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A pity about the speeches...
Europe lost a thrilling Ryder Cup in Kentucky last September, an occasion that won't go down as Captain Faldo's finest hour

The 2008 Ryder Cup - discuss. First, the plus side.

The golf course was in very good order. The crowds came in their tens of thousands. The weather was spectacular. The ease of getting to and from the golf course was simplicity itself.

There was a huge contrast between the styles of the two captains. Paul Azinger was all smiles, brash, confident and very ‘gung ho’. Some of his antics would not have gone down too well with the players from yesterday – and indeed, the day before – but after all, that is the American way and it is the way of the world we live in. But I never thought I’d see the day when a captain, either home or away,went ‘down town’ to stir up support for his team. Azinger did this on a gigantic scale, parading through the ‘Soho’ of Louisville carrying armfuls of Ryder Cup memorabilia, entering bars, singing songs, throwing hats to the multitude and telling them it was quite OK to cheer mis-hits and missed putts from the visitors. Hardly cricket, old boy, but that was his style. He was aided and abetted by a few players who, shall we say, were not backward in coming forward – for example, Hunter Mahan, Boo Weekley and Anthony Kim.

The opening ceremony staggered on for far too long. The massed committees from Wales, eager to gain knowledge as to how they should stage the event in 2010, hopefully learned something from this long, drawn-out affair, which was one of the worst I can remember, saved only by the eloquence by the British PGA chairman, Philip Weaver.

Nick Faldo’s efforts were, to say the least, strained. He got Søren Hansen’s name wrong, he wasn’t sure whether Graham McDowell came from Northern Ireland or the Republic, and he told the crowds McDowell was single but he didn’t want any girls chasing him until Monday. He also explained that Lee Westwood had reduced the size of his waist by about six inches. Plus, he introduced his entire family, which in many circumstances is commendable but this was not the place to do it.

Azinger buzzed around the course, ably assisted by his many lieutenants. Faldo, on the other hand, seemed to cruise more slowly, sharing a buggy with his son, daughter and various other members of the family, with the air of someone on holiday, just browsing.

"We're all goin' on a summer holiday..."
Nick Faldo and family on buggy patrol at Valhalla

There was some mighty good golf played. Sadly, our big guns didn’t fire for whatever reason but we must not detract from the American side who, spurred on by a very vociferous crowd, played excellent golf, although their arm-waving activities did much to incite the fans, who at times were approaching a lynch-mob attitude. Now I know the crowds were noisy at the K Club and indeed at The Belfry, but on those occasions the crowd didn't seem to have that ‘bite’, that slight touch of nastiness that you see magnified so often at football matches.

We were still in with a chance up until the last couple of hours but suddenly it was over. America had reached the magical number of 14½ points and the matches out on the course became irrelevant, except for pride. But that’s something that seems to have disappeared from some of these matches. When I played, nobody wanted to be beaten – the games were fought to the bitter end, because even though itmeant nothing as far as the score was concerned, it meant everything to the players involved.

(By the way, the statistics mentioned Oliver Wilson was in the team having never won a tournament, the first man to do so. Well, that happened to me in 1953, when the matches were played at Wentworth. I didn’t win my first ‘proper’ tournament until June 1954.)

Of course the victors were jubilant, but the Americans really are awful winners! They aren’t very good losers either, but for sheer triumphalism they do go over the top, although scenes of champagne being sprayed about by European teams over the years was perhaps only half a step behind their antics.

At the closing speeches, Azinger spoke well and was generous in praising both teams. Faldo again tried to be funny and again he failed, saying it had been a tough week and he was going to reintroduce himself to his family. I don’t know why he should bother to say that;most of the time they had been glued together on a golf cart for hours a day.

I’d like to think the weather will at least be dry when it comes to the first week in October in two years time at Celtic Manor, but I fear our climate may be against that. However, I think 2010 could be a momentous occasion. The organisers have a couple of years to think about it and get a really neat, well-choreographed opening ceremony planned, with not too much irrelevant waffle. I hope the flow for the tens of thousands of spectators, who are bound to come, works well, although the immediate proximity of the M4 must surely cause problems. And I hope the course, although very American in design, isn’t too helpful to them.

Marks out of ten for Valhalla? On the overall picture 8, but with all the aforementioned niggles and the antagonism shown by the British press to Nick Faldo - and his failure to respond with grace, dignity or even a meaningful smile - I’d give it a 4. Here’s to next time.

November 2008

Reproduced with kind permission of Golf International Magazine


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