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Americans Will Be in Unfamiliar Role of Challenger in Ryder Cup Golf

September 20, 1987|BOB GREEN | Associated Press

DUBLIN, Ohio — For the first time in 30 years, Americans are in the role of challengers in the biennial Ryder Cup Matches, the oldest and most prestigious of all golf's international team competitions.

When the U.S. team lost the cup in 1985 to the European team it was the Americans' first loss since 1957 and only their fourth since Samuel Ryder, a wealthy British merchant, put up the Cup for play in 1927.

"In a way, it's a lot like the Americas' Cup," said Jack Nicklaus, who will serve as non-playing captain of the grimly-determined American team when it takes on the European squad at his Muirfield Village Golf Club Sept. 25-27.

"When you're winning it all the time, you don't think much about it. You think, 'yeah, well, I made the Ryder Cup team this year and that's good.' But for a long time, when we were winning all the time, it was just something else you did.

"Now that we've lost, it's a very big deal," Nicklaus said.

The loss came in the last matches, in 1985 at the Belfry in the English midlands, when the European team defeated the Americans 16 1/2-11 1/2.

Through 1977, the matches were between the United States and Great Britain. In 1979, the British side was expanded to include all of Europe.

The loss stung. And, for the players on that American team, recapturing that Cup became a very big deal, indeed.

"My No. 1 goal for the next two years," Lanny Wadkins said in Hawaii in 1985, "is to make the Ryder Cup team again."

He did, gaining the last spot on the last day of qualifying with his runner-up finish at the PGA national championship.

Curtis Strange made it earlier. But he was just as intense.

"Did that do it? Did I wrap it up? Does that clinch the Ryder Cup?" were the first words Strange spoke after his victory in the Canadian Open earlier this year.

And there's more than just the Ryder Cup involved. There's national prestige. The Americans' loss in 1985 has been used as a key point in arguments that the United States' domination of world golf is at an end, that the best players in the world no longer are American.

"That's something we have to correct," said Payne Stewart.

"I think we'll see more interest in the Ryder Cup this year than we ever have before in this country," said Nicklaus, who was the captain of the Americans' last winning team, in 1983.

There is every indication he is right. Ticket sales are approaching the 25,000 limit, a Muirfield Village spokesman said.

A minimum of 1,500 fans -- quite possibly many more -- are making the journey from Europe to support the team that is led by non-playing captain Tony Jacklin and is headed by Seve Ballesteros of Spain, Bernhard Langer of West Germany, Sandy Lyle of Scotland and British Open champion Nick Faldo of England.

Also on the European team are Ken Brown, Gordon Brand and Sam Torrance of Scotland; Jose-Maria Olazabal and Jose Rivero of Spain; Ian Woosnam, Wales; Howard Clark, England; and Eamonn Darcy, Ireland.

Lyle, Brown and Olazabal were hand-picked by Jacklin, who is making his third consecutive appearance as the European captain. The others won their positions off the European PGA Order of Merit.

"It's the team I want," Jacklin said. "If I could have picked all 12, that's the 12 I'd want."

Nine are hold-overs from the 1985 team.

The American team, on the other hand, has only four hold-overs: Wadkins, Strange, Hal Sutton and Tom Kite.

Three others have previous Ryder Cup experience: Ben Crenshaw, Andy Bean and Larry Nelson, who gained his position only off his PGA championship. He's a welcome addition for Nicklaus, since Nelson has a 9-0 record in previous Ryder Cup play.

The other members of the American team are U.S. Open winner Scott Simpson, Stewart, Masters champ Larry Mize, Dan Pohl and Mark Calcavecchia.

"It's a good, strong team. I'm happy with it," Nicklaus said.

The match-play format calls for four four-ball matches (with scoring based on the better ball of each 2-man team) and four foursomes (with each member of a 2-man team playing alternate shots on the same ball) both Friday and Saturday. Sunday's play will be given over to 12 singles matches.

Each match is worth one point. If a match is halved, each team receives one-half point.

ESPN will provide television coverage of the matches Friday, with ABC televising portions of the final two days play Saturday and Sunday.

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