by Ryan Isley
There are certain sports moments that you will never forget. With the Ryder Cup this coming weekend, it reminded me of one of those moments – the 1999 Ryder Cup at the Country Club in Brookline, Massachusetts.
A lot of golf fans will remember that Ryder Cup as the “Battle of Brookline” when the Americans came back from a seemingly insurmountable deficit on the final day to upset the Europeans. Trailing 10-6 heading into the Sunday singles, Tom Lehman, Hal Sutton, Phil Mickelson, Davis Love III, Tiger Woods and David Duval and Steve Pate gave the Americans a sweep of the first seven points of the day matches to give them a 13-10 lead. When Jim Furyk closed out Sergio Garcia to give the Americans 14 points, they needed just a halve from Justin Leonard in his match with Jose Maria Olazabal.
Trailing four down with seven holes to play, it looked like Leonard was not going to be able to get that last half point the Americans needed. Leonard then took four of the next five holes to tie it up going to the 17th. As you all know, Leonard sank his 45-foot birdie putt and the Americans went crazy. When Olazabal missed his 20-foot putt, the Americans had clinched the Ryder Cup.
While the most memorable moment of that Ryder Cup is the Leonard putt and subsequent American celebration, I will remember something different. I will remember that Ryder Cup because of someone who went 0-2-1 in his three matches – Payne Stewart.
At the time of the 1999 Ryder Cup, I was a freshman at The Ohio State University and lived in a dorm suite with seven other guys. One of those guys – Pat – had a picture of him and Stewart over his computer in his room and always talked about how much he respected the golfer and was one of his biggest fans.
Pat and I watched every minute of that Ryder Cup – always pulling for the United States but also pulling even harder for his favorite golfer. Stewart had just won the US Open that summer and Pat was in anticipation of every shot the 42-year-old took over those few days. Of course, Stewart didn’t have the success that we had hoped for, but the Americans won the Ryder Cup – and that was the most important thing.
Of course, I will never forget the way we celebrated when Leonard’s putt hit the bottom of the cup and we realized that the Americans were about to pull of the upset. And I will never forget Stwerart and Colin Montgomerie trading shot after shot on that final day, with Montgomerie eventually winning 1up over Stewart.
But I won’t just remember that Ryder Cup because of the Americans winning or because Stewart only gave them a half point. I will remember it because it was just a month later that we were hit with the shocking news that we had seen the last golf competition in Stewart’s career as he was killed in an airplane accident on his way to the Tour Championship.
I will never forget Pat and I skipping class the day of the memorial service and funeral so that we could hang out in our living room and watch on television. It just felt like the right thing to do. And looking back, I don’t regret the decision.
While the Europeans are paying their respects to Seve Ballesteros at the 2012 Ryder Cup, I will be thinking of Stewart, even though he passed away 13 years ago. It’s just something I always think about every two years when the Ryder Cup comes along. I think back to that picture of Pat with Payne Stewart, even though I haven’t talked to Pat in over 10 years. Despite the lapse in time, I always remember that day that we sat in a dorm room at The Ohio State University and watched the Ryder Cup and then the memorial service for his favorite golfer – and maybe favorite athlete.
There is no doubt that I will be watching as much Ryder Cup coverage as possible (and have been watching old highlights on Golf Channel all week). While I am watching the Americans take on the Europeans at Medinah Country Club, my mind will wander more than once back to that 1999 Ryder Cup at Brookline and to those memories of Payne Stewart.
I just hope this year’s team can do what Payne’s last team did – win the Ryder Cup.
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