'Your insides are churning just like mine – it's man to man and I'm going to win'
If you thought The Match was faintly ludicrous then to discover that the winner of this weekend’s Hero World Challenge, an 18-man event held down in the Bahamas, receives the same number of world ranking points – 48 – as the winner of this year’s Houston Open, Dubai Desert Classic and Scottish Open makes a further mockery of the way the end of season plays out.
Of far more note and interest was the news that Ireland’s Eamonn Darcy played his last competitive round on the Staysure Tour in Spain. The man with the funkiest swing maybe in European Tour history was signing off and he did it in style, posting a 67 to be just one birdie short of shooting his age. Fifty years a pro, more than 800 tournaments around the world, 90 European Tour top 10s and four wins this was to be it.
“I was trying so hard to shoot my age out there,” he said. “It would’ve been fantastic on my last tournament round. I think I was inspired that this was it, this was my last round. The game has been so good to me and thought it would be fitting to shoot a nice score. It was emotional coming up the last and it was great to see such a crowd at the end – it was like the old days. I had a goal and I nearly did it.”
? Take a look at Eamonn Darcy's incredible career pic.twitter.com/RULw0khnxq
— Staysure Tour (@StaysureTour) December 2, 2018
Darcy added that captaining Ireland to their Dunhil Cup victory at St Andrews in 1988 was a highlight but the stand-out moment came the previous year and this is particularly why his retirement deserves to be celebrated.
Just to make the 1987 Ryder Cup was something of a triumph for the Irishman. In June he won a rain-shortened Belgian Open at Waterloo to move into the ninth and final qualifying spot for Muirfield Village. For the next nine weeks he remained in the same spot before, in the final counting event in Germany, his closest challenger Mats Lanner opened up with a 62.
Darcy shot four rounds in the 60s and took the last spot.
He would line up in Ohio as the lowest ranked player of the 24, at 112 in the world, no other European was anywhere close to being outside the top 100 while Andy Bean was the lowest-ranked American at 36th.
His record, from three previous American thumpings in 1975, 1977 and 1981, stood at P9 W0 L7 H2 and he was the oldest player on the visiting team at 35.
After the Saturday fourballs you could add another notch in the loss column and the Sunday brought a clash in the eighth singles out against Ben Crenshaw.
End of an era as the Darc retires today – what craic, friendship & tough love we’ve all had from him over the years – he went out in style shooting 67 (at the age of 66) @StaysureTour pic.twitter.com/NSD1aEWtlC
— Paul McGinley (@mcginleygolf) December 1, 2018
The good news was that Europe’s heavy artillery had built up a five-point lead, 10.5-5.5, over the first two days which was unheard of. These matches had been going for 60 years and Europe were yet to win away. These were the days of heavily-weighted American majors where, if your name wasn’t Seve, Sandy, Bernhard or Nick you wouldn’t get a look in at Augusta and beyond. To that point Sam Torrance, Howard Clark and Ian Woosnam had played in a total of four American majors, Darcy would never play in any.
But no matter, Tony Jacklin’s plan had worked a treat. We had whitewashed them on the Friday afternoon in the most sensational session any European fan had ever witnessed and Langer and Lyle had maintained our advantage on Saturday when the unthinkable had happened as Seve and Olly were taken down.
And then it happened. The American superstars, in their high-waisted trousers and Stars and Stripes, weren’t going to go down without a battle at The Course That Jack Built.
“They went overboard on the Sunday, the usual American stuff. Hal Sutton got everyone going saying there wasn’t enough cheering for the Americans so they started giving out flags. I was out there to just try and play well and on the 1st Ben Crenshaw holed from 25 feet,” Darcy said.
“As we walked off to the 2nd tee there was a little passageway and there was a guy there, who had to be 25 stone, and he was screaming and frothing from the mouth. ‘Kill them Ben, kill them, no prisoners today!’ I thought, ‘This should be good’.”
And it was good. Walking from the 6th green to the next tee Crenshaw had broken his iconic putter ‘Little Ben’ and he was met by Captain Nicklaus on the 8th tee who quizzed him how he planned to putt without his putter.
But the American, who switched between his 1-iron and the blade of his sand wedge, turned things around to be one up with two to play.
The 17th was a thing of beauty as Darcy nailed a 6-iron to four feet while Crenshaw made a mess of a greenside chip and, with the contest now standing at 12-11 in Europe’s favour and only Seve in control in the remaining matches, this was it.
Eamonn, we need you son.
If you want any sort of insight into what Eamonn Darcy, with his 0-10-2 record, is like as a competitor then his summing up of the situation on the 18th tee should do it…
“Your Masters and all your other titles are no good to you now. Your insides are churning just like mine. It’s man to man and I’m going to win.”
Crenshaw went left into the hazard and was in the greenside bunker in three, alongside Darcy who had played one fewer. The American came out five feet under the hole, the Irishman five feet above it.
The Muirfield Village greens were Stimping at something like 13 on the week and Crenshaw, and his now prolific 1-iron, made five.
Darcy faced a putt of the same length but it was downhill and left to right. He settled on the left lip and let her go. In she went.
“I was nervous playing the bunker shot at 18 but my hands were rock steady. I kept telling myself I could get the ball close to the pin. Mind you, that was the toughest putt I ever faced.
“It was incredible when you think about it. Had it missed it would have gone 15 feet by, it really was like polished marble.”
Minutes later Seve rightfully put the finishing touches to a week that every European golf fan had dreamt of.
“Jack Nicklaus put his arm around me, I have some photos of it and he singled me out in his speech, which was very nice of him. He said I put the final nail in the coffin for them. He designed the course and he knew how important that putt was – I was in three-putt range from five feet and Seve said afterwards, ‘I didn’t hole the winning putt, Darcy did’.”
Come the Monday night a school friend and I gathered at Heathrow Airport to welcome the team home, sing songs and shake every players’ hand. I can still picture Darcy’s smile now.
Enjoy your retirement.