They have traveled the world over, making bountiful livings as professional golfers.
But for Colin Montgomerie, Jose Maria Olazabal, Jesper Parnevik and Miguel Angel Jiminez, their traveling to Boston for next week’s 38th U.S. Senior Open at Salem Country Club surely will create at the least a temporary state of unease for all of them.
The foursome comprised one-third of the 1999 European team that made Ryder Cup history — infamy, if you ask the British golf press — by squandering a seemingly insurmountable 10-4 lead the final (singles) day and losing the Cup, 14 1/2 to 13 1/2 , to the Americans at The Country Club in nearby Brookline.
Though the European team members invariably avoid commenting on negative Cup history at every opportunity, they have on occasion over the years discussed, particularly to the British press, what transpired on that fateful Sunday. It’s been easier to discuss ever since the Europeans returned the favor and accomplished the exact same feat at Medinah outside Chicago in 2012.
Olazabal and Montgomerie were in the thick of the storyline at The Country Club for different reasons. Two-time Masters champion Olazabal was battling Justin Leonard for a critical point when their match came to the 17th green, the Americans’ comeback in full throttle but not complete.
Olazabal was the victim of the over-exuberant gallery as soon as Leonard holed a 40-foot birdie putt that eventually clinched victory for the U.S. American players and supporters ran onto the green to congratulate Leonard, believing he had capped the miracle rally, when in fact Olazabal still had his 25-foot putt to halve the hole and keep the Europeans clinging to their slim lead.
When order was restored, Olazabal missed. Now it was time for the U.S. to rejoice.
“The crowds get wild, they get loud and you just have to prepare yourself for that,” Olazabal told The Guardian of London several years later. “For Justin, it was the heat of the moment; the people surrounding the green, they realize they overdid it a bit.”
Montgomerie’s memories of Brookline were both personal and professional. Personally, he was appalled that his father Jim, had to leave the course on the last day because of the venomous abuse hurled at his son by the poorly behaving fans.
Professionally, he lauded two gestures from singles rival Payne Stewart. The first occurred when Stewart implored the American fans to act appropriately and show Montgomerie the proper respect as their duel raged on the back nine. The second occurred when Stewart conceded the last hole to Montgomerie on the home green, giving the Scotsman the point, though the Americans had already clinched the team victory.
“It was a shame the way it finished,” Montgomerie, who won 3 ½ out of a possible five points that weekend, writes in his memoir, Monty’s Manor: Colin Montgomerie and the Ryder Cup. “He’d had enough. I had had enough, and he picked up my ball at the last. I’ll never forget that. I look back at Brookline with memories; they’re not all fond, but that match with him I will always think of with fond memories.
“As far as the heckling I endured is concerned, well, I now use it as a motivating factor and as a compliment, because it must mean that I can play this game quite well.”
Parnevik, who scored 3 ½ points, and Jimenez, who scored two, have been much less quotable about 1999 than their two teammates. But they certainly all rejoiced in 2012 when Olazabal, the European captain, led his squad to the same remarkable comeback at Medinah, down 10-4 starting the final day. Montgomerie, Jimenez and Parnevik were not in the lineup.
If one of the four wins at Salem Country Club next week, might the champ say it was a little payback for 1999? Stay tuned.