If the shortlist was simply about longevity then the underrated Billy Casper would have been an automatic choice with his eight appearances making him one of America’s most capped players. But Casper is included here on merit thanks to a formidable Ryder Cup record that saw him become the record points scorer for America and a 62% points percentage that is incredibly high for the 37 games he played. A 100% rookie with three wins out of three in 1961, Casper also came through two Ryder Cups undefeated winning 4 ½ points out of 5 in both 1963 and 1967. In 1979 he took over the American captaincy to welcome a European team for the first time. Undaunted Casper led his troops to a 17-11 victory to prove that, for now, it was different opponents but very much the same outcome.
Appearances: (8) 1961, 63, 65, 67, 69, 71, 73, 75, Captain 1979
Record: 62%, Played 37, Won 20, Lost 10, Halved 7
There may have been better players than Jimmy Demaret to grace the Ryder Cup and there have certainly been more famous players. But none have come close to achieving the 100% record that Demaret posted from his three appearances when the event got underway again after the war. In 1949 he inspired one of America’s famous comebacks in the singles when he crushed Arthur Lees 7 and 6 after teaming with Clayton Heafner to win his team’s only point in the foursomes. In 1951 Demaret completed his perfect record with a two hole victory over Dai Rees. On ten occasions in that match Demaret found himself in greenside bunkers only to get up and down. The eleventh time he landed in a trap he went one better – holing out from a plugged lie in the sand on 17. It was a fittingly dramatic way to end a Ryder Cup career that will probably never be equalled.
Appearances: (3) 1947, 49, 51
Record: 100%, Played 6, Won 6, Lost 0, Halved 0
For the third man on our American shortlist we go right back to the beginning. His impressive points percentage of 83%, his long association with the event and his role as non playing captain in 1937 would be enough to get Hagen on our list. But it is perfectly possible that without Walter there wouldn’t even be an event. It was Hagen who helped persuade Samuel Ryder to buy a trophy and found an official tournament and he then campaigned tirelessly to ensure that the British team were able to travel to America. He even paid for the US team’s outfits himself. And when the golf eventually got started Hagen found the matchplay format entirely suited to his flamboyant style of play. In that first event in 1927 he returned a 100% record that set the tone for all his future involvement in the Ryder Cup. In 1937, his powers on the course finally waning, Hagen took up the position of non-playing captain and guided his charges to victory at Southport. This was the first ever defeat for a home side in the Ryder Cup and was final confirmation of the America’s golfing dominance that Walter himself had done so much to establish.
Appearances: (5) 1927, 29, 31, 33, 35 (all Playing Captain). Captain 1937 (appointed Captain 1939 and 1941)
Record: 83%, Played 9, Won 7, Lost 1, Halved 1
With America so dominant, the Ryder Cup appeared to be a weakened and flawed concept in the early 1960’s. It is doubtful if the event would have survived a snub from the dominant player of the time. Thankfully Arnold Palmer found the Ryder Cup to his liking, the showman in him enjoying the gladiatorial nature of the contest. Nowhere was that more apparent than in the singles where he won more matches than any other American. He lies second on America’s all time points scoring chart and, with Gardiner Dickson, formed one half of America’s most successful partnership. In 1967 Arnie managed to return a perfect five by winning all the matches he played. At the age of just 34 he became the youngest ever captain, and the last playing captain on either side, when he masterminded a 23-9 annihilation in Atlanta. In 1975 he returned as non-playing captain to guide America to yet another comprehensive win - although he watched on with amused detachment as Scotland’s Brian Barnes defeated his star man, Jack Nicklaus, twice in a day.
Appearances: (6) 1961, 63, 65, 67, 71, 73. Captain 1963, 1975
Record: 70%, Played 32, Won 22, Lost 8, Halved 2
That Lanny Wadkins is the most recent American player to make this shortlist says much about how the balance of the Ryder Cup has swung in recent years, but it also speaks volumes for his own battling qualities. As a rookie in 1977 he took three points from three and then had a ringside seat for the drama of the next few events as Europe joined the fray and the event was reignited. His 21 ½ points is third in America’s all time list although he won many of those points in far more competitive events than Billy Casper or Arnold Palmer could dream of. A team player, Wadkins excelled in the two player formats and is his country’s leading scorer in both foursomes and fourballs. In 1979, he teamed up with Larry Nelson to win four matches out of four – a record for any partnership. As a veteran in 1991 Wadkins had his team’s best record in their famous victory. Even in the newly competitive competition Wadkins would only taste defeat twice in his eight Ryder Cups as a player.
Appearances: (8) 1977, 79, 83, 85, 87, 89, 91, 93. Captain 1995
Record: 63%, Played 34, Won 20, Lost 11, Halved 3
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