Some are born to greatness, others achieve greatness and some have greatness thrust upon them. With apologies to Shakespeare’s Malvolio in Twelfth Night, please be upstanding for Colin Montgomerie, Sam Torrance and Paul McGinley: Belfry gods, class of 2002.
Monty is Europe’s greatest Ryder Cup player, unbeaten in the singles, and he led the team out on Sunday. Torrance had to grind to make it as a stalwart of the European Tour and finally find immortality by holing the winning putt at the Belfry in 1985 then captaining Europe to victory there in 2002. McGinley burst forth from the rank-and-file to hole the winning putt in 2002 and become the centre of that iconic photograph, waist deep in the water by the 18th green, with the Irish tricolour wrapped around his shoulders. “Out of the shadows come heroes,” Torrance said. “And we were led by the infamous Colin Montgomerie.”
The score on the eve of the singles was 8-8. Torrance was ready to gamble. “I learned from Tony Jacklin to put your best players out first in the singles to seize the momentum, get blue on the scoreboards, then hopefully keep it going.” Monty had never been out first in the singles before. There were hundreds of fans lining both sides of the roped-off path from the putting green to the first tee. The ‘grandstand full’ sign had been hung at 7:30 a.m., 30 minutes before Monty’s showdown with Scott Hoch. There were chants of “Monty! Monty! And “Europe! Europe!” It felt like Ancient Rome watching the gladiators enter the Coliseum.
“Crikey, it was unbelievable,” Monty remembers. “The whole place went nuts. The crowd was right on top of me. I was so pumped up I hit my drive 308 yards – with a 3-wood. I had 102 yards to go and was worried I was going to fly the bloody green. I had no idea how far the ball was going to go. That’s why I came up short. I hit my first putt far too hard. I thought it was going to run off the back of the green. Then when it was about half way, I thought, ‘This has got a chance.’ Then it started to break in and from about four feet I thought ‘this is going nowhere but in.’ It was dead centre. Then it hit the back of the hole.
“Wow! What a roar. I didn’t know at the time but they were showing it on the big screen by the practice ground. The U.S. team was watching. Everyone was watching. We were never down the whole day.” Monty thrashed Hoch 5 and 4 and Europe won 15½ to 12½ in the match that was postponed from 2001 due to the September 11 attacks on the U.S.
“Everybody thinks I jumped in the lake,” McGinley says. “But I was doing a BBC interview and was lifted up and thrown in. The ringleaders were Darren Clarke and Padraig Harrington.” Fans refused to leave the course and bars in the tented village stayed open for hours. Beer and champagne flowed as Liverpool’s football anthem “You’ll Never Walk Alone” echoed across the Belfry.
“I just led them to the water and they drank copiously,” Torrance said of his team. He wasn’t just talking about the golf. Shakespeare would have been proud.