BOSTON, Mass – The Ryder Cup teeing off in Paris this weekend conjures up vivid memories of perhaps the greatest one of all ¬¬– 1999 at The Country Club in Brookline, Massachusetts.
Located right down the road, I had the good fortune to spend multiple days that week at the iconic layout where history was to be made that week.
My mind’s eye snapshots remain as bright today as they were then, beginning with an unforgettable start at our first pre-tournament practice round when we came across two young guns named Phil and Tiger that had the world by the tail back then, as they still do today nearly 20 years later when they will be Ryder Cup teammates again this weekend across the pond.
That day, they were both at the practice putting green with just a handful of fans milling about, when they decided to have a little competition, perhaps a precursor of sorts to their upcoming match on Thanksgiving weekend in Vegas.
What transpired was both of them hitting flop shots straight skyward from just off the green, as their balls looked like rockets launching up an elevator shaft, but what made it even more unique was they were using each other’s irons, Tiger shooting left-handed and Phil firing right-handed.
Not surprisingly, they both were hitting terrific shots that nestled in close to the hole, as the gathering grew when fans just happening to walk by realized who they were and what they were doing.
That was the introduction to the type of week is was going to be, reaching a new level first thing Friday morning when we were standing front row at the stirring start of the tournament at the first tee, when anthems are played and each player & pairings are introduced as the dawn-to-dusk double-header day of alternate shot foursome and four-ball competition begins.
No sooner did our ten-hour walkabout begin than we and the growing crowds started seeing Michael Jordan roaming around the course, walking from his rental home a mere short wedge away. And as we all know now, since then he has become as much a part of the Ryder Cup crowd as Americans yelling USA-USA and Europeans singing Ole-Ole…
Yet, as amazing as the week had already been, waking up for the final day that Sunday morning felt different knowing the Americans were down big but the format would be the pressure-packed dozen singles matches.
By then, we knew that the best viewing spot was at the 12th green and 13th tee, which was immediately confirmed when we arrived and were looking across the green at the big Bush clan (including former Presidents George H and his son George W), all sitting casually on a grassy mound chatting with the likes of John Elway, Mario Lemieux and, of course, Jordan.
We stayed there on the ropes watching most every pair come through, and by then it was apparent that something special was happening right at our hole, with non-stop matches being swung or decided right in front of us with never-before-seen intense reactions from low-key players like David Duval and Tom Lehman becoming etched in Ryder Cup lore.
When we finally decided to leave this special spot, we headed toward the finishing holes in search of golf history, and as we descended down the hills we heard the nearby golf roar of a lifetime as Justin Leonard drained his 45-footer to win the Ryder Cup for the USA in the then-greatest comeback ever.
Minutes later, we were again on the ropes at a long single-file gauntlet where fired-up players led by the late Payne Stewart wearing his signature hat were high-fiving fans on their way to the clubhouse balcony, where they memorably sprayed the fans below with champagne.
Truly a day and week for the ages, when the already iconic Ryder Cup took a legendary leap into rare air on the worldwide sports stage, establishing itself as absolute must-see TV, and better yet, near the top of most every sports fan’s bucket list joining The Masters, Army-Navy game, Kentucky Derby, Indianapolis 500, and Super Bowl.
September 1999 was nineteen years ago I can remember every little detail like it was yesterday!