Mark O’Meara? He was there. But he still can’t believe the circumstances.
Hale Irwin? He had just tapped in. The night before, he had talked to his wife, Sally, about what could happen.
Then there was the man at the center of it all.
Bernhard Langer remembers the events of Sept. 29, 1991, well. He was playing Irwin in the final match of the Ryder Cup, and on the 18th hole at Kiawah Island, they were tied. The Americans were leading 14-13. Irwin then made bogey. If Langer could make a 6-footer for par, the Europeans could retain the cup with the ensuing tie, on the basis of winning it outright two years earlier.
With the latest Ryder Cup set to start Friday in Italy, GOLF.com recently caught up with a few of the actors from the ’91 event. Their words are below. A video of them is above.
‘It says a lot about Bernhard’
“This is ’91, Kiawah, Ryder Cup,” O’Meara says. “We come to the final hole on the final day in the individual match, and it’s Hale Irwin playing Bernhard Langer. And Bernhard Langer had about a 6-foot putt. We were all on the green. If he makes the 6-footer, Europe wins the Ryder Cup. If he misses the 6-footer, United States wins the Ryder Cup. You didn’t give this putt, right?”
“Oh my gosh, no,” Irwin says.
“Thank god,” O’Meara says.
“You know, if it had been Larry [Mize, who’s standing nearby], it’s good. You, who knows?” Irwin says.
“Yeah, probably not.” O’Meara says.
“You know, there’s no putt in any kind of competition that you would give this to for a win or a loss,” Irwin says. “So, tough putt under any circumstances. To Bernie’s chagrin, he missed. To our delight, he missed.”
“And then he came back and won the next week?” O’Meara says.
“He won …” Irwin starts.
“German Masters,” O’Meara continues.
“German Masters,” Irwin adds. “I went over there with him and it didn’t bother him.”
“It says a lot about Bernhard,” says Mize, who wasn’t a member of the team.
“It does,” Irwin says.
‘It’s not my favorite’
“It’s not my favorite,” Langer says of the day. “It’s obviously me missing the putt at Kiawah in 1991. Felt very bad for the team. You know, because the Ryder Cup is not a regular golf tournament like the Masters or the Open or anything like that, where people applaud for good shots and they keep quiet with bad shots. In Ryder Cup, it’s like a soccer game or football game. It’s for and against. People are for one team and against the other, and you can sense that obviously as a player. And it’s the whole week long. As soon as you step out onto the golf course — so when you play away, the majority of the crowd is going to be against you.
“And the emotions run very high in the Ryder Cup. And it shows.”
‘Oh, my gosh, I think it’s going to come down to my match’
“You know, we’ve seen it — it’s just hard to believe that you can have two or three days of competition and it comes down to that,” O’Meara says. “It comes down to a 6-, 7-footer on the last green to determine the outcome. It doesn’t happen very often, but it happened to us in ’91.”
“I saw where I was last and I went through the pairings and thought we’ll probably win this one and we might lose that one,” Irwin says. “I remember telling my wife, I said, oh, my gosh, I think it’s going to come down to my match. That was the night before. I didn’t know how prophetic that would be. …
“But Bernhard is a very difficult man to play because he makes very few errors and he’s a very consistent player, as we’ve seen through the years. Very determined. And so what I hoped was that on the outward, into-the-wind holes, I needed to play those at least even with him. Because I wasn’t hitting the ball great. I just wasn’t. I was just off a little bit. I was managing my game well, but I wasn’t playing great. Effectively, yes, but just, I wasn’t hitting the shots that really make you say, boy, that was great. And if I could get up on the downwind holes, where the wind was helping me instead of hurting me, with my little weak shots — and that’s exactly what happened. We made the turn, and I was 2 up going back into the last four or five holes.
“But Bernhard played well. He got a couple up-and-down. But I remember that as one of my favorite moments. Not because we won. It was just seeing all the teammates out following, on both teams, following that match and knowing how important it was to everyone.”