|THE RYDER CUP|
JIM LEHRER: Finally tonight, big drives, long putts, and a very sweet victory: Terence Smith explains.
TERENCE SMITH: Yesterday's dramatic capture of golf's premier team event, the Ryder Cup, came on the grounds of the country club in Brookline, Massachusetts. It was the 33rd biennial competition between the top American and European golfers. At the end of play Saturday, the United States team stood a full four points behind their European competitors. No underdog in the history of the cup had ever come back from so far behind. But in the end, the Americans put together a stunning string of improbable shots to capture the cup -- among the miracles, veteran Tom Lehman's birdie on the 13th hole, and his victory with this putt on 16. The world's top-ranked player, Tiger Woods, chipped in from the fringe on the eighth hole, and putted in on 16 to win his match -- and 27-year-old Justin Leonard sinking this impossible and crucial 45-foot putt on the 17th hole. But the competition wasn't without controversy, notably the wild celebration following Justin Leonard's epic putt, which spilled over onto the green...
SPORTSCASTER: The Americans really should compose themselves here.
TERENCE SMITH: ...And forced Jose Maria Olazabal to wait until calm was restored to take his own shot at a 25-foot putt. Had he made it, Olazabal would have stayed even with Leonard, and kept the Europeans in the match. But Leonard's putt clinched the win for the Americans.
JUSTIN LEONARD, U.S. Ryder Cup Team Member: Nothing like today. You know, from almost sheer despair there, being four down, to, you know, watching those guys go out early and play the way they did, just the way we had talked about doing it, and then to get their support as I'm out there, you know, it's just unbelievable.
TERENCE SMITH: The victory was America's first since 1993.
TERENCE SMITH: With us now is writer and commentator John Feinstein. His latest book is "The Majors," about the four major championships in professional golf. John, welcome. For the non-golfers among us, explain a little of the significance and importance of the Ryder Cup.
JOHN FEINSTEIN: Well, the Ryder Cup dates back to the 1920's, when a British businessman named Samuel Ryder witnessed an exhibition match between American golfers and British golfers, and thought it would be fun to have a formal competition between them, so he donated a cup in 1927. And they started playing every two years. But by 1977, the competition had become so one-sided in the Americans' favor that no one was paying attention to it. It was an afterthought both here and in the British Isles. So in 1979, all of Europe was added to the great... to the British and Irish side, and from that point on, the Ryder Cup has become more and more competitive. Europe won for the first time as a team in 1985, and since then, the momentum has swung back and forth. As you mentioned in the piece, the U.S. hadn't won before yesterday since 1993. So when they got behind on Saturday night, they were looking at a very embarrassing situation, because they were heavy favorites going into this match, with seven rookies playing for Europe, and so their comeback, as you could see, was extremely emotional, because they were facing humiliation if they lost.
TERENCE SMITH: Well, how did they manage to get in such a hole in the first place?
JOHN FEINSTEIN: Well, I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that it's always great to be an underdog in sports. There is nothing better than being a coach-- or a captain, in this case-- of a team, and being able to go in and say "no one thinks you can win," because that inspires athletes more than anything, and the Europeans had heard for months that they had no chance. Payne Stewart, one of the American players, was quoted before the matches as saying, "on paper, these guys shouldn't even be caddying for us." Well, clearly, Ryder Cups are not decided on paper. We saw that over the weekend. That's what makes them so much fun. And the Europeans played inspired golf; they played better in team situations than the Americans. They help each other; they support each other. It's not an accident that it was yesterday in singles play, where each player goes out by himself to play against each player, that the Americans were able to turn the thing around.
TERENCE SMITH: Well, what actually happened? By Saturday night, they are in a hole, a big hole. They are in a hole no previous team has climbed out of, and yet it was turned around. I read that among other things-- and tell me if this is really true-- that George W. Bush was there, and read a poem about the Alamo to the competitors?
JOHN FEINSTEIN: Yes, he did. Ben Crenshaw, the captain, who is also a Texan, brought Governor Bush into the team room on Saturday night and had him read a poem about the Alamo, and about having your back to the wall. You see, this was the great moment for the Americans, Terry, because now they were the underdogs. Ben Crenshaw was able to go in and say to his players, "no one thinks you can win. Everybody is against you." They even used Johnny Miller, the NBC TV announcer, as one of the bad guys, because they said he had been second-guessing them. Well, they were losing. He wasn't second guessing. He was pointing out their failures during the course of the matches on Friday and Saturday. But the Americans came out on Saturday with-- Sunday, excuse me-- with an us-against-the- world attitude, and it worked.
TERENCE SMITH: Tell me, tell us what it was like to be there.
JOHN FEINSTEIN: Well, it was extraordinary, because the Ryder Cup is like no other competition in golf, because it is a team match; because it is nation against nation; and because the fans get, really, I think almost too out of control at times. They...you never hear in golf people cheering poor shots except at the Ryder Cup, where fans on both sides of the ocean cheer for the opponents' poor shots, and as the Americans got closer and closer to winning the match, it got louder and louder around the country club, and by the time Justin Leonard made that putt at 17, you could see that everyone's emotions were out of control, including the players, because what the American players did when they stormed the green there, before Jose Maria Olazabal could putt, was wrong. It goes against everything in golf etiquette. They didn't do it with any malice at all. They did it because they were so overwhelmed by the comeback, but it was clearly wrong, and Ben Crenshaw and the players apologized to the Europeans afterwards for doing it.
TERENCE SMITH: Do you think it upset Olazabal? Could you tell?
JOHN FEINSTEIN: I don't think it was really that difficult for Olazabal, and I'll tell you why. He is one of the most deliberate players in golf. He probably would have taken almost as long to get up over the putt without the celebration as he did with the celebration. And, in a way, it may have given him a chance to compose himself under the circumstances, and he even said himself that it had no effect on whether he made or missed the putt. He just thought it was poor etiquette on the Americans' part to do it, and he was right about that.
TERENCE SMITH: Well, in the questionable manners department, I gather that David Duvall had been dismissing the Ryder Cup as a mere exhibition.
JOHN FEINSTEIN: Well, both David Duvall and Tiger Woods made that comment before the event. There was a whole controversy about whether the American players should be paid, because the PGA of America walked off with about $17 million from the players. The Americans players, who have never been paid in the past, although indirectly being a Ryder Cupper makes you a lot of money...some of them, including Duvall and Woods, were saying they should be paid, and they both said, Duvall and Woods, that it was an exhibition. Both of them come out of this weekend's... you know, "we changed our mind. This is the greatest event in golf," which is what happens to everyone once they play in the Ryder Cup.
TERENCE SMITH: Tell us a little about Justin Leonard, the man of the moment.
JOHN FEINSTEIN: Justin Leonard is an extraordinary young player in that he can't hit the ball that far. He's a little guy, but he is an amazing competitor. He won the British Open two years ago at the age of 25. He almost won it again this year. He was four down to Jose Maria Olazabal, with seven holes to play, and came back to be the hero, which is just an amazing performance.
TERENCE SMITH: How about that putt, that 45- footer?
JOHN FEINSTEIN: One of the most memorable putts you will ever see in golf. They will be replaying that on TV for years to come, not only because it won the Ryder Cup, but because of the reaction that everybody had to it.
TERENCE SMITH: It was extraordinary. John Feinstein, thank you very much.
JOHN FEINSTEIN: Thank you, Terry.