Ryder Cup stars return to Walton Heath

7/21/2011 12:24:18 PM
The 1981 Ryder Cup reunion at Walton HEath  (Getty Images)
The 1981 Ryder Cup reunion at Walton HEath (Getty Images)

Thirty years after Walton Heath Golf Club hosted the first Ryder Cup to be played between Europe and the United States on home soil, six of the stars of that groundbreaking contest were reunited at the venue on the eve of The Senior Open Championship.

Europeans Bernhard Langer, Sandy Lyle and Des Smyth were joined by Tom Kite, Jerry Pate and Tom Watson, who all played in what was regarding as the strongest American Team in the history of The Ryder Cup when they defeated Europe 18½-9 ½ in 1981. It remains the heaviest defeat Europe has suffered at the hands of the United States, but inspired the Europeans to success in subsequent matches.

The six players showed off The Ryder Cup they competed for 30 years ago, as well as The Senior Open trophy, currently held back Langer, which they will contest this week.

Watson, who played alongside the legendary Jack Nicklaus at Walton Heath in 1981 in one of the greatest Ryder Cup partnerships, has fond memories of the week.

“We had a wonderful team in ‘81,” he said. “We won very handily. That was the last time our team ever won handily. The European Team has handled us very handily on two or three different times since.

“I do remember my partner there. I played with Jack in three rounds out of four, and we won all of our matches. I lost my singles match to Howard Clark though.

“I do remember the first match I played with Jack. We played alternate shot, and I put him in the heather five times. And that’s the key ingredient here of what you can’t do here. The rough is very penal if you drive it in it, and you just can’t do it and have success here.

“But I put my partner in the heather five times that day, and he got the ball on to the green four out of the five times. The other time was just off the green, where I made an easy chip for par. That’s how great a player he was from the rough.”

Langer, who made his debut in The Ryder Cup at Walton Heath, said: “It’s nice to be back at Walton Heath because I played my first Ryder Cup here, which I’d like to forget as quickly as possible, because we were beaten pretty badly by the Americans, but that might have been the strongest team I ever faced. That contest started my love affair with The Ryder Cup though, and I think that defeat made me go and practice more as I realised I wasn’t up to that standard.”

Lyle, who was seven under par for his Singles against Kite but still lost 3&2 in a remarkable match, said: “It was a daunting week when you looked at the American side on paper and the amount of tournaments that that one team had accumulated and Majors.

“As a Ryder Cup Team, the European Team, was still fairly new, and we didn’t have Seve that year, which could have been a big help to us.

“To lead after the first round, that was great.  I mean, it showed that we could still perform against the Americans, a team that was so good, but we always felt down the line that they might just overpower us down the stretch, and in the end it was a whirlwind win for the United States.

“In my match, it was an unfortunate day but that happens. I fired lots of birdies against Tom Kite and he fired lots of birdies and eagles back at me.”

The six players are among an impressive field of former Ryder Cup stars and Major Champions competing in the Senior Open Championship at Walton Heath this week. Daily tickets are available on the gate for £25, with under-16s admitted for free.