Johnnie Walker and the Ryder Cup
Johnnie Walker Scotch Whisky is an Official Partner of the 2014 Ryder Cup, continuing a long association with the event which stretches back to the 1980s when the brand was a presenting sponsor of The Ryder Cup in 1989, 1993, 1995 and 1997.
Johnnie Walker also has a close association with the 2014 venue, Gleneagles in Perthshire - both are owned by Diageo, the world’s leading premium drinks business - and this year the Ryder Cup marks its return to Scotland for the first time since 1973, when it was held at Muirfield and the US defeated Great Britain & Ireland 19:13.
Gleneagles itself played a key role in the genesis of The Ryder Cup by hosting in 1921 the first of two unofficial matches between professionals from Gt. Britain and the United States. The second of these matches was played five years later at Wentworth Club and in the gallery was an English entrepreneur named Samuel Ryder. Enthralled by the match, he donated a small but striking gold cup for subsequent competitions, the first of which was played officially as The Ryder Cup in 1927.
Costing £250 at the time, the Cup bears a small figure of Abe Mitchell - Ryder's personal golf instructor at Verulam Golf Club, St Albans, and a well-known professional both in Britain and the United States - on the lid. Ironically however, and although the designated Player-Captain, Mitchell was unable to play in the first official Ryder Cup due to a bout of appendicitis, although he did play in the following three events in 1929, '31 and '33.
First played as a series of matches between the United States and Great Britain & Ireland, the Ryder Cup was a one-sided affair in favour of the Americans for much of its history. Of the first 22 playings, the US won 18 matches against just 3 for GB&I, with one tie. As golf grew in Europe however, and following the 1972 creation of the PGA European Tour, it was decided that from 1979 the matches would henceforth be played between the US and the Continent of Europe.
Although there was no immediate turnaround in fortunes, with the US winning the first three of the new format matches, Europe took the Cup for the first time at The Belfry in 1985 by 16.5 points to 11.5, with a team that included the second participation of the young Seve Ballesteros. Europe would win again in 1987, on American soil, the first time the Americans had ever been beaten at home.
Then, in 1989, the Johnnie Walker Ryder Cup would witness only the second tie in the history of the event, 14 points to 14, allowing Europe to hold the Ryder Cup for the third time in succession.
Thereafter, and although the US would win the next two playings, the American stranglehold had been broken, and the Ryder Cup has become a more evenly balanced contest, with the 17 matches between the US and Europe leaning very slightly in Europe's favour by 9 to 7, with one tie. Looking at only the most recent matches, however, Europe has been dominant, winning 7 of the last 9 encounters.
The 1993 Ryder Cup by Johnnie Walker, once again at The Belfry, was Tom Watson's first Captaincy for the US, and he led his team to victory by 15 to 13 against European Captain Bernard Gallacher. In 2014, Tom Watson returns to Europe in search of a second winning Captaincy, and will find Gallacher's nephew Stephen on the European team, a pick of Captain Paul McGinley after Gallacher missed out on automatic qualification by the narrowest of margins. Gallacher, who lives less than 40 miles from Gleneagles, has an impressive career record at the venue, most recently narrowly losing in a playoff at the 2013 Johnnie Walker Championship. Could he claim the crucial final point for Europe in 2014?
In 1995, the Ryder Cup by Johnnie Walker was regained by Europe at Oak Hill Country Club in New York, for the third time under the Captaincy of Bernard Gallacher. The 14.5 to 13.5 victory was just the second time the Americans, led by Captain Lanny Wadkins, had been beaten at home. For Gallacher it was revenge not just for 1993 at the Belfry, but also for 1991, when he had Captained Europe at Kiawah Island in the infamous 'War On The Shore', losing by 13.5 to 14.5.
In 1997, Johnnie Walker presented the first Ryder Cup on continental European soil, at Valderrama in Spain under the Captaincy for Europe of Seve Ballesteros, and once again Europe retained the trophy, 14.5 to 13.5, that they had wrenched away from the Americans in New York two years before. That victory marked the beginning of a four-win streak for the Europeans on home soil, most recently at Celtic Manor in 2010, so Paul McGinley's team will be shooting for a fifth consecutive home win and a second hat-trick of consecutive wins, following the 2002-06 matches. (Although Europe held the Cup for three consecutive matches in 1985-89, the '89 match was tie, not a win for Europe.)
In the past 10 years, Diageo has invested over £30 million supporting golf through the Johnnie Walker Championship and 2014 Ryder Cup, and also with direct investment in golf at Gleneagles, including maintenance and improvements to the hotel and golf course, where the Jack Nicklaus designed PGA Centenary Course, opened in 1993, will host theRyder Cup.
The association of Johnnie Walker with golf goes back far further, however.
In 1926 the Johnnie Walker Hole-in-One Award was launched. Originally, winners received a bottle of Johnnie Walker Red Label and a certificate. Its recipients include HRH The Prince of Wales, later the Duke of Windsor, who holed out in one on the sixth at Royal Wimbledon on 24th July 1931, and golfing greats such as the late Seve Ballesteros, in 1984 and 1990.
In Asia, the successful 1989 Johnnie Walker Hong Kong Open spawned a new event in South East Asia – the Johnnie Walker Classic - and in 1991 Johnnie Walker sponsored the first World Championship in Montego Bay, Jamaica.
Most recently, the Johnnie Walker Championship at Gleneagles is a professional golf event and part of the European Tour. It has run for the last fifteen years and played a key role in maintaining the profile of Gleneagles and the PGA Centenary course as a professional golf venue in the build-up to the 2014 Ryder Cup.