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2002 in Golf - 2002-12-13

The 2002 golf season produced highlight performances not seen in decades by the top players in both the men's and women's professional tours. VOA's Jim Stevenson has more on the season, including a prestigious event that had been delayed by one year.

The Ryder Cup golf competition between the United States and Europe was finally held in 2002 after it had been postponed by one year following the terrorist attacks against the United States. The event was held at the Belfry near Birmingham, England as originally planned, and the teams were made of the same players who had qualified for the 2001 event. In fact, organizers decided to use the 2001 signs and banners, and the players referred to the event as the 2001 Ryder Cup played in 2002, a tribute to the victims of the attacks.

Europe emerged the winner as it defeated the United States, 15 ˝ to 12 ˝, to regain control of the Ryder Cup. The Europeans sent their best players out early on the final day, and U.S. captain Curtis Strange says the simple move was executed well.

"They played excellent. They started out fast. They played well enough, they did what they had to do," he said. "They front loaded so much. But they had to play well to win. And they did just that. And they played better than we did. They beat us today."

Because the event was played one year late, the Ryder Cup will now be held in even-numbered years. The women's Solheim Cup, which was won by the United States over Europe (15 ˝ to 12 ˝), moves to odd numbered years.

Tiger Woods continued to struggle in the Ryder Cup. But he continued to be successful on his own with five victories, including a second Masters and second U.S. Open title to highlight his season. He also finished the year at the top of the PGA money list with more than $7,342,000. Woods tells what it means to be ranked number on in the world.

"It means that I have played well and have been very consistent at a high level," Woods said. "And in order to be number one in the world you are going to have to win golf tournaments. And that is something that I have been able to do so far. And I hope I will to continue to do."

South African Ernie Els picked up his third major title at the British Open after two U.S. Open wins. But Els says this victory was the most difficult.

"This was one of the hardest tournaments I have ever played. The emotions I went through out there today, I do not think I have ever been through that. I guess as the older you get, the more intense you get, the more emotional you get," he said.

American Rich Beem surprised the golf world by taking the remaining major title, the PGA Championship, and learned something about himself.

"I did not know if I had what it took to win it. Obviously I found out today that I do. And I am actually still surprised at myself for it. Honestly, my first two wins I did not know because I was shaking like a leaf coming down the last two holes in both of them. [I'm] Not saying I was not shaking like a leaf here, but I was in a lot more in control of my emotions than I ever have been under that sort of pressure," he said.

The season will be remembered for several players who responded to pressure as a record 18 first-time winners topped the leaderboards on the PGA Tour. The golf season also saw perhaps the last appearance by veteran Arnold Palmer at the Masters. Palmer has played in the event 48 consecutive years and has won the coveted green jacket four times. But the 72-year-old legend felt by the second round that his skills had slipped too much to continue.

"I think tomorrow will probably be my last competitive round in the Masters," Palmer said. "I have been thinking about it for some time now. And after my round today, it does not warrant [me] being here playing. If I thought there was a chance that I could play the kind of golf that I would expect I should play, I certainly would not stop.

While Palmer walked his last round at Augusta, the Masters was becoming consumed in an age-old dispute. Only men have been allowed to become members at the Augusta National Golf Club, in the southeast U.S. state of Georgia. Women's groups are aggressively challenging the club's stance. Augusta National president Hootie Johnson says he and the club stand firm in their belief that they have the right to include or exclude women. Johnson says the Masters will be held next April as usual. But he did say the members have the right to include women at some point in the future.

Meanwhile, women proved they could play the game exceptionally well, as Annika Sorenstam of Sweden posted another record season. Sorenstam became the first LPGA player in 34 years to win 11 times in one season. But she was edged by American veteran and Hall-of-Fame player Juli Inkster at the U.S. Open. Inkster took the title at the Prairie Dunes Country Club in Kansas, where she had similar success as an amateur.

"Who would of thought that 22 years from winning the U.S. Amateur I would come back here and win the U.S. Open," she said. "But it has been quite a ride. I just felt the fans behind me. I just really felt they were with me and I think that really got me over the hump."

In 2003, a professional woman golfer from the eastern U.S. state of Connecticut will become the first woman to play in a men's PGA Tour event. Thirty-six-year-old Suzy Whaley had earned a spot in the Greater Hartford Open in Connecticut by winning a qualifying event against men in September. She made her decision to play in December and will tee off with the men in July.

Part of VOA's Year End series