It might have been Scotland’s Sam Torrance who beat Andy North on the last hole at The Belfry to secure a historic triumph for Europe against the United States, but it was actually the Spanish contingent who changed the course of a Ryder Cup that, until then, had been dominated by the Americans. It took 28 years for the Europeans to snatch the famous cup from their American rivals – and it all happened in 1985.
The Spanish contribution was decisive in Europe’s defeat of the U.S. in the Ryder Cup held that year at The Belfry in Sutton Coldfield (England). In this biennial competition inaugurated in 1927, initially between teams from the United States and Great Britain (later joined by Ireland), American dominance had been overwhelming. Until 1979, when the team was expanded to include players from all over Europe, only three British victories had been recorded, the last one in 1957, against 18 by the Americans. Three further U.S. triumphs followed, but in 1985 the European team, which included four Spaniards (Seve Ballesteros, Manuel Piñero, José María Cañizares and José Rivero) made their mark.
The 1985 edition marked a turning point in the history of the Ryder Cup. It ended almost three decades of American rule and launched Europe’s own hegemony, with 11 of the next 16 victories. The history books highlight the eight-metre putt by Sam Torrance on the 18th, which secured his triumph against Andy North and placed Europe six points ahead with only five matches to play. However, according to Torrance himself, the turning point of that Ryder Cup, and perhaps the history of the competition, had occurred a few hours earlier. And the protagonist was Spain’s Manuel Piñero.
Torrance explained to CNN what had happened in the European team's player room on Saturday night… "Virtually none of us wanted to play against Lanny Wadkins, who was the best in the singles. Piñero got up from his seat and shouted, 'I want to play against him.’ Wadkins was the mega star of the moment and Piñero beat him. Imagine what it meant for the other 11 of us who had to play next. It was magnificent."
There were signs of how the situation would evolve at The Belfry in the previous edition of the tournament, in 1983 at the PGA National in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, where Europe went close to ending the United States’ long reign. The local team led by Jack Nicklaus eventually won by a single point (14.5 to 13.5) against the Europeans captained by Tony Jacklin. It was the 13th consecutive victory by the Americans.
But let's return to the 1985 tournament… The visiting team was captained by Lee Trevino and comprises Andy North, Hubert Green, Curtis Strange, Lanny Wadkins, Raymond Floyd, Calvin Peete, Mark O'Meara, Craig Stadler, Hal Sutton, Peter Jacobsen, Tom Kite and Fuzzy Zoeller.
On the European side under the captaincy of Tony Jacklin were Seve Ballesteros, Manuel Piñero, José María Cañizares, José Rivero, Sandy Lyle, Sam Torrance, Ken Brown, Nick Faldo, Ian Woosnam, Paul Way, Howard Clark and Bernhard Langer: that is, four Spaniards, three Scots, a Welshman, three Englishmen, and a German. Faldo, Rivero and Brown were the players chosen by the captain as wildcards, as they did not qualify directly for the tournament.
The foursomes and fourballs of the first day, on Friday, ended with an American advantage of 4.5 to 3.5 in spite of excellent performances by the Spaniards, with victories in the morning and afternoon matches by the Seve/Piñero tandem and a draw in the afternoon by Cañizares/Langer.
Saturday's games, morning fourballs and evening foursomes, ended with two respective leads on the scoreboard for the Europeans, and a cumulative overall result of 9 to 7 in favour of the locals.
With that two-point advantage for the Europeans, the decisive face-to-face singles matches began on Sunday, 12 points up for grabs that would tip the balance towards either side of the Atlantic.
Piñero opened the dance against the much-feared Watkins, defeating him 3 & 1. This was followed by the Woosnam/Stadler duel, which was resolved in favour of the latter by 2 & 1. Way then got beatFloyd by 2-up, and Seve tied with Kite. The score at that time was 11.5-8.5. Europe needed three points to end America’s hegemony in the Ryder Cup. Lyle defeated Jacobsen 3 & 2 and Langer beat Sutton 5 & 4. There were six games left and one point was enough for Europe to seal victory. It was Torrance's turn and the Scotsman had the honour of adding that point by winning 1-up against North. The deed was accomplished. Clark and Cañizares reaped another two points for their team (Rivero and Faldo lost to Peete and Green, respectively) and the final score remained at 16.5 to 11.5. Europe, finally, took command of the Ryder Cup.