Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Review: Draw in the Dunes (2014)

By Neil Sagebiel

Let's start with the basics - the 1969 Ryder Cup basically is remembered for one moment - a putt that was never attempted.

In fact, it's probably the reason why "Draw in the Dunes," the story of that tournament, was written and published.

Funny how things sometimes work out.

That moment certainly will be mentioned this month, as the Ryder Cup competition resumes on the other side of the Atlantic. The best of the United States and the best of the Europe will square off in a team competition, You no doubt will see players affected by a different type of pressure, and suffer for it as a result.

It's been 45 years since that non-putt, and author Neil Sagebiel takes us back to 1969 and the Royal Birkdale Golf Club to review the competition. The Ryder Cup was in some trouble at that point, as the format matched the United States' pros versus Great Britain's best. That once was more than a fair fight, but by the late Sixties the Americans were dominating the event. The U.S. had lost once since a defeat in 1933.

Entering 1969's competition, the Americans seemed to have all of the big guns. Jack Nicklaus was on that team, followed by Lee Trevino, Ray Floyd, Billy Casper and other solid players. The British team had Tony Jacklin, on the roll of his life, and several guys who might have popped up on a British Open leaderboard once in a while. However, as a team, Great Britain didn't figure to be much of a threat.

In stunning fashion, the Brits jumped out to an early lead and stayed close throughout the competition. Jacklin was a tiger, and players such as Neil Coles and Peter Townsend were on top of their games. It all came down to the last singles competition, Jacklin and Nicklaus, and the last hole, the 18th. Both men had short birdie putts, relatively easy under normal circumstances but certainly much more difficult when a team championship was on the line. Nicklaus rolled in a testy 5-footer, which guaranteed that America would keep possession of the Cup since the U.S. could do no worse than tie.

Nicklaus then walked over and picked up Jacklin's ball marker, conceding the putt. He wasn't going to let his friend suffer the possible consequences of a missed putt in front of his home country. In the cutthroat world of sports, then and now, it was a memorable gesture of sportsmanship.

The story  as presented here doesn't have much momentum in the early going. Safebiel goes over some recent (from the 1969 perspective) golf history of the Ryder Cup and the participants. Part of the problem is that from an American perspective, few British players from that group are familiar to golf fans on this side of the Atlantic today. Peter Alliss is one of them, but that's more of a tribute to his work as a broadcaster. If only for that reason, it's easy to think this book might be more successful in reaching a British audience. When the golf balls start to fly in the story, it's also difficult to make the play-by-play of a golf event like this come alive years later, although some of the participants do give some good comments about what they were thinking at the time.

But eventually, the competition slowly winds down to Nicklaus vs. Jacklin, and that remembered and dramatic gesture. Not only do the two principals give their thoughts, but some of the other team members jump in with reactions. It's interesting to discover that opinions have changed about the incident over the course of 45 years.

It's tough to argue successfully that the 1969 Ryder Cup started us on the road to the huge international event that goes on today. The Americans went back to their winning ways through the final four U.S.-G.B match-ups, and only the full participation of European players changed the dynamics of the competition.

"Draw in the Dunes" certainly fulfills its key role - explaining exactly what happened on that famous non-putt, and how it's perceived today. It's difficult to say that most golf fans will want more information on the entire event than that; a long magazine article might have satisfied the curiosity of many. But it's nice to have the information published, professionally written, and available.

Three stars

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