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Man at the mercy of his players

I wonder how long it will be before we have another sporting year like 2012? If ever. Oh, the thrill of the Olympics and Paralympics and the wonderful displays by so many of our athletes. And what about Rory McIlroy’s golf, and Ian Poulter’s heroics at the Ryder Cup?

While we’re on the subject of Ryder Cups, I saw Nick Faldo recently chastised certain members of his team who complained about the way he handled his captaincy at Valhalla in 2008. I’ve always said it’s not the captain who ‘brings home the bacon’. It’s the players. You can be the finest manager, captain, call yourself whatever, but if you don’t have players with skill and who want to play and compete, it’s difficult to win anything.

Looking back over the years, I’ve been associated with many captains, some more charismatic than others. My first was in 1953, when the great Henry Cotton led the way. Cotton had a worldliness about him which few people had in those far-off days. We should have won but, sadly, I let the side down and to a lesser degree so did Bernard Hunt, and there were no massive celebrations.

There was Dai Rees, leader when we won in 1957, full of enthusiasm and bounce, encouraging you with cheerful banter, which made you feel capable of playing out of your skin. It didn’t always work but it was good to have someone like that around.

Since my time, after Tony Jacklin really got the ball rolling with his four successive captaincies from 1983, there was Seve Ballesteros in 1997, careering around like a demented mother hen on the green acres of Valderrama, encouraging, cajoling and generally, to some, being a pain in the neck. But he was successful because Europe won. His compatriot, José Maria Olazábal, led the troops at Medinah last September. In complete contrast to Seve, he was quiet, stoic, not very demonstrative, but his side also won a memorable victory and his and their names will go down in Ryder Cup history. Had Europe lost, as looked most likely on Sunday morning, he would doubtless have been crucified in the press, but his players came through for him.

So I have some sympathy with Faldo. The captain needs his players to play well. Of course, you can’t always guarantee they will, but being true professionals at least they should at least give total effort.

Faldo was quite magnificent, I thought. What a glorious picture he made in 2008, driving round the course in his captain’s buggy, his children by his side, and at times accompanied by that great man of music, DJ Spoony, signing autographs, acknowledging the crowd but being sensible enough to keep in the background so as not to interfere with his players’ concentration.

Of course I would like to have been captain of the Ryder Cup team, particularly if we’d won, but on reflection, looking at all the pros and cons, perhaps I’m happier, and a little saner, for having remained on the sidelines. This thought occurred to me with some force when one heard from Abu Dhabi that Rory McIlroy, aided and abetted by Ian Poulter and a handful of other golfers with Twitter accounts, had effectively selected Paul McGinley to be the Ryder Cup captain for 2014.

In many ways his appointment was hardly surprising. It had apparently come down to a three-horse race but then fellow-Irishman Darren Clarke withdrew from the contest, saying he felt he still had a good enough game to fight his way back into the Ryder Cup team but he would be prepared to take on the captaincy at a later date – very nice of him! The other candidate, Colin Montgomerie, to some an odd selection given that he captained the side to victory at Celtic Manor a couple of years ago, emerged from the shadows to stake his claim but was ultimately denied by the powers of social media. How different from the days when I played in the matches. I don’t remember any current players having anything to do with the selection. The committee was very cumbersome, led most of the time by a gentleman rejoicing in the wonderful name of Harry Crapper, a long-time committee man and respected professional from Harrogate.

Anyhow, I wholly support the selection of Paul McGinley. He’s very experienced in team competitions, both as an amateur and a successful Ryder Cup player. He knows all the players first-hand and will, I’m sure, do a competent job, even if behind the scenes there are always going to be one or two detractors who’d rather have seen someone else at the helm.

Whatever, it boils down to whether or not Europe retain the trophy at Gleneagles. If they do, the players will be heroes and McGinley will be hailed as an excellent captain. Hopefully the weather will be kind but I’ve been many times to that part of Scotland in the autumn when the weather has been rotten. Early morning mist and frost can delay things and the days are short, but I dearly hope I’m still above ground and able to be there to see Europe triumph.

However, if they should lose, the cry will surely be “Bring back Faldo!”

March 2013

Reproduced with kind permission of Golf International Magazine


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