultimate defeat, but the fire in the Spaniard's belly had been stoked.


Breakthrough at the Belfry. The near-miss in 1983 had proved inspirational because now the team as well, as Ballesteros and Jacklin, believed victory was possible.

Nonetheless, big doors swing on small hinges: midway through the match Craig Stadler missed a tiddler on the 18th hole and with it the momentum of the match switched inexorably. There were giddy scenes as Sam Torrance holed the winning putt.


Jose Maria Olazabal joined Ballesteros to form one of, if not the greatest, Ryder Cup partnership of them all.

Jack Nicklaus captained and hosted at Muirfield Village, yet it was not a happy week for him. He order thousands of flags midway through the match in an attempt to enthuse the sedate galleries, he bemoaned that his team was money-focussed, and oversaw a first American defeat on home soil.


Not quite 1985 revisited, but another golden week at the Belfry and an astonishing final day in which the Americans repeatedly hit their tee shot at the 18th into the water.

That hole also witnessed Christy O'Connor's sensational 2-iron, a shot that prompted delirium. When his victory was assured, he looked to the skies and opened his arms. With his white grey hair and pot belly many of us continue to think of it as one of the great triumphs for middle-aged man.

But he was actually just 41 (forty one). The match was tied.


In one sense The War on the Shore was madness, the American team utilising the first Gulf War as motivation.

In another, the European renaissance would have meant nothing if the American response was apathy. Victory was proof that they really did give a damn.


Back to the Belfry and, incredibly, the first Ryder Cup to be televised live in the US (they really were starting to give a damn). They also retained the trophy, overpowering the home team late in the Sunday singles.


Heading into the singles European captain Bernard Gallacher was looking at a third consecutive defeat as his team trailed 7-9. But the Europeans bucked their trend of singles weakness to complete an epic fightback that left Ballesteros and Faldo sobbing in one another's arms, and Philip Walton emulated Eamonn Darcy (in 1987) and O'Connor Jr in becoming an unlikely but legendary Irish Ryder Cup hero.


Folk like to sniff at the fact that Tiger Woods has never quite got to grips with the Ryder Cup; it's less often noted that his introduction to it was so insane.

The match started with the European team facing litigation when Miguel Angel Martin was effectively de-selected, the entire week was defined by Ballesteros' madcap captaincy, it ended with the players admitting they won it not only for, but also in spite, of their great hero.


Another case of the Americans appalling many, yet also proving that this thing really did mean something to them, celebrating victory with a mass party on the 17th green that overlooked the small matter that victory was not yet assured and Olazabal still had a putt on that very green. Astonishing shenanigans.

Also a week when European captain Mark James didn't play three of his team until the singles and selected seven of them to play all five sessions. Between them, those 10 (knackered or demoralised) landed two points on Sunday.


More Ryder Cup glory at the Belfry for European captain Sam Torrance whose first master stroke was to send Colin Montgomerie as leader in the singles when the match was tied 8-8. He set the tone with a 5&4 thumping of Scott Hoch.

Torrance also put his arm around the shoulders of the new boys, rather than pack them in a cupboard until Sunday. He asked for miracles at the back-end of the singles and they delivered, never more brilliantly than when Philip Price defeated Phil Mickelson. His nostril-flaring celebration is still awaiting the plaque it deserves on the 16th green.


Hal Sutton wore a 10-gallon stetson like a comedy cowboy, Bernhard Langer just quietly collected points. Lots of them. Europe led by three after the first morning, by five at the end of day one, by six ahead of the singles, and by nine at the end of the week. Not so much a contest as a dissection.


Emotional scenes in Ireland as Darren Clarke took his place on the team, and won three points from three matches, just weeks after the death of his wife Heather. Ian Woosnam oversaw a repeat of the 2004 scoreline.


Paul Azinger captained with pride and savvy, calling on all his patriotism and also introducing an innovative pod system, seeking to ape the natural friendship and national groupings of the Europeans.

It worked a treat. Boo Weekley rode an imaginary horse through Nick Faldo's captaincy as America prevailed by five.


The week got lucky because a tight finish, in which Europe regained the Cup, meant that the appalling weather made the story rather than became it. Inside the ropes it was wet, outside the ropes it was mud. Absurd mud. Monty didn't care though. He ruled Celtic Manor.


Deep in the second session on Saturday Europe trailed 10-4. If this were boxing the referee was ready to step in, the cornermen had towels in their hands. But Ian Poulter was having none of it. He grabbed the match by the scruff of its neck, helped Europe end the day 6-10 down, then entered the team room and told everyone they could still win it.

Europe did: The Miracle of Medinah.


The year that Ryder Cup dynamics jumped the shark. Paul McGinley introduced a goldfish bowl to the European team room and Tom Watson told the American team he didn't want the present they'd bought him. McGinley was baffled by Victor Dubuisson but worked him out, Watson was baffled by his team, never worked them out and they told everyone about it in the aftermath of another defeat. Then Phil Mickelson threw Watson under the bus and jumped in the driver's seat to make sure they rode all over him.


Maybe not one of the Ryder Cup's great years, but it did witness one of its finest moments. Patrick Reed and Rory McIlroy at the eighth in the singles was just, well, this good:

But even they admit their tussle petered out after that high. The match was vindication of Davis Love III's excellent captaincy. Four years earlier he had been a bit unlucky at Medinah, this time he got the win he deserved.


Golf National proved to be the greatest Ryder Cup stage, with the mounding around the greens and tees providing astonishing scenes across the course. Paris was maybe a little less involved in the match, but one of the great Ryder Cup moments occurred in the heart of the city the morning after Europe's sensational win - when Francesco Molinari, who had won five points, was serenaded to his train home by the European fans at Gare du Nord.


The match was delayed by a year and that helped the Americans compile a remarkably strong team. The echoes of 2019 were there, but this time a superb team on paper delivered on the course. In fact, with so many rookies it appeared that the demons of the past had been slayed. Equally important was that the course was set-up perfectly for them: long-hitting was rewarded and so, too, was excellence with wedges.

Steve Stricker's team won each of the first three sessions 3-1 and never gave a hint of ever letting the advantage slip, eventually pummelling Padraig Harrington's side 19-9.


No less than 11 of the 12 players on the 2021 American side were aged 32 or younger - they seem set to enjoy further success in the coming years. In contrast, there might be a void behind the golden generation of European talent - the role of captaining them might seem a little less exciting than in the last 20 years. It partly explains why Lee Westwood has already said he'll continue playing rather than become a part-timer while he captains in 2023.

It also explain the betting:

READ MORE: Ian Poulter: The Postman's best Ryder Cup quotes

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