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Pressure tends to produce great shots

9/26/2002

SUTTON COLDFIELD, England -- The enormous pressure in the
Ryder Cup tends to produce more stunning shots over three days than
most golf fans see in a month.

Lanny Wadkins' wedge to 18 inches in 1983 with the cup on the
line; Christy O'Connor Jr.'s 2-iron to 3½ feet on the 18th hole at
The Belfry in 1989; and just about any shot from Seve Ballesteros.

Expect to see plenty more when the 34th Ryder Cup begins Friday.

''Everybody gets so pumped up, it's almost like they bring their
game up to another level,'' said Jesper Parnevik, who holed out
from the fairway in the last Ryder Cup at Brookline, Mass.

He points to the 1993 matches as an example.

Needing a birdie to extend the best-ball match, Joakim Haeggman
hit a wedge that spun back past the hole and stopped 3 feet in
front of the cup on No. 17 at The Belfry. Partner Jose Maria
Olazabal asked Haeggman to walk up to the green to mark the ball.

Olazabal's wedge from 100 yards struck the flag and dropped
inches from the cup.

''It's always like that,'' Parnevik said. ''Your only focus is
to hole the putt, hole the shot. That's why you always see three or
four guys hole out from the fairway. That's why you see crazy putts
go in.''

A survey of six golf journalists who have covered the Ryder Cup
for at least two decades produced a long list of incredible shots.

The only shot that made all six ballots was Ballesteros' in 1983
at the PGA National Course in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.

All square with Fuzzy Zoeller on the par-5 18th, Ballesteros
hooked his drive into thick rough and chopped out only 20 yards
into a bunker. With more than 250 yards left to the green, close to
the lip of the bunker, Ballesteros lashed a 3-wood to 18 feet.

''The finest shot I've ever seen,'' Jack Nicklaus said at the
time.

Three other shots made five of the six ballots:

  • Paul Azinger's 3-wood on the 18th at The Belfry in 1989. After
    hitting his drive into the water, Azinger hit his third shot from
    245 yards into a stiff breeze to a bunker, forcing Ballesteros to
    play for par. The Spaniard's approach found the water and Azinger
    got up-and-down to halve the hole and win, 1-up.

  • O'Connor's 2-iron to 3½ feet on the 18th at The Belfry in 1989
    for a 1-up victory over Fred Couples.

  • Wadkins' wedge to 18 inches that clinched the 1983 cup. It was
    such an important shot that Nicklaus, the U.S. captain, kissed the
    divot.

    Nicklaus received three votes for a shot that was never struck:
    He conceded a 2-foot par putt to Tony Jacklin in 1969 that ended
    the matches in a tie, the greatest act of sportsmanship in Ryder
    Cup history.

    The only other shots receiving at least three votes were Justin
    Leonard's 45-foot putt on the 17th green at Brookline; Corey
    Pavin's chip-in for birdie in an alternate-shot match at Oak Hill
    in 1995; and Nick Faldo's wedge to 4 feet on the 18th at Oak Hill
    to beat Curtis Strange in a pivotal singles match.

    Faldo, a winner of three Masters and three British Opens, called
    it the greatest shot he has ever hit under pressure.

    But then, that's what the Ryder Cup is all about.

    ''When you get it going, it's such an emotion high,'' Davis Love
    III said. ''That's why you see guys chipping in over and over and
    over. Some of it is team play. You get more on a roll and get more
    excited. Guys either go really good, or really bad. There's no
    middle ground.''

    On any PGA Tour or European tour event, players will hole out
    from bunkers and fairways, make 20-foot putts on the last hole, and
    even make a hole-in-one at a major, like David Toms did in the
    third round of his PGA Championship victory last year.

    The Ryder Cup brings a unique pressure, however, because 12 guys
    are playing not for money or fame, but for country or continent.
    That might explain the outrageous shots that seem to take place
    once every two years.

    Bernhard Langer was playing an alternate-shot match with Sandy
    Lyle in 1987 at Muirfield Village, so he knew Lyle's game well.
    Still, he was surprised when Lyle reached for a 2-iron on the par-5
    11th for a 240-yard shot over the water.

    ''I didn't say anything,'' Langer recalled. ''I just thought,
    'Wow. Can he hit it that far?' And he hits this towering (2-iron),
    fading, and flies it all the way onto the green. That was one of
    those shots that just stuck in my memory.''

    Langer had one, too.

    Later that afternoon, in a best-ball match with Lyle against
    Larry Nelson and Wadkins, Europe was 1-up going to the 18th when
    Wadkins hit his approach to about 8 feet.

    ''If we didn't birdie, we would halve the match,'' Langer said.
    ''I hit my 8-iron inside of Lanny's to clinch the point. That was
    one of my greatest shots under the circumstances.''

    What circumstances?

    The Ryder Cup.

    Note: Lists of 10 great Ryder Cup shots were provided by David
    Davies (The Guardian), Jamie Diaz (Golf World), Mark Garrod (Press
    Association); John Hopkins (Times of London); Renton Laidlaw (The
    Golf Channel) and Michael McDonnell (Daily Mail).