Ryder Cup controversy: ‘Players resented the Europeans joining – but without them it wouldn’t exist’

Peter Dawson, who played on the last Great Britain & Ireland Ryder Cup team, tells Alex Perry it was the right decision to expand – but there is one more thing he would have changed

There was resentment among British and Irish players when the Ryder Cup team expanded in 1979 to include those from continental Europe – but without the change the tournament will have ceased to exist. 

That’s the view of Peter Dawson, one of the 12 who played in the last Great Britain and Ireland team in 1977, before it became Team Europe for the following Ryder Cup two years later.

The Ryder Cup was a one-sided affair in those days. Of the 16 matches between the USA and Great Britain from 1927 and 1971, the British team had won just three, with one tie. Irish players joined the frame for three renewals in the ’70s, all won by the Americans. 

“The nature of the game was you would always lose to America, because they were so much better in those days,” Dawson, the first left-hander to play in the Ryder Cup, told the NCG Podcast. “The difference between winning and losing in the Ryder Cup was very small. I played in fourballs and foursomes with Neil Coles, we lost both times but we should have won. 

“The Americans just expected to win, and although we thought we could win and I certainly thought I could win, there was always a culture that Britain never won.

“All the players there on their day could beat anybody. It started looking like we could do something, but it just never happened in the end. It was a close run thing.”

In 1977, Jack Nicklaus suggested to Lord Derby, then head of the British PGA, to expand the team to include players from the continent. At this point, Team USA were unbeaten for 20 years, but not all the British and Irish players were OK with it – not that Dawson is naming any names. 

“There may have been a bit of resentment,” he said. “Personally there was no resentment. We had to move forwards. Europe had to become involved, though I did hear at the time there was a little bit of vibration. 

“But if things hadn’t changed it would have ceased to exist.”

While comfortable with the inclusion of the European players, Dawson does believe another major change should have been made – even if only at the time.

“I thought at the time that the Ryder Cup was ‘GB&I’ and this new version should be renamed something else. 

“That was my view in 1979, but that is hindsight and we have to move on. My only thought was that it shouldn’t be called the Ryder Cup, because Sam Ryder didn’t think about Europe. In hindsight, I was wrong.” 

So was the Ryder Cup the spectacle then that it is today? 

“Without a doubt,” Dawson recalls. “The money wasn’t there, the thousands of spectators and the TV coverage wasn’t there, but to play in a Ryder Cup was your goal. Once you knew you could get into it, you were fighting as hard as you could. Once you had a couple of good tournaments you started thinking, ‘I’m in the top 10 of the Order of Merit, I’m in the top 10 in the team, I must keep going!’

“The hard work, the pride, the team spirit, the initiative and the endeavour was the same then as it is today.” 

One of Dawson’s fellow rookies in that Ryder Cup was a 20-year-old Nick Faldo, who ended the week as one of two GB&I players to win all three of his matches. Two months later, Dawson and Faldo teamed up for the World Cup where they finished in a tie for 20th, 30 shots behind the Spanish pairing of Seve Ballesteros and Antonio Garrido.

“Could I see Faldo was a special player? Yes, to put it in one word,” Dawson explains.

“Whenever you play with a young player such as Faldo, whether he be a 20 year old or a 15 year old, you can see there is a bit of stardust about them. Faldo was definitely one. At that point I thought, ‘He is going to make it.’

“He worked damn hard to get on and play in that Ryder Cup.” 

Faldo had already won a European Tour title before joining up with the GB&I team at Lytham and he went on to win 40 more professional titles, including six majors, to become Britain’s most successful golfer of all time. So what was his secret?

“He was working eight hours a day,” Dawson says with a smile. “Devoting himself totally to golf.”

The NCG Podcast with Peter Dawson

In the full episode of the NCG Podcast with Peter Dawson, he discusses more about the Ryder Cup and life on the European Tour in its “golden age”.

Dawson is also the co-author of Now for the Back Nine, a coaching manual with tips for senior golfers.

The book is packed with plenty of easy-to-read, simple tips aimed at older golfers –though that doesn’t mean younger players can’t learn from it!

You can read our review of the book in our rundown of the best golf instruction books, or head to the Now for the Back Nine website if you need more information or want to buy a copy.

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