EUROPE’S RYDER CUP HEROES

Our Top 10 Golfers who led Europe to Victory

The OnlineGolf team is getting excited for this year's golfing highlight, the 2016 Ryder Cup!

We are looking forward to drama, tense competition, incredible shots and goosebump moments in Hazeltine. European Captain Darren Clarke has selected his team and can be proud to feature overall excellent golfers, including this year's winners of the Open Championship, The Masters and the Olympic Games gold and silver medal. We hope to see Rafa Cabrera Bello, Matthew Fitzpatrick, Sergio Garcia, Martin Kaymer, Rory McIlroy, Thomas Pieters, Justin Rose, Henrik Stenson, Andy Sullvian, Lee Westwood, Danny Willett and Chris Wood play some brilliant golf and become real Ryder Cup Heroes.

But who are the European Ryder Cup Heroes of past times? We have selected our Top 10 European golfers who had an enormous influence on the Ryder Cup and led Europe to victory. Read on to find out who they are!

TONY JACKLIN

Tony Jacklin

Golf prodigy Tony Jacklin was without doubt the greatest British player of his generation. The 72-year old Englishman brought Europe back on the golf radar with winning The Open Championship in 1969 as the first British player in 18 years and the U.S. Open as first European player in 44 years. Despite not being welcomed by all he was also the first British player on the PGA tour since the 1940s.

As a player Tony Jacklin was part of the Ryder Cup team on seven occasions, consecutively from 1967 to 1979. During this time, the Great Britain and Ireland team, and from 1979 the European team, could not yet secure a win. However, his amazing eagle putt from 50 ft on the 17th against Jack Nicklaus led to a tie in 1969, famously known as 'The Concession'. The grand gesture of Jack Nicklaus, who after Jacklin's brilliant shot, conceded a two-foot putt to the Brit on the 18th hole to tie the match is still remembered as one of the greatest examples of sportsmanship.

After a devastating loss at The Open in 1972, which should be his last attendance at a major tournament, Jacklin's golf suffered. He especially struggled with his putting, leaving him disillusioned and frustrated with the sport. However old spirits revived when he was appointed for his first Ryder Cup captaincy in 1983. Competing again with Jack Nicklaus, who was appointed U.S. Team Captain, Jacklin and his team finished only one point down. He continued to serve as Team Captain for three more times, with the big breakthrough two years later at The Belfry: Tony Jacklin led Europe to its first victory in 28 years. Two years later at Muirfield Team Europe won again, the first ever time the U.S. were defeated in their home country. In 1989, Tony Jacklin's final captaincy, they retained the cup with a tie.

With three victories out of four captaincies Tony Jacklin is the most successful European Ryder Cup captain ever. He induced a new era for European golf, which now no longer needed to hide away from their previously predominant U.S. opponents and inspired a new generation of European golf stars to emerge. Since 1985 Team Europe has won the Ryder Cup 10 times out of 14, and it all began with Tony Jacklin.

NICK FALDO

Nick Faldo

Looking at the statistics there can be no doubt that Nick Faldo is the most successful Ryder Cup player of all time. Inspired by watching golf legend Jack Nicklaus play on TV, Faldo picked up a golf club for the first time at the age of 14, turning out to be a natural at the game.

Only 6 years later at the age of 20, in 1977, he was playing at the Ryder Cup, at the time being the youngest player ever to have entered the tournament. He would be on the European Ryder Cup team consistently for the next 22 years. His most impressive record is yet to be beaten. He is the player with Most Ryder Cup Appearances (11), Most Matches Played (46), Most Matches Won (23) and Most Points Won (25), both on European and US side.

The 3-times Masters and 3-times Open Championship winner played a key role in the rise of the European team, with the first win in 1985 after 28 years of the US team holding the trophy. His biggest Ryder Cup moment certainly was 1995 at Oak Hill, when he won a crucial match against Curtis Strange. Being one down he managed to catch up, getting down 94 yards in only two shots whilst Strange struggled with three bogeys. Having moved Seve Ballesteros to tears, he states: "That was the greatest moment of my career."

Nick Faldo won the Ryder Cup five times as a player. Unfortunately, he couldn't replicate this success as European Ryder Cup Captain in 2008. His adventurous and much debated wild card pick of Ian Poulter over Darren Clarke certainly paid off when Poulter turned out to be the sensation of the tournament. However, never having been a vice-captain and choosing only one vice-captain himself, strategic mistakes and poor leadership led to what the The Daily Mail called "a calamitous loss", with Team Europe finishing five points behind at Valhalla.

IAN POULTER

Ian Poulter

The 40-year-old golfer from Hertfordshire with an eccentric taste for fashion was born into a golfing family and was only four years old when he first held a golf club in his hands. The passion for the game hasn't left him since. Whilst being successful on both the PGA and European Tour and also coming close to winning a Major a few times, the Ryder Cup is Ian Poulter's real calling.

He first played for the European Team in 2004 and has since made five appearances, four times on the winning side. And when his team lost disastrously in 2008 it was certainly not down to his performance. Despite much debate about him being favoured over Darren Clarke by team captain Nick Faldo, he turned out to be the sensation of the event, achieving the highest points score on either side and scoring 4 of Europe's 11.5 points.

Back on the winning side in 2010 he obtained the nickname 'The Postman' after promising a point in his singles. And he certainly has delivered. He earned 3 points in 2010 at Celtic Manor and played a key role in José María Olazábal's team of 2012 when things didn't look too well for the Europeans. Being 4 points adrift on Saturday afternoon certainly didn’t stop Ian Poulter, who went out to shoot five straight birdies in a row, sparking the 'Miracle at Medinah'. From his total of 12 wins and two half points in the 18 Ryder Cup matches he has played so far this was perhaps his strongest performance. It did not only make him top points scorer of the tournament again, but in fact leveraged the greatest comeback of a team in Ryder Cup history.

His unparalleled passion for the Ryder Cup translates into the legendary 'Poulter fire', making him one of the most dreaded competitors in the history of the tournament. Fierce emotional outbursts on the course are no rare occurrence during the event and he admits that even his own children are scared at the sight of his somewhat furious appearance with pumping fists and popping eyes.

Until the end of May this year Ian Poulter had still hoped to be part of this year's European team, but a foot injury has made it necessary for him to step back from competitive golf for some months. Instead Poulter will serve as Darren Clarke's 4th Vice Captain and, with a 100% record in his singles and winning 8 of 11 foursomes and fourballs, he will without a doubt be a rich source of inspiration for the European team.

COLIN MONTGOMERIE

Colin Montgomerie

The 53-year-old Scotsman turned pro in 1988 and made his Ryder Cup debut only three years later in 1991 after impressing on the European Tour. Whilst playing exceptionally well on the European Tour, finishing first on the Order of Merit every year from 1993 to 1999, he never won a major or a tournament on the PGA tour despite coming second several times.

His accomplishments for the Ryder Cup however are countless and so extraordinary that the BBC actually crowned Monty with the title 'Greatest Ryder Cup player' of all times. He has been a member of the European team eight times and gained a reputation for an absolutely reliable performance. "Somehow or other, in Ryder Cup matches, when you asked him to hole a 15-footer to halve or win a hole, he holed it, whereas in the major championships, he never quite managed to hole those crunch putts," said Ken Brown on his former team member. "He was a tremendous match-player, a very accurate driver, had a good all-round game, but his putting was the thing that somehow seemed to come good at the right time in the Ryder Cup. A heck of a man to have on your side."

Back on the winning side in 2010 he obtained the nickname 'The Postman' after promising a point in his singles. And he certainly has delivered. He earned 3 points in 2010 at Celtic Manor and played a key role in José María Olazábal's team of 2012 when things didn't look too well for the Europeans. Being 4 points adrift on Saturday afternoon certainly didn’t stop Ian Poulter, who went out to shoot five straight birdies in a row, sparking the 'Miracle at Medinah'. From his total of 12 wins and two half points in the 18 Ryder Cup matches he has played so far this was perhaps his strongest performance. It did not only make him top points scorer of the tournament again, but in fact leveraged the greatest comeback of a team in Ryder Cup history.

He managed six birdies despite a five-hole deficit at Kiawah Island, secured the half-point on the last hole that won the cup for Europe in 1997 and made the winning putt in 2004. That are just some of his finest moments in his long Ryder Cup history. He never lost a singles match and thereby managed to set the tone for the whole team, making him famous for his leadership skills. "Monty led from the front," said Padraig Harrington. "We put him out there, we were needing the point, wanting the point and he delivered the point and that was the key."

Naturally he led his squad to victory as team captain at Celtic Manor in 2010, which he described as the greatest moment of his golf career. So it is only fair to repeat the words of Seve Ballesteros here: “The Ryder Cup has Monty’s name engraved on it.”

BERNHARD LANGER

Bernhard Langer

The greatest German golfer to date started his golf at the age of 8 and turned pro only seven years later being 15 years young. The two-time Masters champion was the first golfer to lead the Official World Golf Ranking after its introduction in 1986 and has won tournaments on all six continents with official golf tours, a fun fact which only four golfers worldwide can claim.

To the wider audience Bernhard Langer is probably best known for his appearances at the Ryder Cup. The impressive record of representing Europe for ten times from 1981 to 2002 makes Bernhard Langer one of the key figures that helped to revive European golf at the Ryder Cup after an almost three centuries long period of US domination. He won 24 points for Team Europe, only one point short of Nick Faldo's all-time record.

However, his best remembered Ryder Cup moment is probably also the most painful experience of his career. In 1991 at Kiawah Island the pressure was high on both teams. Several stunts on the American side made the European team feel less than welcome and the tension was so strong that the tournament received the nickname "The War on the Shore". Bernhard Langer however kept his fairness even though in the end he paid a high price for it. Langer and his opponent Hale Irwin came to the last hole tied, with Europe being in the position to only be able to keep the cup if Langer won whilst Irwin could win or tie. The hole was a struggle for both players and, surprisingly, Bernhard Langer conceded a bogey putt of Irwin's which meant he had to make his own six-foot putt or the cup would be lost for Europe. Fatally he missed and the US took the cup home.

13 years later however when Langer served as European team captain he could regain ground big time. With superior leadership qualities and careful micro-management, he led his team to a record-breaking win over the U.S. with 18.5 to 9.5 points.

Today the 58-year-old is highly successful on the Champions Tour and has repeatedly been considered as a wild card pick for the Ryder Cup team in recent years - maybe we'll see him play under the European flag again?

GRAEME MCDOWELL

Graeme-McDowell

The studied engineer from Northern Ireland first impressed at university golf at the Queen's University in Belfast and the University of Alabama in Birmingham, USA, before he turned pro in 2002 at the age of 23.

In 2008 he played his first Ryder Cup earning 2.5 points for Team Europe, however sadly the Europeans could not retain the cup after three previous consecutive wins. Graeme McDowell's big moment came two years later in 2010. As the first European since Tony Jacklin in 1970 and the first Northern Irishman ever he won the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach in June. And 2010 only continued to get better for Graeme McDowell

In October on the last day of the Ryder Cup at Celtic Manor in Wales, Captain Colin Montgomerie charged him with putting to win on the 17th Green. This last match of 12 singles was going to decide the cup, a breath taking scenario which hadn't taken place since 1991. A brilliant birdie at the previous 16th hole left Graeme McDowell in a very good position to succeed over opponent Hunter Mahan who would have needed to win both last holes to tie and retain the cup for the U.S. The experienced far-sighted team captain had saved McDowell to play the last holes: "Graeme was put there for a very good reason. He is the US Open champion and full of confidence and that birdie on 16 was quite unbelievable." And he delivered. After Mahan missed his putt it was clear that McDowell had sealed the win for Europe and was relieved from the unbelievable pressure of being one of the last two men still playing which would decide the competition: "I didn't need to hole a putt, thank God. I was so nervous out there. I just can't describe the feeling of this golf tournament – trying to win it for 11 other team-mates, the caddies, the fans and Monty; it's just a special feeling. There is nothing quite like it."

At the next Ryder Cup in 2014 Graeme McDowell performed brilliantly again and beat Jordan Spieth with a win of five out of six holes from the 10th. This year he won't be part of the European team however we hope to see Graeme McDowell shine again in a Ryder Cup match!

SEVE BALLESTEROS

Spaniard Severiano "Seve" Ballesteros Sota (9 April 1957 – 7 May 2011) is considered the greatest golfer in Continental Europe of all time. Born into a family truly dedicated to golf with three of his brothers as well as an uncle and a nephew also being pros he quickly emerged into one of the world's leading golfers after taking second place at The Open in 1976. From the late 1970s to the early 1990s he finished first in five majors and more than 90 international tournaments, an amazing career that played a major part in reviving European golf.

Equally high merits go to Seve for transforming The Ryder Cup into one of the most significant sports events in Europe, setting off an unprecedented explosion-like interest in golf all over the continent. Seve Ballesteros was one of the first two European golfers to play at the cup after non-British golfers were admitted to the tournament in 1979 and he certainly made his mark on it. After a break from the Ryder Cup in 1981 over a disagreement with the European Tour on appearance money, team captain Tony Jacklin made sure to give his best shot to convince Seve to return to the team in 1983. He did and he stayed for the next 12 years.

His charisma and excellence acted somewhat as a catalyst, unleashing the spark of confidence that Europe needed against the dominant Americans. Though his record of 22½ points is impressive, his most notable achievement that earned him the soubriquet 'Mr Ryder Cup' was his ability to motivate. "Seve was the ultimate gladiator matchplayer," says team mate Ken Brown. "When he joined the Ryder Cup team after 1981 to try and turn the American side over after such a long time, he was the ultimate team player, the ultimate man to tell you 'Yes we're going to do it'. He was almost Pope-like."

The best example for his outstanding leadership qualities is the famous match play with fellow Spaniard José María Olazábal. Forming the most successful partnership in Ryder Cup history, they won 11 and halved two out of 15 matches they played together, boasting incomparable team spirit. "They had such great chemistry and determination," so Nick Faldo. "They didn't always win, but we always assumed they would. It's amazing how much of a lift the rest of us got from that knowledge. So, great as their record was, they were worth even more points to the team than they put on the scoreboard."

After winning the Ryder Cup five out of eight times as a player he topped his golfing career with a victory over the U.S. as team captain in 1997 at Valderrama in his native country Spain, the first Ryder Cup taking place in continental Europe.

In May 2011 Seve Ballesteros died from a malignant brain tumour, having battled cancer for 3 years. The victorious European team of 2012, led by Seve's great friend José María Olazábal, dedicated the win to their biggest role model and source of inspiration: "We knew Ollie had us wearing Seve's navy blue and white for a reason," said Ian Poulter. "We had Seve on our bags, on our shirts and in our hearts. We did this for Seve."

JOSÉ MARIA OLAZABAL

SEVE BALLESTEROS & JOSÉ MARIA OLAZABAL

José María Olazábal Manterola first made his mark in the world of golf at the age of 18 when he won the British Amateur Championship in 1984. Two years later he turned pro making his way right up to the top finishing second on the European Tour. He subsequently played successfully on the European Tour with 23 wins and finishing in the Top 10 numerous times. On the PGA tour he has won six times and shares the record for the lowest round in the PGA Championship. He has won The Masters tournament twice and has been featuring regularly in the Top 10 of the Official World Golf Ranking, coming close to being World No 1 in 1991.

He first played in the Ryder Cup in 1987 at Muirfield, where he performed his famous dance to AC/DC tunes after his team had won. He played in all consecutive Ryder Cups until 1999 and also in 2006, he was selected as Vice-Captain in 2008, 2010 and 2014 and served as Team Captain himself in 2012. In total José María Olazábal was on the winning side as either player or (Vice) Captain on six occasions. His win percentage of 66% out of 31 matches is one of the highest in the history of the Ryder Cup and together with Ian Woosnam he shares the record of most fourball points won.

His biggest achievement so far was leading Team Europe to a narrow victory over the U.S. in 2012, which has gone down in history a 'Miracle of Medinah'. A miracle was needed indeed when Europe went into the singles matches on the last day being down 10-6. But somehow Ollie managed to inspire his team through the memory of his great friend and role model Seve Ballesteros, who had passed away the year before. "Seve will always be present with this team. He was a big factor for this event and last night when we had that meeting the boys understood that believing was the most important thing."

The Europeans did believe and pulled off the greatest comeback in Ryder Cup history, finishing the singles with a narrow 14½ to 13½ points win. "He has made us cry in the team room this week," said Rory McIlroy. "Some of us have broken down into tears with some of his speeches. And to play so well out here today knowing that Seve's looking down on us, it's just been one of the most incredible days that I've ever had on the golf course." Overwhelmed with emotion Ollie dedicated the biggest moment in his career, as he said himself the happiest moment of his life, to his late friend: "This one is for him."

SAM TORRANCE

Sam-Torrance

Scotsman Sam Torrance started his golf at a very young age being coached by his father Bob, a well-known golf instructor. He became a professional golfer at the age of 16 and played on the European Tour for 38 years from 1970 to 2008, holding the record for most events played with 700 appearances. He finished twice in second place on the European Tour Order of Merit, ten times in the Top 10 and achieved 21 wins. He holds 43 professional wins in total. Sam Torrance is currently playing on the Champions Tour and European Seniors Tour, where he has achieved 11 wins so far.

He was one of the crucial contributors to the increasing success of the European Team at the Ryder Cup after almost three decades of U.S. predominance as a stable team member from 1981 to 1995. He played on eight occasions and won the Ryder Cup four times as a player and once as non-playing Team Captain in 2002.

His most memorable moment will always be sinking the winning putt in 1985 at The Belfry, sealing the first victory for the European team at the Ryder Cup after 28 years. Two years earlier Tony Jacklin's team had come close but finished one point down in the end. With a two-point lead going into the singles matches on Sunday 15th September 1985, the European team was in a good position and they did extremely well extending their lead throughout the day. By the seventh match Europe had increased their lead so far that Sam Torrance could close the deal. Whilst opponent Andy North's shot ended up in the water, Torrance hit his ball with a brilliant drive over the lake and holed an 18 ft putt for victory: Europe had created a 14½ to 8½ point margin the U.S. couldn't catch up on in the five matches left.

The victorious Sam Torrance raising his arms in front of 25,000 raving fans on English soil at The Belfry will always be remembered in Ryder Cup history. "Never have I felt as wonderful as I feel today," so Torrance. "And never will I feel as wonderful." It is said that the celebrations after the match were also quite memorable, going on for three days and featuring a vast number of bottles of champagne.

15 years later in 2002 Sam Torrance returned to The Belfry for another Ryder Cup victory - this time as European Team Captain. That makes him the only European golfer next to Seve Ballesteros who has sunk a winning putt as a player as well as captained a winning team at the Ryder Cup. So far he has also served as a Vice-Captain twice, and has just been asked by this year's Team Captain Darren Clarke to join his squad of Vice-Captains. The outstanding contribution of Sam Torrance to European golf at the Ryder Cup will inspire the team without doubt!

DARREN CLARKE

Darren-Clarke

This year's Ryder Cup captain is an active player on both the European Tour and the PGA Tour. Since turning professional in 1990 he secured himself 14 wins on the European Tour and 3 wins on the PGA tour. The biggest moment of his career so far was winning the Claret Jug at The Open Championship at Royal St George's in 2011.

The 48-year-old Northern Irishman played on the Ryder Cup team for Europe consecutively from 1997 to 2006, being on the winning side four out of five times. He performed consistently well however his most memorable appearance was in 2006 at The K Club in Ireland.

The Ryder Cup 2006 took place six weeks after Darren Clarke's wife Heather had lost her battle against cancer. Clarke, who had cancelled all his subsequent tournaments needed a wildcard from team captain Ian Woosnam to take part. Woosnam offered Darren Clarke a place on his team and he accepted, fulfilling Heather's dying wish, who had loved the Ryder Cup and wanted him to play.

Darren Clarke later stated how moved he was by the care and understanding he received from both the European and U.S. team. For the closing ceremony captain Ian Woosnam chose pink jackets for his team to draw attention to breast cancer awareness and dedicated the cup to Heather.

Before being selected as team captain for the Ryder Cup 2016 he gained additional experience as non-playing vice-captain to Colin Montgomerie in 2010 and Jose Maria Olazabal in 2012. For his own team he chose with Ian Poulter, Paul Lawrie, Thomas Bjorn, Padraig Harrington and Sam Torrance five brilliant golfers as vice-captains and is said to take his preparations to another level with an unprecedented dedication and attention to detail. We certainly hope the huge efforts will pay off and wish the best of luck to Darren Clarke and his team!

Nick Faldo photo credit attribution: Jim Hunter / Shutterstock.com
Bernhard Langer photo credit attribution: Mitch Gunn / Shutterstock.com
Sam Torrance photo credit attribution: photogolfer / Shutterstock.com