'Seve wasn’t playing particularly well at the time but we seemed to gel'
David Gilford played on two Ryder Cup teams and they could hardly have been more different.
The first, at Kiawah in 1991, he was the odd man out. The second, at Oak Hill, he was very much front and centre of maybe Europe’s most impressive, and certainly the most unlikely, of wins.
Gilford was one of five debutants at Kiawah and emerged with two defeats – one with Colin Montgomerie, the other the well-documented thrashing alongside Nick Faldo – before being the name in skipper Bernard Gallacher’s envelope for the singles.
Home captain Dave Stockton mysteriously withdrew Steve Pate, involved in a car accident earlier in the week but able to play in the Saturday fourballs, after he was drawn to face the all-conquering Seve Ballesteros.
Gilford should have faced the out-of-form Wayne Levi but spent the day on the sidelines.
“Dave Stockton used the accident to his advantage and it was totally out of the spirit of the Ryder Cup and not very nice,” said Gilford. “Whoever got Levi would probably have beaten him. Mark Calcavecchia came up to me and said ‘we don’t like what has happened’ which was very nice of him and not something he had to do.”
The Englishman’s second experience of the competition was an altogether more memorable one. For the last four Ryder Cups Ballesteros had battered the Americans with Jose Maria Olazabal as his partner – now the Spaniard was minus a wingman as a result of his countryman’s rheumatoid polyarthritis.
Step forward Gilford for one of the more unlikely alliances in Ryder Cup history. The heart-on-the-sleeve Spaniard would now be partnered by the ultra-reserved Cheshire farmer. Day one would pit them against Brad Faxon and Peter Jacobsen.
“We played against Howard Clark and Mark James in practice and beat them quite easily and I think Mark said to the skipper that we were a good partnership. Seve was very enthusiastic and a big motivator,” said Gilford.
“Obviously he wasn’t playing particularly well at the time but we seemed to gel together. We were three or four under on quite a long and difficult course.”
The point was Europe’s only win of the Friday fourballs, helping them to stay within touch of the hosts, and Gilford’s form was so good he was thrown in to play in the following morning foursomes with Bernhard Langer.
Another victory followed, this time against reigning US Open champion Corey Pavin and rookie Tom Lehman. A 4&3 win was secured.
“Ironically, I was probably playing better in ’91 than ’95 but that was Pavin’s only loss of the week. We both played really well.”
Lanny Wadkins’ men hit back in Saturday’s fourballs, Gilford and Ballesteros going down to Jay Haas and debutant Phil Mickelson meaning Europe went into the singles 9-7 in arrears and, for most observers, not even in with a shout of tying let alone winning back the cup.
Gilford was out sixth against Faxon. There was never more than a hole in it and they went up the last with the Englishman ahead and the American advantage still at two points.
The former English Amateur champion, in between clubs with his approach, hit a 5-wood to avoid ending up in the bank short of the green. Two hours later Philip Walton would finish in that exact spot.
If short was tricky, the small patch of parched ground that Gilford found, where the players and officials were exiting the 18th green, was brutal.
“A lot was made of that chip saying I should have just flopped it up but it was sitting on some hard pan and the green sloped away violently and it wouldn’t have stopped. There was no way I could have got in on the green other than a pure fluke.
“I hit a 7-iron and it came up a foot short of the fringe and three feet short of the green. He was about four feet away in three and I expected him to hole it. He was renowned for holing putts and had done it all day.
“My six-footer was relatively straightforward, up the hill and from right to left, and I was ready for a half when he missed.”
Montgomerie, Faldo and Sam Torrance added further wins before Walton finally gave Gallacher, eight times a player and three times a captain, his first taste of Ryder Cup success.
Gilford also enjoyed another happy ending, topping the European points table alongside Torrance.