Every two years it's the same old thing. In the midst of yet another
strong performance from the underrated Europeans, at least one member of
their Ryder Cup side leaps from obscurity to play the unlikeliest of
Again and again, this rag-tag band of strangers -- at
least to most American fans -- invariably armed with funny names or
swings or both, have proved to be more than up to the task of beating
the strangely vulnerable leading lights of the U.S.
Possible reasons for this perplexing phenomenon have long been debated
as Europe, perennial underdogs, has amassed a 5-3-1 record over the last
nine Ryder Cup matches.
Is it just that the unheralded Europeans have
nothing to lose? Or perhaps the Americans too often underestimate their
opponents? Maybe the inherent uncertainty of 18-hole match play is part
of the reason why a Christy O'Connor Jr. can beat a Fred Couples; why a
Phillip Price can take out a Phil Mickelson; why a David Gilford can
edge a Brad Faxon; why a Mark O'Meara can lose to a Paul Broadhurst; and
why a Tiger Woods can find a Costantino Rocca too good for him.
Whatever the underlying explanation, it keeps happening -- and, no doubt,
will continue to do so. Even if, as has been the case with so many,
those European heroes swiftly return to places outside Uncle Sam's range
Here are the stories of four such men.
"I Felt Like I Was Floating"
When the now-retired Concorde taking the victorious 1995 European Ryder
Cup side home from Oak Hill touched down at Dublin airport, skipper
Bernard Gallacher immediately handed the trophy to 33-year-old Irishman
Philip Walton. As Walton, the man who had secured the winning point, led
the team down the steps, an enormous roar of approval from his own folk
greeted him. In his homeland, Walton's hero status was forever assured.
Sadly, the same cannot be said for his European Tour card. Since 1998,
the last time he retained his playing privileges, Walton has failed to
finish among the top 100 money winners on tour. So far in 2004, he has
managed to win only 351 euros on the Challenge Tour.
Ironically, the start of Walton's decline came at Oak Hill, where he
played only once -- losing by one hole with Ian Woosnam in a second-day
foursomes match to Loren Roberts and Peter Jacobsen -- before defeating
Jay Haas on the final green in the penultimate singles match to clinch
Europe's unlikely victory. "That was a heavy week for me," he confirms.
"It was frustrating that I didn't play much and I was annoyed that even
when I played better than Woosie in our game together, it was me who
didn't get a game in the afternoon.
"As for the singles, I have never in my life felt such pressure. On the
last tee I had to step away from my address because I could see two
balls when I looked down. My heart was beating so quickly, too. To be
honest, Jay and I chopped our way up the hole. I remember nearly
standing on my ball as we walked toward the green. I had actually
stopped for a second and someone said, 'It's there.' I looked down, and
it was right between my feet. So I was lucky there.
"At the end all I wanted to do was get off the green. I felt like I was
floating. But I do remember thinking that it must have been the quickest
disappearance of 20,000 Americans ever."
As his ability to compete at the highest level has waned, Walton has
dabbled in course design. But he still wants to play and has done so in
eight European Tour events this year, making only two cuts. At the end
of this year he intends to return -- "one last time" -- to the qualifying
school in Spain.
"That Week Was the Best of My Life"
At 25, Peter Baker seemingly had the world at his size-eight feet. Twice
a winner on the 1993 European Tour, he arrived at The Belfry for his
Ryder Cup debut a star on the rise. And he didn't disappoint, winning
three points out of four, including a brilliantly played singles victory
over surely the best match player on the U.S side, Corey Pavin.
"That week was the best of my life," says Baker. "The hair on the back
of my neck was standing on end as I walked onto the first tee. I played
very well, too, especially when I beat Pavin in the singles. He was
right at the top of his form at the time. We had a great game. I had 23
putts in the 18 holes, and he had 24. I was around in 68 and won on the
Unfortunately, the 11 years since have not been so kind to the
Englishman. His highest Order of Merit finish was 12th in 1998, an oasis
of success in a sea of mediocrity. Only Baker's status as a member of
the top 40 career money winners has kept him on the European Tour since
he finished a lowly 125th on the 2002 money list.
"My career has been disappointing," he admits. "My whole game has
deteriorated, from driving to putting. It has been hard to play the way
I have. It is difficult to feel as though you are not competitive. I
hate that. I have missed being in contention."
At this year's Irish Open, Baker recorded his first top-10 finish in more
than two years, but his struggles have continued. He currently sits
121st on the Order of Merit, six spots from an exempt place in 2005.
"I Loved Playing Those Guys"
As soon as he joined the European Tour in 1982, Paul Way confirmed his
status as one of the best young players on either side of the Atlantic.
In his first four years as a professional, he was never out of the top 30
money winners. During that period he played in two Ryder Cups, 1983 and
1985, amassing an impressive 6-2-1 record in tandem with first Seve
Ballesteros, then Ian Woosnam. Even more tellingly, Way won both of his
singles matches, defeating the not inconsiderable figures of Curtis
Strange and Ray Floyd.
"I loved playing those guys," he says. "They were great competitors, but
so was I at the time. In both matches I got 3 or 4 up early and that was
too much for them to come back from. "But the best part of my two Ryder
Cups was playing with Seve at PGA National [in Florida]. He was so good
then. I remember him giving everyone on the team a chipping lesson. None
of us had much idea from the Bermuda grass around the greens, but he was
By the end of 1985, Way was the Volvo PGA champion and a bona fide star.
Then, almost as suddenly as he had risen, Way -- at the age of only 23 --
went into what has turned out to be terminal decline. Only once, when he
appeared as if from nowhere to win the 1987 European Open, has his
career even briefly flickered back to life. And not since 1993 has he
figured among Europe's top 100 money winners.
"Paul had a strange career," says Roger Chapman, a 22-year European Tour
veteran, with whom Way played on the 1981 GB&I Walker Cup side. "He was
great at first. Then he lost it. Then he won again. Then that was it.
All at a very young age and all hard to explain, although I know he did
have problems with his chipping."
Way has been off the tour entirely since 2000. Today, apart from an
annual appearance as a past champion at the Volvo PGA, Way's competitive
golf consists of "the odd pro-am, regional event and a lot of company
"I have no great desire to play the tour again," he claims. "I was never
a fan of all the travel and the lifestyle. I'm happy with my lot now."
"The Superstar We've Been Waiting For"
During the 1991 Volvo PGA Championship, Seve Ballesteros had this to say
about then-24-year-old Steven Richardson: "He's the superstar we've
been waiting for; he's got everything."
So it seemed, at least for a while. By the end of that summer,
Richardson had two European Tour wins to his name, had finished second
on the Order of Merit behind Ballesteros, had tied for fifth in the PGA
Championship at Crooked Stick and made an impressive Ryder Cup debut at
Paired three times with fellow Englishman Mark James, Richardson picked
up two points, the duo losing only to Mark Calcavecchia and Payne
Stewart by the narrowest of margins. Richardson then lost 2 and 1 to
Corey Pavin in the singles.
"What I remember is the pressure," Richardson says. "Normally you feel
pressure at the beginning of an event and at the end. At Kiawah I felt
it all the way through. I can still recall how I felt over the four-foot
putt I missed on the last green for Mark and I to lose to Calcavecchia
and Stewart. My heart was pounding, and I felt terrible. That said,
looking back on the week now, it was a special experience."
The good days were not to last, however. By 1994 Richardson, the son of
Scottish parents from St. Andrews, had slipped as low as 74th on the
Order of Merit. Three years after that he had lost his card. Three times
he returned to the tour school to regain it, but the end came in 2001,
when his 17,677 euros in winnings left him 208th on the money list.
"I would give it another shot if I could get my game to the level
required," he says. "My decline was gradual. I just lost a bit here and
there around the greens, but the biggest problem was my driving. I
couldn't keep the ball in play enough."
These days, Richardson still plays in the odd regional event near his
Hampshire home and coaches four days a week at the Quindell G&CC. All a
far cry from Kiawah.