Ryder Cup wildcards: the golfers who turned rejection into redemption

Seve Ballesteros, Thomas Bjorn, Christy OConnor Jnr and Tony Jacklin all made unlikely comebacks after being overlooked


Missing out on the Ryder Cup team hurts; just ask current Europe captain Thomas Bjorn. When Bjorn learned that the final wildcard spot in the 2006 team go to Lee Westwood, he reacted by calling Europe captain Ian Woosnam barmy and the most pathetic captain Ive ever seen. I have lost all respect for him, said Bjorn. My relationship with him is completely dead and will remain so. This will be the first time I dont even watch the Ryder Cup on television and you dont know how sad that is, given how much I care for that tournament.

Woosnam admitted that Bjorn wasnt a happy chappy when I told him, but the team survived his absence at the K Club, securing a mighty 18-9 victory thanks in part to the four points picked up by Westwood. Perhaps Woosnam was not that barmy after all.

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Either way, Bjorns dealings with the Ryder Cup were not done. Eight years later he was in the Europe team that won the Cup at Gleneagles. Redemption is something of a theme when it comes to golfers who miss out on Ryder Cup wildcards. Tony Jacklin, Seve Ballesteros, Christy OConnor Jnr and Philip Walton were all overlooked by captains but they too like Bjorn made their way back into the team and back into the history books.

1981: Seve Ballesteros

Europe had a tough enough task before them as the 1981 Ryder Cup approached. Facing the US dream team 11 of their players would become major winners during their careers but it was made even harder when Europe captain John Jacobs omitted Seve Ballesteros from his team. Ballesteros had been at loggerheads the European Tour over appearance money, which meant he played fewer tournaments and would have to rely on a wildcard for his place.

It was our opinion that, in terms of unity, it was best to leave him out on this occasion, said Jacobs. Publicly, Ballesteros accepted his fate. Secretly, he was fuming. I felt really upset and decided never to play the Ryder Cup again, he wrote in his autobiography.

Seve Ballesteros acknowledges the crowd at Muirfield Village Columbus in Ohio at the 1987 Ryder Cup, which Europe won 15-13. Photograph: Phil Sheldon/Popperfoto/Popperfoto/Getty Images

Thankfully he changed his mind and the course of history. In subsequent years, he would become the heartbeat of Europes Ryder Cup team, even inspiring the Miracle of Medinah after his sad death. After victories in 1985 and 1987 when he sank the winning putt he also helped Europe retain the cup in 1989. He may have been a declining force when Europe triumphed again in 1995, but his captaincy two years later in Spain ensured his last involvement with the competition was a victorious one. Not bad for someone who had washed his hands of the event 14 years earlier.

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1981: Tony Jacklin

Ballesteros was not the only double major winner who was left out of the 1981 team. Tony Jacklin, who finished 12th on the points list, was reportedly rejected because of his age. At just 37, the decision seemed harsh. Jacklin is that bit older and it gets more difficult when you get older, said captain Jacobs.

Im very disappointed, said Jacklin. I was prepared to be left out but not for that reason. Still, the fact they have left out Ballesteros softens the blow a bit. Hes a world class player and my omission must be secondary to his.

Despite his omission, Jacklin couldnt resist the pull of becoming Europes skipper for the next Ryder Cup, in 1983, although he did it very much on his terms, insisting the team travel in first-class in Concorde, wear top quality outfits and take their own caddies.

Tony Jacklin with Nick Faldo during the Ryder Cup in 1983. USA beat Europe by a point. Photograph: Phil Sheldon/Popperfoto/Getty Images

It almost paid immediate dividends, with Europe losing by just a point. But the worm was beginning to turn. Winning the next two Ryder Cups and drawing the third, Jacklin was one of the key men involved in restoring life to the event. Although during he captaincy, his decisions did not please everyone…

1985: Christy OConnor Jnr

The Europe team that came so close to winning the 1983 Ryder Cup comprised the top 12 money winners on the European Tour, taking the selection process out of the hands of new skipper Jacklin. He did not have that luxury in 1985, which was bad news for Christy OConnor Jnr.

Edged out of the ninth and final qualification position by Jos Mara Caizares at the B&H International Open, the Irishman missed out on the team by a mere 115.89. With Nick Faldo and Ken Brown seemingly assured of wildcard picks, OConnor now had to sweat it out to see if he could make his first appearance since 1975. He was in for an unpleasant surprise.

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Christy OConnor Jnr of Ireland holes a dramatic match winning putt at the 18th hole during the 1989 Ryder Cup. Photograph: Peter Dazeley/Getty Images

Not many saw the selection of Jos Rivero coming and the decision left OConnor distraught. I am disgusted and totally shattered, he said. It was obvious from the television interview Jacklin gave that I was never in contention for a place unless I qualified automatically.

Of course I feel for Christy, said Jacklin. But my job is to win the Ryder Cup, not make friends. The snub cut OConnor deep, though; the only time he spoke to Jacklin in the next four years was to offer sympathy on hearing the news that Jacklins wife Vivien had died.

OConnor Jnr was finally given the chance to play in a home Ryder Cup in 1989. And we know how that ended.

1989: Philip Walton

Jos Mara Caizares was at it again in 1989. Four birdies in the last five holes of the German Open saw history repeat itself, as the Spaniard took the ninth spot in the team and edged out another Irishman. Having missed the cut at the German Open, Philip Walton was vulnerable. With Caizares and Langer finishing joint-fifth at the German Open, Waltons hopes of making the team had been dashed right at the death.

Philip Walton and Bernard Gallacher celebrate after winning the 1995 Ryder Cup. Photograph: Simon Bruty/Getty Images

Langer jumped up to tenth position and was assured of selection along with Howard Clark. But then Sandy Lyle took the brave decision to pull out of the tournament, opening up another sport in the team. Jacklin turned to OConnor Jnr for his final choice, saying: Philip has only just failed to get in, but I decided to go for Christys greater experience. Walton learned his fate on a phonecall to his brother. After dropping from the final qualifying spot in the last tournament, it was a bitter pill to swallow.

Walton, like OConnor before him, would have to wait to make his mark on the Ryder Cup. In winning his singles match against Jay Haas at Oak Hill in 1995, Walton assured the Ryder Cup would be in European hands for the first time since OConnors heroics. Six years after the darkness, the dawn had finally arrived.

This article appeared first on That 1980s Sports Blog
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Original Article : HERE ; This post was curated & posted using : RealSpecific

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