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The Mysteries Of Seve Ballesteros, And The Ryder Cup Loss That Changed Everything

Golfers Tony Jacklin and Seve Ballesteros (right) celebrate the victory of the European team in the Ryder Cup in 1987.
Simon Bruty/Getty Images

The following is an excerpt from The Cup They Couldn't Lose by Shane Ryan, available for purchase now from Hachette.

“Seve and I shared a car at one point as we traveled to get our clubs fixed in 1979 . . . I tried to explain that it’s a much easier game from the fairway and that he should try and work on slowing his swing down, especially at the all-important time when he was coming down the stretch at a tournament.

He said, ‘But you don’t understand, Tony.’” —Tony Jacklin, from My Ryder Cup Journey

It’s easy to forget today, in an era when the vast majority of Ryder Cup dysfunction has been associated with the American team, that it used to be the Europeans and British who fought and bickered and seemed to shoot themselves in the foot at every possible opportunity. There is a qualitative difference in the two kinds of dysfunction, though; while modern American failure stems from ego and personality clashes, the old British and European teams were a study in pathology, and the pathology was inevitable loss. Everything that went wrong stemmed from the original problem: they couldn’t win.

This ironclad reality had all kinds of side effects. In the best case, it was the bravado Tony Jacklin mentioned, the forced swagger as they threw themselves against the juggernaut year after year. In the worst case, it was the posturing and feigned indifference of Mark James and Ken Brown in 1979. All were symptoms of the disease of losing.

Tony Jacklin’s chief job as captain, then, was to create a culture in which his players believed—truly believed—that they could win. His work began with the 1983 Ryder Cup at PGA National Golf Club in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida. The first matches were set to begin about four months after he accepted the job, and the task in front of him was monumental. Although he had negotiated for three captain’s picks, they had settled those terms far too late in the game to implement for 1983, which meant the team would be chosen entirely from the European Tour money list.

Jacklin negotiated with the European Tour and the British PGA for upgrades in certain areas; by allowing fifty fans to travel with the team in exchange for a donation, they were able to afford to fly on the Concorde jet; by cutting a deal with a clothing brand called Austin Reed, they were able to secure high-quality team uniforms; that summer, Jacklin flew to Florida to meet Jack Nicklaus, the US captain, and in his tour he found the team room he so desperately craved.

All of these changes were designed to make his team feel on equal footing with the Americans, and not like a poor relative flown in from the country to be embarrassed by his richer cousins. It was a start, but Jacklin knew it wouldn’t cure the underlying problem by itself. To infuse his players with true belief, he needed a lieutenant on their level, someone who could translate his passion for winning into a competitive spirit among the team that would be impossible to resist. And he thought he had found that person in Seve Ballesteros.

It’s interesting to note that in America today, Seve Ballesteros seems to be thought of chiefly as a Ryder Cup legend. It makes sense on one hand—his greatness is a historical fact—but on the other hand, how quickly we forget that unlike fellow Ryder Cup legends like Colin Montgomerie, Lee Westwood, or Ian Poulter, Ballesteros’s excellence extended to the major championships. He was a five-time winner in the world’s biggest events, the first European ever to win the Masters, and easily one of the three greatest European golfers in the history of the sport. If Jacklin was the man who planted the first flag for Europe in America, Seve was the next step in the evolution, someone who stood on his shoulders and exceeded him.

More remarkably still, he did it under some of the same hostile conditions Jacklin knew, but perhaps worse. Quoted in Ballesteros’s obituary for the Washington Post, Peter Kessler said, “He never felt like he got the love he deserved. He played with a chip on his shoulder. He just wanted to be one of the guys with the Americans, but they all thought he was coming in and taking money right out of their pockets.”

There was a racial component to Seve’s time in America that Jacklin never had to contend with. He wasn’t exactly Jackie Robinson, and the majority of the American crowds loved him and his daring style, but there were isolated incidents in which he was targeted for his ethnicity. At the 1983 Ryder Cup, an American journalist persisted in calling him “Steve” even after he had been corrected, which was also common in galleries. At one tournament, an announcer stepped out as Seve approached the tee and said, “Let’s give the little spic a big hand.” And in general, people were very comfortable impersonating his accent, including an R&A official named Graham Brown who led off a dinner speech in 2007 with a Seve impression before getting in trouble for segueing into more overtly racist humor targeting Asian and Black people.

All of this was compounded by relationships with American governing bodies that soured over time. He missed a tee time in 1980 at the US Open and was disqualified, and later in the 1980s, he fell into a long-running feud with PGA Tour commissioner Deane Beman over membership requirements. In fact, Seve was an expert at making enemies, both on the course and off; he was the kind of man who slept with a .38 revolver under his pillow as an adult. Bernard Gallacher once said of him that he “needed to feel that the world was against him. He wanted to lead, to beat people.” John Hopkins, in a feature at Global Golf Post, wrote, “You never needed to tell Ballesteros there were dragons around the corner . . . he knew.”

And yet none of it changed him. To study Ballesteros extensively is to see qualities he shares with a man like Michael Jordan, particularly his ability to hold grudges. He published a memoir in 2007, for instance, that’s full of complaints about everyone who ever wronged him.That quality gets to the heart of his competitive genius and his all-encompassing drive to win—particularly when paired against just one or two opponents.

The parallels with Jacklin continue in his upbringing. Seve, too, came from relative poverty, and was somewhat of a longshot to become a professional golfer. He grew up in a fishing village called Pedreña on the northwest coast of Spain near the city of Santander. His father was a farmer, and their small house was surrounded by donkeys, rabbits, and chickens. Ballesteros was the youngest of five sons, and he was born with a defect that made his right shoulder hang lower than his left. He took up boxing, and he learned golf by hitting on the beaches of Pedreña and sneaking onto a local course to play after hours.

His uncle Ramon Sota was one of Spain’s best golfers when Seve was a child, and Sota finished sixth at the 1965 Masters. Sota held an interesting place in the young boy’s life—Seve rarely spoke about his influence as a teacher, but his countryman Manuel Piñero later said that Sota inspired him in a different way.

“Seve wouldn’t admit he learnt a lot from Ramon,” Piñero said, “but I think Ramon was the first master in that part of the world. Ramon always talked about Arnold Palmer and Nicklaus and that the Americans were unbeatable. It was impossible for him to beat them even though he was a fantastic player. Seve wanted to show his uncle and his people that he could beat the Americans. He wanted to show that he could do what some people thought was impossible.”

Like Jacklin, he quit school at age sixteen, and like Jacklin, his success was instantaneous. At age nineteen, he finished second at the Open Championship, and he actually led on the final day before Johnny Miller tracked him down. Very quickly, Ballesteros became known for his creativity and almost magical short game. For those of us who never saw him play in his prime, it can be difficult to understand the aura that surrounds this part of his game, but for those who were there, the stories take on an almost mystical tone. One of his caddies, Billy Foster, told a story of a tournament in Switzerland when Seve found himself in front of a wall on the eighteenth hole.

“He was perhaps 10 feet from the wall and the wall was 10 feet high,” Foster said to the journalist John Hopkins. “There were fir trees above the wall and he saw a chink of light in the trees about 4 feet above the wall. He had half a backswing. Four times I asked Seve to chip it out, wedge it onto the green and make par that way. I envisaged his ball hitting the wall, rebounding into his face and killing him and I’d have no boss and no percentage money. I pleaded with him. My last words to him were: ‘I know you’re Seve Ballesteros but you’re not fucking Paul Daniels. Chip it out will you, please?’”

Seve wouldn’t listen. Foster watched the dust come up from his shot, and though he couldn’t see the ball, it soon became clear that it had cleared the wall, stayed low enough to slice through the gap in the trees, and landed about a yard from the green. On his next shot, Seve chipped in for birdie.

“I went down on my hands and knees to bow to him,” Foster said. “I thought he was God.”

These stories—of his magic, of his surreal, inexplicable ability—abound. There are more than a few people who think Seve Ballesteros played a significant part in Europe winning the 2012 Ryder Cup . . . about sixteen months after he died.

At age 22, he won the Open Championship, and did so in quintessential Seve style, hitting only four fairways in the last round. On the sixteenth tee, he even hit into a parking lot, his ball stopping next to a white car, and some people think he did it on purpose to get a better angle at the hole. If he did, it worked—he made birdie and beat Jack Nicklaus by three. He was the youngest winner of the Open Championship since the turn of the century.

Of course, Seve embraced the notion that he hit into the parking lot intentionally. Later in his career, stories circulated that when he changed his swing, he took photos and videos of his old swing and burned them in the American desert. None of it was true, but there was something mythical about the man to begin with, and he was never afraid to burnish the legend.

By 1983, he had three majors and had just won his second Masters in April. The world rankings were still three years away, but it’s likely he was either the world’s best golfer or among the top three. Everyone knew that, but they didn’t know that he was about to become a Ryder Cup juggernaut. His only previous experience was his 1-4 showing in 1979, when Larry Nelson and Lanny Wadkins ruined his trip to West Virginia. It wasn’t hard to see that he was important to the team, but Jacklin may have been one of the few who recognized what was coming.

“I was a sort of pioneer,” Jacklin said, “and Seve was the same. He won multiple times over here and was a leader. And he had that same outlook: ‘You’re not better than I am just because you put USA after your name.’ As far as any of us were concerned, they hadn’t corralled ambition.”

The other factor that became a massive part of the Ballesteros storyline is that to his opponents, he was a constant pain in the ass. There are countless stories of him coughing during a backswing or shuffling his feet, or engaging in various other forms of gamesmanship, but like everything else with Seve, it’s difficult to parse out truth from myth. What’s certain is that he lived inside the heads of his opponents, particularly the Americans, and they were constantly reacting to things he did or that they believed he did. It sometimes got to the point that the Americans would explicitly be at fault, as in 1991, when Paul Azinger and Chip Beck accidentally used two different balls in an alternate shot match—against the rules, at the time—were called out by Seve, and then became angry at him even as they slowly realized what they’d done. It shows that where he went in the Ryder Cup, conflict followed, and while it wasn’t always his fault, he created a force field around himself that affected everyone.

The remarkable truth, though, is that unlike the vast majority of professional golfers or athletes, he was able to adopt a combative pose and still play at his best. There’s a reason most golfers don’t seek out high-tension situations with a colleague—it doesn’t help anyone. When Rory McIlroy and Patrick Reed had their incredible front nine duel at Hazeltine in 2016, and emotions hit a fever pitch on the eighth hole after their exchange of long birdie putts, they felt a need to put their arms around each other and defuse the intensity. Even so, they both struggled for the rest of the round—it’s almost impossible to maintain that level of animosity and still play at the highest level. Or impossible for everyone but Seve.

It’s one thing to practice gamesmanship, but it’s quite another to do it and win. Nothing is quite so infuriating to an opponent, and to this day, long after his death, Americans remember how he got under their skin. In the oral history Us Against Them by Robin McMillan, Curtis Strange tells the story of an exchange with Ballesteros in the 1987 Ryder Cup at Muirfield that perfectly illustrates how he could worm his way under his opponents’ skin:

On the first hole of one match in 1987, I wanted to fucking kill him . . . Seve had a chip from just off the green. I had a long putt down the hill and putted it past the hole. Olazábal putted, then wanted to putt out, but I said, “Well, wait a minute, wait a minute, you can’t do that. You’re right on my through line.” Seve came charging up. “That bother you?” he said. “ That bother you?” I said, “ Yes, that does bother me.”

And so Seve stomped over to his chip and chipped it right into the back of the hole—then walked off the green pumping his fist at me! And I almost had to applaud him. More power to him. Goddamn, I was so mad I wanted to kill him.

That was Seve—always ready to stir up trouble, but also ready to deliver results. (And always at the center of reactionary responses from his opponents—according to Olazábal’s caddie, Strange was trying to intimidate them from the beginning of the match, going so far as to complain about the way the caddie stood while holding the flag.) Even the stories of the times he lost carry a certain sense of the supernatural. Hal Sutton and Larry Mize gave Seve and José María Olazábal their only loss in the pairs session of the 1987 Ryder Cup, and while it remains one of the proudest moments of Sutton’s career, when he told the story in the summer of 2021, Seve was still the starring character.

“It was the first time they ever got beat,” he said. “I hit it like this on the first hole, Seve made a 30-footer, I hit it like this on the second hole, Seve made a 30-footer. Anyway, I was five under through five holes, we were one-up. So we got to 16, I was the only guy to hit the green. Seve and Larry both missed it left; Olazábal missed it right. Olazábal chipped it all the way across the green; Seve chili-dipped it, which he never did. And I hit it about six feet behind the hole. And Seve, after he chili-dipped it, he was standing over the ball off the green, and I said, ‘Larry, what do you think he’s going to do?’ And Larry said, ‘He’ll make it.’

“Which of course he did.”

It might be a better story if the Americans were arrogant or at least cocky about their chances in 1983, considering how the last 56 years had gone, but in fact, many of them had a suspicion that things were about to get tough.

“We knew, even if the rest of America didn’t, that we were going to have to play our absolute best if we were going to keep the Cup,” Ben Crenshaw said, and Nicklaus felt the same way.

The Americans were loaded again, led at the top by Tom Watson—who had won three majors in the previous two years and was inarguably the best player in the world—major champions like Raymond Floyd and Fuzzy Zoeller, and Lanny Wadkins, the best Ryder Cup player in US history. Wadkins was the kind of player who would introduce himself to an opponent by saying, “Hi, lunch,” as if that opponent were a meal he was about to eat.

“Wadkins was the cockiest son of a bitch you ever met in ten lifetimes,” Jacklin said. “He was an arrogant bastard. But in the nicest way.” 

Among all American players, Wadkins is one of just three with 20 Ryder Cup wins—his overall record is 20-11-3—but the other two, Arnold Palmer and Billy Casper, played in the easier pre-European era. He had a well-earned reputation for toughness. It’s no coincidence that he and Larry Nelson were the ones to spoil Ballesteros’s first Ryder Cup in 1979 by going 3-0 against him in the pairs sessions. However, due to the arcane rules for qualification at the time, and the lack of captain’s picks, Larry Nelson was left off the 1983 team. So was Hal Sutton, who had just won the PGA Championship in August but had been on the PGA Tour for only three years and thus wasn’t eligible. In their place were players like Jay Haas, Craig Stadler, Calvin Peete, and Bob Gilder—all talented, but not exactly as feared as the men they were replacing.

This dynamic was also at play for the Europeans, where Jacklin would have to wait until 1985 for his captain’s picks to kick in. Ballesteros was in, but he was the only player who had won a major at that time. Future champions like Bernhard Langer, Nick Faldo, Ian Woosnam, and Sandy Lyle were on the roster, along with a seasoned veteran in Bernard Gallacher and an emerging Ryder Cup stalwart in Sam Torrance. But the Europeans, too, had their own low-profile types: Paul Way, Gordon Brand, and Brian Waites.

On the first morning, in alternate shot, Faldo and Langer took down Wadkins and Stadler, and José María Cañizares paired with Torrance to notch a win, but the session ended in a 2-2 tie when Seve and Paul Way lost to Tom Kite and Calvin Peete 2&1. Way was the youngest player on the team, and though he never fulfilled the promise of his early career, he was known at the time as a confident, combative player—a “cocky little bugger,” per Jacklin—even at the age of twenty.

Jacklin could have been in an awkward position with Seve, his team leader. He had begged him to play, told him he couldn’t do it without him, and in doing so sacrificed some of his power and authority . . . at least potentially. But there was something paradoxical about Seve, because while he seems like the kind of person who might demand special powers in such a situation, he was almost completely deferential to Jacklin. This was in stark contrast to someone like Jack Nicklaus, who had so many ideas and held such a lofty position in the game that he was known as a thorn in the side to his captains. At the 1981 Ryder Cup, European captain John Jacobs was speaking with Dave Marr, the US captain, and mentioning how much difficulty he had with Mark James and Ken Brown in 1979. Marr expressed his sympathy and said that he only had one difficult player.

“I know who that is,” Jacobs said. “The one who knows everything about everything.”

That was Nicklaus. But Seve, with his similarly strong personality, never went down that path. When Jacklin showed him the lineup card for his approval or sought out his advice on some partnership, Seve would say, “No, you do it, you’re a great captain. I don’t need to see it.”

All of which speaks to his comprehensive ability to see what it took to win on a very sophisticated level. It’s as if he knew intuitively that undermining Jacklin, or even holding a special place among his peers, wasn’t the way to foster unity and team spirit, and that gave him a surprising and paradoxical humility. It also helps explain how, despite being hated by the Americans, he was a beloved figure among his countrymen and his teammates, to the point that when you ask the Europeans about him today, many of them still break down in tears.

It’s also why Jacklin paired him with Way. If Seve had his druthers, he would have played with his countryman Cañizares, and he was slightly upset at the Friday-morning loss—his Ryder Cup record was now 1-5-0. He told Jacklin that he felt he was being asked to be a parent rather than a partner to the young Englishman, at which point Jacklin pointed to Seve’s head and said, “You are his father, Seve. You are, in here. That’s exactly why you’re well paired together. Is that a problem?”

A light went on in Seve’s head, and he told Jacklin that no, it was no problem. Together, he and Way went undefeated in their next three matches. (This spirit of subsuming himself to the team was a key element of Europe’s Ryder Cup future, even for the very best players. The same could not always be said for the Americans.)

After a strong afternoon session, in which Ian Woosnam played a terrific back nine with Sam Torrance to defeat Tom Watson and Bob Gilder 5&4, despite literally shaking from nerves, the Europeans led by a point. It was only the second time in history they’d ever held a lead after the first day.

Then they started getting unlucky. On Saturday morning, Lanny Wadkins and Stadler went three-down to Brian Waites and Ken Brown, but roared back and won on the 18th hole when Stadler chipped in from 25 feet. Faldo and Langer won again, which was interesting because Langer asked Jacklin to rest him, and Jacklin, showing his usual strong instinct for reading people, told him, “Absolutely not.” But in the anchor match, Watson and Gilder got their revenge against Woosnam and Torrance in a blowout. It was tied at 6-6, and after a split in the afternoon session, with Faldo and Langer winning their third match and Ballesteros and Way upsetting Watson and Gilder, they headed into Sunday singles tied at eight points apiece.

Throughout this Ryder Cup, Jacklin had been willing to try new ideas that seemed radical at the time, and not just in preparing his team before the event, but on the course too. For one thing, he told Gordon Brand Jr. that he wouldn’t be playing until Sunday singles. This idea has largely been discredited and abandoned by now, particularly after Mark James’s captaincy in Brookline in 1999 when the three players he sat for the first four sessions all lost in the horrific Sunday singles meltdown. Brand would lose in 1983 as well, in fact, but it showed that Jacklin was exploring the limits of his captaincy.

Nicklaus, in contrast, was committed to getting his players equal playing time. The Americans knew they were in for a tough fight, but that didn’t mean they were willing to alter their traditional view of the Ryder Cup, or to engage in what we would now consider the modern tactics of preparation and strategy. He may have known what was coming from his adversaries, but to actually do something about it was a very different thing in 1983. How do you avoid complacency after decades of obliterating your opponent, even if you sense the winds of history changing? How do you justify meeting Jacklin on his own ground? It was an easier switch to flip for the Europeans, because they had to do something different, but not so easy for the Americans. In 1983 and for many years after, they were almost imprisoned by their past success, and incredibly reluctant to change.

That dynamic reared its head when the two captains presented their Sunday singles lineups. Traditionally, captains had placed their best players at the back of the lineup, and knowing that Nicklaus would likely adhere to tradition gave Jacklin a big opportunity. He decided to frontload his lineup, putting Seve, Faldo, and Langer as his top three. The idea was to steal a few early wins, establish momentum, and let the players at the bottom lineup take confidence from the early results. This type of strategy is commonplace now, but it was so unexpected at the time that when Nicklaus saw Jacklin’s lineup, he actually exclaimed, “You can’t do that!” He was still mired in the old way of doing things.

It worked brilliantly for Jacklin, at least for a while—his three best players drew Zoeller, Haas, and Morgan, and when all three raced out to big leads, it seemed as though Europe would put three instant points on the board and take an enormous first step toward stunning the Americans. In the lead match, Ballesteros took a three-up advantage with seven to play on Zoeller, who was in pain from a back injury, but Zoeller somehow won four holes in a row, forcing Ballesteros to win the 16th just to bring it back to all square. That was where it stood on 18 when both men hit into the rough. Zoeller pitched back onto the fairway, but Seve’s lie was so bad that he could only hack it 20 yards into a fairway bunker 250 yards from the hole.

With the lip of the bunker directly in front of him, he took out his three-wood, which looked at the time like an act of insanity. What happened next is considered by some to be the greatest shot in Ryder Cup history—Seve managed to pick the ball clean and hit it all the way to the green. The shot has grown in myth because it wasn’t on television, which means we have to rely on eyewitness accounts.

“I was lucky enough to be 20 yards behind Ballesteros when he hit that three-wood from a bunker,” John Hopkins wrote later. “And as soon as I realized how daring a shot he was attempting, shivers ran up and down my spine. The ball came out of the bunker barely disturbing a grain of sand, bent 30 yards in the air and ended by the side of the green. That was unquestionably the most thrilling shot I have ever seen and I never expect to see another like it.”

Zoeller responded with a great shot of his own, and they halved the hole and the match. But somehow, despite blowing what looked like a massive lead against an injured opponent, Ballesteros managed to gild his reputation.

It was a critical half from Zoeller, though, because Faldo and Langer both won. Jacklin’s strategy came with its downsides, and in matches four through six, Brand, Lyle, and Waites all lost, giving the Americans an edge. Paul Way beat Curtis Strange to cap a tremendous Ryder Cup—Strange began to panic that he was going to be on the first American team to lose at home—Torrance and Kite halved, Stadler took down Woosnam, and Ken Brown, who had been such a nightmare in 1979, delivered a huge point against Floyd.

That left two matches on the course with the score tied at 13-13—Watson holding a slim lead over Bernard Gallacher, and José María Cañizares in a tense duel with America’s star, Wadkins. Just like Seve, Cañizares held a three-up lead with seven holes to play, but Wadkins chipped away until he was one-down coming down the eighteenth hole. If Europe could win, they’d have 14 points and be just a half point from securing a stunning victory.

After a strong drive and layup on the par-five 18th, Cañizares had about 105 yards left, but he left his approach short of the green, in the tall grass. Then Lanny Wadkins stepped up for his third shot. If you watch video of it today, you can see a flash of lightning in the sky after he swings. The ball stopped 18 inches from the hole. He halved the match, and moments later Watson closed out Gallacher on the 17th hole.

The Americans had won, and Nicklaus, relieved beyond belief not to have been the first American captain to lose at home, went out to where Wadkins had hit his sand wedge and kissed the divot. He also invented a new nickname for Wadkins that night: “Wheelbarrow.” As in, “This guy’s balls are so big that he has to carry them around in a wheelbarrow.” A year later, they presented Wadkins with a golden wheelbarrow to commemorate his shot.

“My most vivid memory of the 1983 Ryder Cup was patting Seve on the back and saying ‘hard luck’ and then seeing when he turned round that his eyes were full of tears.” —Warren Darrell, Paul Way’s caddie

It’s almost impossible to describe the level of disappointment the Europeans felt at that moment, having come so close to accomplishing the unthinkable. The competition felt different to them than ever before, more positive and more intense, because Jacklin had done his job well. In the end, though, it was hard to ignore that the result was the same: America kept the cup for the 13th time in a row. You can imagine the dark sense of inevitability settling over them as they marched into their team room.

Seve Ballesteros sensed it too, and he knew he had to act.

“We were all in the team room feeling down and dejected,” Nick Faldo remembered, as related in David Feherty’s Totally Subjective History of the Ryder Cup. “Half of us felt we should have won and the other half were not sure . . . At that point, in marches Seve. He had his fists clenched, and his teeth were bared, just like he is when he’s excited, and he kept marching around the room saying to everyone, ‘This is a great victory, a great victory.’ Then he said, ‘We must celebrate,’ and he turned the whole mood of the team around. That was the spark, Seve in 1983. By 1985, we knew we could do it.”

“The Sunday night at Palm Beach, he was extraordinary,” Torrance added. “He made us all, even Langer, shout out, ‘We will beat them.’ He had tears streaming down his face. It was ridiculous the amount of emotion that was shown. He said, ‘Don’t cry when we lose. Cry when we win. We are going to beat them.’”

Tony Jacklin, for his part, had a moment when he thought to himself, “What did I do wrong? What could I have done better?” And though he was always his own worst critic, he couldn’t think of much. A few tweaks here and there, sure, but overall he knew he had made the right decisions.

The Americans sensed it too. Nicklaus spoke for everyone when he said that they wouldn’t be the favorites at the Belfry in 1985, and that the close score in 1983 was no fluke. The Americans had lost before, rarely, but never in the history of the Ryder Cup did they consider themselves underdogs. The tides were changing.

The perception of the Ryder Cup was starting to change too. That year, in 1983, there was no television coverage on Saturday—ABC didn’t want to deviate from college football, so they only showed a scoreboard at halftime—and just two hours on Sunday. Still, this was the first time the Ryder Cup had ever been on American TV. When Ballesteros hit his miracle shot on 18, there were not yet any cameras there to record it because it came too early in the match. On that dramatic Sunday, there were about a thousand spectators on the entire course. At Whistling Straits 38 years later, almost 50,000 fans attended each day, and more would have come if the course had the capacity.

The result in 1983 was the beginning of the end of the Ryder Cup as a forgettable exhibition. The wave of American dominance had just crested with the victory at PGA National. That wave was going to crash, and it was going to crash hard. Perhaps the best way to describe what changed in 1983 is that up until that moment, the story of the Ryder Cup had been one kind of story, and that story was about America. Starting that weekend, it became another kind of story, and that one was about Europe.

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