x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Putting it into perspective

September 14, 1985 and the moment - so some will tell you - that altered the course of Ryder Cup history.

Craig Stadler scratches his head in disbelief after missing the three-foot putt on the 18th green on the second day of the Ryder Cup at The Belfry in September 1985.
Craig Stadler scratches his head in disbelief after missing the three-foot putt on the 18th green on the second day of the Ryder Cup at The Belfry in September 1985.

September 14, 1985 and the moment - so some will tell you - that altered the course of Ryder Cup history. Return with me 24 years to the morning of fourballs on day two at The Belfry where the United States are threatening to move into a commanding position. Partnered by Curtis Strange, Craig Stadler has a three-foot tiddler on the 18th green to secure another priceless point against Bernhard Langer and Sandy Lyle.

Improbably, the ball rims the hole, remains stubbornly above ground and the match is halved. Europe go into lunch with the air of a condemned man who has been granted an 11th-hour pardon, and the following day complete a 16½-11½ triumph to end 26 years of American domination. Tell me about it, Craig. "Oh, no, not 'the putt' again, groans Stadler in mock anguish. "Every time the subject of the Ryder Cup comes round, I've got to watch that all over again on telecast. What they don't show is my partner whipping it into the water leaving me alone with a driver and one iron to the hole. Up ahead, Andy North had also hit it in the water, so did Peter Jacobsen.

"I was just about the only guy to finish the hole. I'll never understand the reaction - like I never three-putted before in my entire life? The putt that lost the Ryder Cup? Yeah, I've heard that a lot over the past quarter of a century but I've never bought that particular story. What was it, the Saturday morning? There was still a lot of golf to be played." Stadler could point out that, on the Sunday afternoon, he recorded a rare American win in the singles with a two and one victory over Ian Woosnam and departed The Belfry with a highly-creditable three points out of five, but comforts himself with the observation: "I made a lot of putts in my life, I missed a lot of putts in my life.

"But I don't think that one came even remotely close to the putt that Bernhard Langer missed at Kiawah Island which came in the last match on the last day. "Even then, I have to say the Ryder Cup consists of 28 matches, a single putt can't determine the outcome if everyone else has done their job..." Stadler who is affectionately known as The Walrus, has a point; one missed "gimme" does not win or lose the Ryder Cup.

And he has had bigger failures to reflect on. "Anyway, The Belfry doesn't even begin to compete with the British Open in terms of disappointment. It's funny, but in the Sixties when I was a boy, I'd say everyone considered it to be the fourth major in those days. "Now it's up there at number one or two in my opinion. I'd definitely put it ahead of the US Open or the USPGA. Only the Masters (which Stadler won in 1982) carries the same prestige. Walking up the 18th on the last day is a thrill unlike any other."

It was Stadler's misfortune that on the two occasions he walked up the 72nd fairway, the experience was to end in disappointment. "I played with Nick Faldo on the Sunday at Muirfield in 1987 when he made 18 straight pars. I holed no putts and finished third. "At Royal Birkdale in 1983, I led at halfway, and was tied for the lead after the third round when I was partnered with Tom Watson. I shot 64-69-72-75 and that last round allowed Watson to win."

Nice change of subject but we were talking about "the putt", Craig. "Sorry, I have to take a call on the other line..." rphilip@thenational.ae