Trick of making the abnormal seem normal
Lee Westwood defended Nick Faldo’s captaincy in 2008 by remarking, “we hold the golf clubs and we hit the shots, not the captain.” This is true . . . but not entirely right
WHY WOULD anyone want to be a Ryder Cup captain? When Mark James was Europe’s captain in 1999, the deliberations over his “wild card” picks – he chose Andrew Coltart over Robert Karlsson – caused such stress that he was, within days, diagnosed with shingles.
Ian Woosnam, ostensibly a laid-back fellow, captained the team at the K Club in 2006 and the following year was diagnosed with post-viral chronic fatigue syndrome.
Nick Faldo, who has earned a fine reputation as a commentator behind a TV microphone, stumbled over his words and got the names of his players wrong when introducing his team at the opening ceremony at Valhalla in 2008.
And, yet, as Jose Maria Olazabal and Davis Love III head into the 2012 edition of the Ryder Cup at Medinah next week, there is a queue of candidates eager to assume such roles at Gleneagles in two years’ time and on into the future.
Is it purely about the honour and the glory of it all?
Is it about one-time players – past their best – seeking to re-immerse themselves at competitive golf’s cutting edge?
Is it an ego thing?
Or, perhaps, there is a part of it to do with the money?
Although captains aren’t directly paid for the position, with the PGA European Tour’s official line being that the captain is paid “all reasonable expenses” incurred in the carrying out of his duties during the captaincy, there is an indirect pay-off in terms of sponsorships, business opportunities, books, etc, that recent captains have taken full advantage of to the extent that it is estimated acquiring the high-profile role of captain is worth in the region of €2 million for a “home” captaincy and somewhat less for an “away” captaincy.
For instance, when Faldo was Europe captain for the 2008, he became a brand ambassador for Adidas/TaylorMade and luxury car maker Maybach as well as signing deals for newspaper and magazine columns. He may have been criticised for his decision-making as a captain, but – like Colin Montgomerie who succeeded him – the captaincy provided a high-profile platform that had knock-on value to his course design work and media deals.
But, then, given the perceived stress of the role, captains – albeit indirectly – probably feel entitled to whatever comes their way.
Tony Jacklin, who revolutionised the captaincy when assuming the role for no fewer than four occasions, once gave this advice to prospective captains. “Always be prepared to fly by the seat of your pants and trust your gut instincts,” said Jacklin, who was at the helm for Europe’s resurgence which was, in part, inspired by the so-called “Spanish Armada” of Olazabal and Seve Ballesteros.
Now, Olazabal has come full circle and will seek to bring his experiences as a player. Of his own debut in the Ryder Cup at Kiawah Island in 1991, Olazabal recalled recently, “I was shaking like a leaf as I walked from the practice green to the first tee. The noise was deafening. Seve walked next to me and said something I’ve always remembered. ‘Just play your own game and be yourself. I’ll take care of everything else’ . . . . it told me there is nothing wrong with being scared. In pressurised environments, it is not only natural (to be scared), it’s a good thing because it makes your senses sharper.”
What is certain is that, despite all the planning, Olazabal and Love will find what James describes as “utter chaos” once the week of the match arrives.
“People don’t know what they are doing. The most important thing any captain can have is a strong bond with the players . . . you have to be inspirational as well as quiet, depending on the circumstances,” remarked James, who fell on his own sword at Brookline where his decision not to play Coltart and Jean van de Velde until the final-day singles backfired spectacularly as the US – spurred on by a reading of William Travis’s letter from the Alamo about love, bond and country delivered by former US president George W Bush – claimed a most unlikely fightback victory.