This year’s Ryder Cup between Europe and the USA is set to conclude on Sunday at the Marco Simone Golf and Country Club in Rome. And the team’s captains Luke Donald and Zach Johnson will both be hoping to avoid a repeat of one of the most infamous Ryder Cups in golf’s history, which took place in Brookline, Massachusetts, in 1999.
The Battle of Brookline, as it is famously referred to, saw USA launch a remarkable comeback on the final day to overturn a 10-6 deficit and win the showdown 14 ½-13 ½. The contest had undertones of spitefulness throughout, with some players being abused by fans. And it turned ugly on the 17th hole during a match between American Justin Leonard and Spaniard Jose Maria Olazabal.
With the match level, Leonard needed at least half a point to secure victory for his country. The American was left with a 45-foot birdie putt after his second shot had rolled away from the hole. And the player remarkably sunk the ball against the odds.
Olazabal could have still claimed victory by putting his next shot and winning the final hole. But as soon as Leonard’s shot had dropped, all the usual golf etiquette appeared to instantly go out of the window.
A whole host of USA players invaded the green to celebrate with Leonard, with some of the stars’ wives even getting in on the action. Fans also joined in as the scenes turned wild.
Jane James, the wife of European captain Mark James, was even spat at by a child as she told reporters as per ESPN: “It was just awful. A kid spat at me and there were lots of incidents of people telling us to go home. I would hate it if we allowed ourselves to descend to their level when the match goes to the Belfry.”
And the player himself added: “A lot of players will not be bothered competing in America again. If I had been playing myself, I might have lost my temper completely. Cheering when you miss putts or hit into bunkers is one thing, but personal abuse is something different. We are going to get into a situation where fights will break out if we don’t stop this thing now.”
The episode was later described by European vice-captain Sam Torrance as “the most disgraceful and disgusting moment in the history of professional golf”.
And recalling the incident, European player Colin Montgomerie later told Telegraph Sport: “Fair enough, I was the highest-ranked player in our team and they were targeting me. But that was just wrong, way out of order.
“As my partner Paul Lawrie couldn’t believe the stuff they were shouting at me in the first two days. Sunday went to another level. Our wives came in for it as well. Pretty vile.”