ryder cup
ryder cup
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Ryder Cup nearly didn't make it past WW2

Except for that footnote in history, Ponte Vedra Country Club might have been one of the most famous courses in Florida.

Located five miles down an ocean road from The Players Championship, it has what is believed to be the first island-green par-3 in America, designed by Herbert Strong in 1928. The other little-known fact about Ponte Vedra is what it lost.

The Ryder Cup.

The United States was coming off its first victory on British soil in 1937, and another formidable team was chosen. The PGA of America still has a photograph of the 10 members on that 1939 team, with nattily dressed captain Walter Hagen holding the gold chalice.

Britain had already selected eight players and a captain, former British Open champion Henry Cotton. The other two players were never selected.

England was at war in 1939, the year that almost marked the beginning of the end to what is now perhaps the greatest event in golf.

"We were all disappointed, more than anything that they were at war and didn't get to come over," said Byron Nelson, who had made his Ryder Cup debut in 1937. "We weren't at war at that time, but we all figured we would be pretty soon. But that was a good team we had. I think we would have done well for ourselves."

For Paul Runyan, the former PGA Champion known as "Little Poison," 1939 was to be his third Ryder Cup.

"I lost my two matches when I played in 1933, and I felt so ashamed," Runayn said. "I felt like I let the team down. I won my matches the next time and recovered some respect." Because of World War II, he never played on another team.

Sixty years later, the Ryder Cup spirit is as vibrant as ever.

The European team arrived Monday in Boston on the Concorde for the 33rd matches, which they have dominated since 1985, winning five of the past seven times. The Ryder Cup, a sellout once again, will be played at The Country Club, which stands to earn $6 million for being the host course.

For all the talk about how much money the PGA of America will gain and how much the players don't, the Ryder Cup future was bleak 60 years ago. And except for a generous fruit grower from Oregon, there might not even be a Ryder Cup this week.

Samuel Ryder, the English seed merchant who first promoted the idea of the trans-Atlantic matches, is regarded as the founder of the Ryder Cup. Robert Hudson may have been the man who saved it.

"There was quite a bit of excitement about that in 1947," Nelson said. "Mr. Hudson was a super nice man. He underwrote the entire British team to come over. We won every point but one, but they really did appreciate it."

The 10 years between Ryder Cup were not without some form of matches. A Ryder Cup team was chosen every year from 1940 to 1943 and played "challenge matches" against teams put together by Gene Sarazen, Bobby Jones and Walter Hagen.

"I played on every one of those teams when the Ryder Cup was supposed to be played," Nelson said. "We just played our own people who were not on the team to help the Red Cross or the USO or a war bond."

Those ceased after 1943, the only year the PGA Championship was not played. The other three majors didn't resume until 1946, and the Ryder Cup almost didn't resume at all.

While the interest was there, the money was not.

That's when Hudson, a member of the PGA Advisory Committee, stepped in. Not only did he pay for Britain to send a team over to Portland Golf Club, he met the players in New York, threw a party for them at the Waldorf Astoria and accompanied them on the four-day train ride across the country.

The only ones who didn't treat the British like kings were the Americans, who recorded an 11-1 victory.

"We had to feel sorry for them," Nelson said, who came out of retirement to play in only his second - and last - Ryder Cup. "They hadn't been able to play golf since the war. But everyone treated them well, and they had a good time."

Regardless of the outcome, the Ryder Cup was back.

While Americans played during the early years of the war, Britain was rusty and took time to get back to golf. From the time the matches resumed in 1947, the United States won every Ryder Cup but one (1957) until Europe gained control in 1985.

Since then, the Ryder Cup has taken on a life of its own since then.

A team led by Tiger Woods and David Duval is under the gun to win back the cup. The big challenge could come form 19-year-old Sergio Garcia, the youngest player in Ryder Cup history.

Meanwhile, Ponte Vedra Country Club remains a hidden jewel along the sand dunes of the Atlantic. It has been redesigned twice since 1939, the latest renovation last year when Bobby Weed restored much of its original layout.

With so many options on every hole, this would have been a challenging course for the matches. Instead, all Ponte Vedra can list on its scorecard is, "Selected site for the 1939 Ryder Cup."

The Ryder Cup that was never played.


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