5 Greatest European Ryder Cup Players of All-Time
After kicking off our build-up to the Ryder Cup with an everything-you-need-to-know article, we are now going to look at the Greatest European Ryder Cup Players of All-Time. This doesn’t necessarily mean the best players or the players with the best win percentage, it means the players with the biggest impact. Those who acted as leaders, who made the event their own.
And now, let’s begin.
It’s cruel to have to pick an honourable mention for this list. Does it go to a consistent and reliable campaigner such as Bernhard Langer or what about someone who may have played fewer matches than others on this list but has an exceptional record such as Luke Donald? Peter Oosterhuis thrived despite playing in a time of American dominance and Lee Westwood is going to tie the Ryder Cup appearance record this year. Graeme McDowell and Justin Rose have also been great campaigners for the Europeans and have carried out their own heroics.
But the honourable mention this time goes to Jose Maria Olazabal. The Spaniard has featured as a player in seven Ryder Cups, playing 6 times from 1987 to 1999 and then once more in 2006 at the age of 40. He played in 31 matches, racking up 20.5 points, an incredible percentage of 66.13%.
He formed one of the most dominating pairings in European Ryder Cup history with great friend Seve Ballesteros where they recorded 12 points from 15 matches and were on the losing side only twice.
Olazabal also captained the side in 2012 in what was dubbed as the “Miracle at Medinah”. The European Team found themselves 10-6 down on American soil in what appeared to be an insurmountable task. But a stellar final day, inspired by the memory of Ballesteros who had passed away only a year earlier, saw Europe claim 8½ points and win the event 14½ to 13½ .
5. Nick Faldo
Europe’s second highest points scorer, Faldo was a stalwart of the team from 1977 to 1997. It was clear that even in ’77 as a 20-year-old rookie, that Faldo was destined for greatness in the event. He played in a Team GB&I side that was utterly dominated by Team USA, especially in the team events and still founds success. Back then, they played a total of 5 foursomes and 5 fourballs. Out of the 10 available points, GB&I claimed 2.5, Faldo being responsible for 2 of them alongside Peter Oosterhuis. He would topple the likes of Jack Nicklaus and Raymond Floyd before finding success again in the singles by triumphing over Tom Watson.
Faldo played in 11 Ryder Cups, resulting in 46 matches and recorded 25 points. His record reads 54.35%, a solid return although far from being the best Europe has produced. Despite his prowess as a player, the same can’t be said for his abilities as a captain. In 2008 he had an unsuccessful stint in the driver’s seat as his European side fell to defeat at Valhalla. Faldo came under a lot of criticism for his decisions in the run up to the event, especially for picking Ian Poulter over Colin Montgomerie and for his decision to ‘bottom-load’ his singles picks when Europe were 9-7 down heading into the final day.
The singles proved to be a very poor move, but his Poulter selection worked out as the Englishman was one of the only positives for Europe, playing in all 5 matches and winning 4 points.
4. Sergio Garcia
The youngest player to ever play in the Ryder Cup. The player who holds the record for the most points at the Ryder Cup. Garcia has a never-ending list of accolades in the event. He has won 25.5 points from 41 matches, a return of 62.20%. He has formed successful partnerships with a number of different players, has incredible flair and never shies away from a battle. As evidence of that, at his first Ryder Cup in ’99, in the melting pot that became known as the “Battle of Brookline”, Garcia won 3½ points out of 5 matches, all coming while paired with Jesper Parnevik.
His best match, and quite possible the best match in Ryder Cup history, was against Phil Mickelson at Hazeltine in the 2016 Ryder Cup. The two players treated the golfing world to an absolute masterclass, racking up 19 birdies between them and tying the match.
Garcia is a legend of the event. If he makes the team this year it will be his 10th time qualifying for the tournament and still only aged 41, we could see him feature for many years to come.
3. Ian Poulter
Now we really start to move to the business end of the list and in third place we find Ian Poulter. For the current generation, Poulter is Mr. Ryder Cup. A talented player whose game rises exponentially when he dons the European colours. Few players have been as dominant as The Postman at the event over the last decade or so.
It may come as a surprise that Poulter at age 45 has only played in 6 Ryder Cups, especially since his record reads 22 matches and 15 points, a return of 68.18%. Despite his tremendous performances and becoming the Ryder Cup powerhouse we all know today, he actually made quite an inauspicious start to the event. He only played twice as a rookie in 2004, managing to bring in just a single point for Europe.
But things went up from there. We mentioned his quality in 2008, 2010 saw Poulter win 3 out of 4 matches but it was 2012 that really cemented his legacy. Looking uninspired and downbeat, the European Team looked to be heading to a comprehensive defeat. But Poulter birdied his last five holes in his Saturday fourball match with Rory McIlroy in one of the most intense performances in Ryder Cup history. The performance reinvigorated the European side, cemented the Englishman’s legacy and he will forever by synonymous with the event.
2. Seve Ballesteros
Charismatic. Dogged. Determined. How many other words can be used to describe one of the greatest players the game has ever seen?
The Spaniard’s brilliance was not just limited to his play. It was through his leadership, his mentorship and how he acted as a role model to others. He featured in 8 Ryder Cups, playing 37 matches and winning 22.5 points, a return of 60.81%. He also successfully captained the European side in 1997 when they won at Valderrama in his home country of Spain.
The stories of Ballesteros and his exploits in the Ryder Cup are legendary, far too numerous to list. His impact and legacy in the Ryder Cup is unrivalled and he shall forever be remembered for the staunch competitor and legend that he is.
1. Colin Montgomerie
One of the most polarising golfers in Ryder Cup history. A player who took on so much disdain and pressure from the American fanbase and just kept on going. There’s a saying, “There are three certainties in life, Death, Taxes and Monty won’t lose in a Ryder Cup singles match”.
Ok, I’m not 100% sure if that is a saying or not but it’s definitely true! In 8 outings, Montgomerie won 6 singles matches and halved the other 2. And his brilliance was not just limited to singles. He played in a total of 36 matches, recording 23½ points with a points percentage of 65.28%. This leaves him in 4th place on the all-time European points list with a stronger percentage than any of the three above him.
7 of those matches he paired with the machine-like Bernhard Langer and they claimed 5½ points for Europe. Never defeated in foursomes together, they won 3 times and halved once.
In 1999 at Brookline, he had a heckler removed from the course after some unsavoury comments and threatened to do the same if anyone else kicked up. He wasn’t liked by the Americans. He knew that. And yet he just kept on coming.
Monty also had a successful captaincy in 2010 as Europe defeated America 14½ to 13½ at Celtic Manor, Wales. His legacy is somewhat of a confused one, with many players pointing to his lack of a major as a glaring omission from his record. But there can be no denying that when it comes to the Ryder Cup, Monty was a star with few, if any, equals.
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