The most remarkable Ryder Cup win of all? On this day 25 years ago, Bernard Gallacher led a band of ageing stars and eager footsoldiers to glory on American soil
- The 1995 triumph set Europe back on course for a period of domination
- Europe overcame injury, loss of form and a reluctant captain to stun USA
- Oak Hill tends to get overlooked alongside Medinah, Oakland Hills and Brookline
In Bernard Gallacher’s office at home, there’s just a small photograph of the day he led an unheralded mix of ageing superstars and willing foot-soldiers to perhaps the most remarkable European Ryder Cup victory of all.
It was on this day 25 years ago the picture was taken, as the Scot raced across the 18th green at Oak Hill and lifted Philip Walton into the air in a gesture of sheer elation.
‘The photo is small enough not to offend any American who comes into the room, but I know where it is and it’s nice to look back,’ Gallacher tells Sportsmail.
Phillip Walton celebrates with captain Bernard Gallacher after clinching the decisive victory
‘There’s Jay Haas looking dejected and Sir Nick Faldo’s caddy Fanny Sunesson is running on to the green. As for me, I was obviously stronger than I thought to lift Philip into the air! It’s fair to say there was a bit of adrenalin about.’
In this week when we should have been looking forward to the latest seismic collision at Whistling Straits, it’s only natural to recall the startling deeds of yesteryear.
In terms of Ryder Cups on American soil, Oak Hill tends to get overlooked alongside the ‘Miracle of Medinah’, the first away victory at Muirfield Village in 1987, the record-breaking triumph at Oakland Hills in 2004, and the controversies at Brookline in 1999 and Kiawah Island in 1991.
But it’s a triumph that seems only more remarkable with the passing of time. One that, following two straight losses, set Europe back on course for a period of domination that, bar the odd hiccup, has lasted to this day.
European captain Gallacher holds the Ryder Cup after victory at Oak Hill Country Club in 1995
Not too many people were thinking positively in the build-up, mind. Poor Seve Ballesteros was an empty shell of a golfer, while Jose-Maria Olazabal didn’t even make the line-up owing to arthritis.
Ian Woosnam, following a poor summer, was called up as a last-minute replacement. Bernhard Langer had a back injury and Faldo was struggling with a wrist issue. Just to complete the unpromising picture, the captain hadn’t wanted the job.
‘I felt at the time it was a two-term appointment and I’d done a home and away match already,’ explains Gallacher. ‘It was the fact the players wanted me there that persuaded me.’
The American media were in familiar triumphalist mode. ‘It’s going to be a rout,’ predicted Sports Illustrated, and the Americans were duly 5-3 up after the first day.
Europe came back strongly on the second morning but then suffered a devastating gut punch in the last of the fourballs on Saturday.
Gallacher led an unheralded mix of ageing superstars and willing foot-soldiers to glory
‘We were struggling all afternoon and looking to Faldo and Langer to bail us out against Loren Roberts and Corey Pavin,’ says Gallacher.
‘But Pavin had this chip where the only way he could stop the ball was if it hit the flag and that’s what he did to chip in and win the match.’ Cue American delirium. Europe were two points down going into the singles.
Did Gallacher fear he was about to become a losing captain for the third match in a row?
‘Curiously enough, I didn’t,’ he says. ‘I was sitting with my wife and Jane James (wife of Mark) and said, “Look at the them dancing all over the green, they think they’ve won. But we’re going to have our celebrations tomorrow night”. I said that to my players in the team room as well, and I firmly believed it.’ Gallacher had a tough job persuading Ballesteros to go out first in the singles.
‘Poor Seve couldn’t hit a shot that week and when I asked him how he felt about going out first, he said he wasn’t playing well enough,’ recalls Gallacher.
‘I said do you want to go out last, and he said he would let the team down, he wanted me to hide him in the middle.
‘I said to him that’s where the action will be, that if you go out first there are 11 team mates behind you to help out.
‘In some ways, Seve inspired the team that day, going out first and being only one down to Tom Lehman after 10 holes, despite not hitting a single fairway. He would have lost to anyone that day and it was good for us he was playing one of their strongest players.’
After the usual ebb and flow, two matches turned it Europe’s way. First, unsung David Gilford took down Brad Faxon.
Then Faldo beat Curtis Strange, courtesy of an up and down from 100 yards on the 18th hole that he still describes as the most pressure he has ever felt.
‘Nick was so good in those circumstances,’ says Gallacher. ‘He had that ability under severe pressure to think with such clarity. His course management was the best I’ve ever seen. You could see that even a two-time US Open champion like Curtis was bothered by Faldo.
‘His approach shot was not that difficult but Faldo had got to him. He knew that Nick would get the ball up and down and Curtis wasn’t up to it.’
The Ryder Cup now rested on the fate of Walton, a shy, softly-spoken Irishman who was up against the experienced Haas.
‘It wasn’t ideal,’ concedes Gallacher. ‘You want a Faldo or Langer in that position, not a guy in his first Ryder Cup, asking him to hang on and win it for us. But he did it. I was so happy for him. When I lifted him, it was as much joy for him as anything else.’
It was Gallacher’s first victory in 11 Ryder Cups as player or captain. With a couple of inspired decisions, he’d played his full part alongside a team in which everyone contributed at least a point, even the stricken Seve, who won a fourballs with Gilford.
Now 71, Gallacher is still playing golf a couple of times a week at Wentworth, where he was the club pro for 25 years, and it’s a bad day if he doesn’t shoot below his age on the East Course. He has also fully recovered from the terrible day seven years ago, when he collapsed at a function in Aberdeen and suffered a cardiac arrest that left him in a coma for a week.
No Ryder Cup this week won’t stop him taking a peek at that photograph and letting the mind wander back.
n Bernard Gallacher is an ambassador for Golf Care, the UK’s No 1 golf insurance provider.
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