Philip Walton and the story of how Europe won the 1995 Ryder Cup at Oak Hill
It can be won before a ball has been struck when opponents stare one another down.
It can be won in the moments of panic, when a team-mate’s interjection can momentarily lift spirits.
Philip Walton can atest to both experiences conspiring to thrust him into the spotlight on his one and only Ryder Cup appearance in 1995 at Oak Hill in New York.
Remarkably, of the 42 Ryder Cups played between two great rivals of golf, Europe have only ever won four of the 21 contests to be played in the United States.
And yet Walton, a rookie from Ireland, was the man given the opportunity any golfer would dream of, standing over two putts to clinch the Ryder Cup for Europe on American soil.
Twenty-six years on as he sat in the sunshine at Ilkley Golf Club last week, playing his small part in the Ian Woosnam Senior Invitational, the memories are not far from Walton’s mind, particularly with this being Ryder Cup week.
“Funnily enough I played with Woosnam in the Saturday morning foursomes,” begins Walton, now 59 of the ’95 match.
“He changed the goalposts about 30 minutes before we were supposed to tee off.
“He said ‘change of plan, you’re going first’, when all along it had been him going first.
“I was nervous stood on that first tee, really felt it in my stomach, but I ripped it down the first.
“About a year earlier I’d started seeing an aromatherapist and she told me I wasn’t breathing well enough.
“Even back then it was an important thing.”
He continues: “But we lost 1up. We were 2up after six and the Americans were in the sh*te down the left, we were in the fairway.
“They hacked it up, Woosie hit it into the bunker, I got it out to about eight feet. They got it up and down from the fairway and we missed our putt.
“We lost that hole when we should have won it and lost the match. That’s how quickly momentum can change.
“At the back of the 18th all the guys were there, you just have to walk into them with your head held high.”
Walton would atone the following day. Europe trailed 9-7 going into the singles, “but I fancied our chances,” says Walton, “even with Seve (Ballesteros) not playing well”.
Walton’s confidence was strengthened when he saw his opponent in the bottom match Jay Haas approach the first tee.
“When I saw him on the first tee he was white as a sheet,” says Walton.
“You could tell he wasn’t enjoying it, which gave me a bit of a lift as well.
“I opened up bogey, par but still won the first two holes, that’s how bad he was struggling.”
It was a tense match.
“It was the fifth or sixth hole and I had a putt of about that far,” he says, holding his hands shoulder width apart. “Straight uphill and he made me putt it.”
And did Walton sink it?
“Oh aye, yeah. It was only small, but he was stood at the side of the green with his arms folded and he never conceded it.
“So I gave it back to him on the 14th, go on then, sink yours. He didn’t miss.
“I apologised to him after the match.”
Did Haas? “No, he never did.”
Walton held the lead going over the closing holes but needed the help of a team-mate to regain his composure.
“I was dormie 3up on him then he holed a bunker shot on 16, it hit the flagstick and dropped when it should have ended up off the green,” he says.
“I missed a short putt on 17, I was using the long putter and just slightly held on to it.
“Walking through to the 18th tee I got this almight whack on the a*se. I turned round it’s Sam Torrance.
“He’d come to give me a bit of pep.”
“I knew it was down to my putt because the crowd had grown around us,” he says. “My match should have been over, it’s just fate how things work out.
“You’ve just got to focus on yourself.
“I always felt the more you could hang on to the Americans at the turn, the better chance you’ve got of winning. Because they expect to win. If you’re level with him or up at that stage, you’ve got him.”
And Walton had.