On This Day

  • September 17 down the years

Time for change at the Ryder Cup

Nick Faldo was too strong for Tom Watson © Getty Images
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1977
The last Ryder Cup contested by Britain & Ireland without the rest of Europe. As usual by then, it was something of a walkover. The USA hadn't lost since 1957. Of the eight encounters since then, the British Isles had drawn one and lost the rest. Same old same old at Lytham St Anne's this time. A collapse on the second day left the hosts five points down, a margin maintained by today's singles. There were notable wins by Nick Faldo over Tom Watson and Bernard Gallacher over Jack Nicklaus, but a final score of 12½-7½ ushered in a new age. After the match, Nicklaus hinted darkly that the opposition had to start including foreign players or some of the top Americans would stop turning up. Sure enough, Spanish golfers were included two years later ( September 16). Europe still lost, but bigger things would spring from the seed in 1985 ( September 13).

Two famous British motor racing drivers were born on this day. Stirling Moss in 1929 and Damon Hill in 1960.

Moss was quite simply one of the greatest drivers of all time. Of all cars. He drove more than 80 different makes during his career and won everything from Formula One Grands Prix to endurance events like the Mille Miglia (Thousand Miles) in Italy and the 1,000-kilometre sports car race at the Nürburgring. In 1955 he became the first British driver to win the British Grand Prix since 1936 ( July 16); in 1956 he was the first British driver to win the Italian Grand Prix ( September 2); and in 1957 he won on the longest circuit in any World Championship race. He was equally good on the narrow streets of Monaco, winning there three times. But despite all the success, he's best known as a gallant loser: runner-up four times in the Formula One World Championship. The first three were behind the legendary Juan Manuel Fangio, and Moss's own sportsmanship cost him the fourth. His career was ended by a bad crash at Goodwood in 1962. Even his name is the best of British.

Damon Hill's moniker is just as famous - because it belonged to his father. Cruel but true. Graham Hill was one of the most successful drivers of all time, the only one to win the Formula One world title, Indianapolis 500, and Le Mans 24-hour race. Damon was F1 champion too, in 1996, taking the title from Michael Schumacher, who'd edged him in an acrimonious finale two years before. So Hill junior won something that Stirling Moss didn't, and 22 Grands Prix to the great man's 16. But the comparisons don't stand up. When Hill was surprisingly promoted from Williams test driver to racer in 1993, he was a good driver in a very good car. In 1994 Schumacher, typically, referred to him as 'not a number one driver'. Hill became better than that, but he was never as good as his dad, let alone Sir Stirling.

1954
The greatness of Rocky Marciano. The warrior spirit. When he needed a knockout more than ever, he produced it. The performance that kept him unbeaten as world heavyweight champion and in 49 pro fights. He'd fought Ezzard Charles earlier in the year, keeping his title against the former champion on a unanimous decision after a fight that had everything. When his eye was cut in the fourth round, a desperate Marciano threw the kitchen sink and its fittings at Charles, who stood toe to toe in the seventh and eighth but was otherwise battered all over the ring. Boxing cleverly and bravely, he survived to the end, forcing Marciano to go 15 rounds for the only time in his career. Today's rematch followed much the same pattern. The Rock was the aggressor from the first, knocking Charles down in the second round and forcing him to move and hold. Marciano was way ahead on points by the sixth round, when the fight was suddenly turned upside-down. Again a cut was the catalyst, this time a truly horrible nose job. One of Marciano's nostrils was sheared completely in two, probably from an accidental elbow. It bled unstoppably onto Rocky's face, chest, and shorts. The doctor allowed him one more round, but Charles was still there at the end of it. One more and the fight would have to be stopped. But Marciano stopped it first. As in the first fight, he was throwing bombs from all directions by now, and although Charles drew blood from his eye again, there was no stopping the runaway bull. Marciano's nostril was flapping in two, but his right hand put Charles down again, then he finished him with a double combination. Charles had risen to his knees by the time he was counted out, only 25 seconds away from regaining the title. A bloodsoaked Rock fought only twice more, against a much easier Englishman ( May 16, 1955) and a fighter just as dangerous and downright noble as Ezzard Charles ( September 21), who fought for five more years without getting another title shot.

2004
Northern Ireland bowls player Margaret Johnston was 61 years old when she retained the singles title at the outdoor World Championships. In the final today, she thumped Lorna Trigwell of South Africa 21-9. Johnston was the only woman to be outdoor champion three times. Before her previous wins in 1992 and 2000, she finished runner-up in 1988, the year she won the first of her three consecutive world titles in the triples.

2006
Playing at home in Mönchengladbach, Germany's men retained the hockey World Cup by coming from 3-1 down to beat Australia 4-3. Christopher Zeller gave them the lead after 18 minutes, but Australia were level almost immediately through Mark Knowles. Further goals by Matt Naylor and Troy Elder seemed to have settled it, but Germany scored twice in four minutes, and Zeller got his second early in the second half. With four minutes left, Luke Doerner came close to an equaliser when he hit a post from a penalty corner. Australia hadn't beaten Germany in a major tournament since 1993, but they had their revenge at last in the next World Cup, beating the Germans 2-1 in the 2010 final. Doerner, unlucky here in 2006, scored the winner after an hour.

1921
In rugby union, South Africa had been playing Test matches since 1891, New Zealand since 1903. Surprisingly, they didn't play each other until this year, when they contested a three-Test series in New Zealand. The hosts won the opener 13-5 in Dunedin but lost the second in Auckland. The decider was held in Wellington today, on a mudheap that hadn't looked likely beforehand. After weeks of good weather, the skies suddenly opened the day before and stayed open throughout the day of the match, leaving the players to squelch around in shallow lakes among deep mud. Late in the game, All Black wing Jack Steel was heading for an open try line when he fell into an area of surface water. In a game confined to the forwards, the All Blacks came out on top, but Gerhard Morkel had a great game at full-back for South Africa as well as hitting a post with a penalty kick. The conditions led to a 0-0 draw, an unimaginable scoreline today and rare at the time. So the series was halved, although both sides claimed minor bragging rights: New Zealand for a better points difference, South Africa for drawing a series away from home.

1927
Bill Tilden sometimes cited this as the best tennis match he ever played. And it was one he lost. The French had been catching up with him that year. Talented and much younger, they ganged up to beat Big Bill in the Davis Cup ( September 10) and were already beating him on his own patch. After losing the finals of the US Championships in 1918 and 1919, Tilden had won the title for the first time in 1920 ( September 6), then kept it for the next six years before losing to Henri Cochet in the 1926 quarter finals. Today Big Bill was back in the final, against defending champion René Lacoste (of crocodiles-on-shirts fame), with a plan to confound an opponent 11 years younger. Tilden was 34 by then, with a dodgy knee; he had to win matches more quickly than in his prime. So he came out blasting. He led 7-6 and 40-love, three set points on his own serve. But he lost five points in a row and the set 11-9. In the second, he was a break up but lost five straight games. Then he led 5-2 in the third but lost that 11-9 too. Tilden's tennis obituaries were written all over the world - but he came back to regain the US title in 1929 ( September 14) and Wimbledon the year after ( July 5) when he was 37.

The 1928 US final was played on the same date as the 1927 match. Cochet faced Tilden's doubles partner Frank Hunter, who played above himself to lead by two sets to one and come back from 5-1 down in the fourth to level at 5-5. That should have been the end for the crumbling Cochet, but he persisted in his net game, hitting those trademark half-volleys. He broke serve again to lead 6-5, held his own to take the set 7-5, then dominated the fifth 6-3. Hunter lost to Tilden in the 1929 final and never won a Grand Slam singles title.

1938
In track and field, the European Championships in Vienna were the first to include events for women. Irmgard Praetz of Germany was only 39 days past her 18th birthday when she won the long jump. Praetz's penultimate leap of 5.88 metres was a Championship record until 1954. She was the youngest European champion until a 16-year-old British sprinter in 1950 ( August 27) and the youngest in an individual event until 1966 ( September 4). In second place behind Praetz was Poland's former Olympic sprint champion Stefania Walasciewiczowńa, who turned out to have no female sex organs. Today Walasciewiczowńa won the 100 metres, tomorrow the 200. Käthe Krauss of Germany won silver behind her in each event, while both bronzes went to a 20-year-old Dutchwoman called Francina Koen, who did rather better at the next Olympics ( August 4, 1948).

1939 The first man to run 10,000 metres in under half an hour. Taisto Mäki had come close the year before, when he ran two seconds outside 30 minutes at the Finnish nationals. Now, in the same Championships, this time in Helsinki, he blasted through the barrier with 29 minutes 52.6. The next man was 23 seconds behind, with Olympic champion Ilmari Salminen third. Mäki's time survived five years as a world record, until another Finn broke it in the same stadium.

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