About a week prior to the recent Ryder Cup match in Rome, the media were sent a hugely detailed email containing more data than one might ever be able to use in covering a lifetime of the matches, let alone just the one. But one coincidence on page 134 of 180 (I know; I should get out more) particularly caught my attention. This was in a section headed ‘European All-Time Ryder Cup Roster’. As you might expect, it was presented in alphabetical order. Under the third ‘G’ down we find Sergio Garcia, whose entry reads:
Immediately below Garcia one finds John Garner, an English tour pro who is now aged 76. His entry reads thus:
Garcia is the leading points-winner in the history of Ryder Cup, on either side. It is not likely but had he last year not defected to LIV Golf he might have played in the match in Rome. John Garner’s record is infinitely different but the bare stats, as sparse as they are, do not tell the whole story.
For example, it refers to his appearance in 1971 when he lost his only match, a 2&1 fourball defeat in St Louis in partnership with Neil Coles, this reverse coming at the hands of Frank Beard and Sam Snead. It does not refer to his appearance at Muirfield in 1973 when in fact his only appearances were ceremonial – that is, opening and closing. Then there were six singles on the final morning and six in the afternoon (as had been the case in 1971) and Garner wasn’t given a run-out once. As had also happened in 1971.
Garner was alone in receiving that level of ostracism but Clive Clark, for example, was only selected to play once over the three days. The GB&I captain, Bernard Hunt, was roundly criticised for choosing 12 players straight from the points list rather than using the wild cards at his disposal. The US won the match by 19-13. To have put Garner in the team and then not played him at all was absurd and unfair.
The late Peter Alliss said after the match: “If you are going to have a system, well for goodness sake try and pick the best players.” Ten years later, with continental golfers now in the fold, the European captain, Tony Jacklin, was upbraided in some quarters for having told Gordon Brand on the flight to Florida that he would not be playing until the singles. By that point the format called for 12 singles to be played on Sunday, so Brand did get to play in one. It was the same for Andrew Coltart, Jarmo Sandelin and Jean van de Velde in 1999, the year Garcia made his debut.
But at least they got to play once. Unlike John Garner 50 years ago.
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