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Grounded
Jaime Diaz
October 06, 1997
Miguel Angel Martín, and more, was sacrificed to ensure a European win
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October 06, 1997

Grounded

Miguel Angel Martín, and more, was sacrificed to ensure a European win

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"Another Ryder Cup shot!" Posed in full follow-through, Miguel Angel Martín laughingly delivered his Latin-inflected parody of an American sportscaster. His swing, in the Fred Couples-Ernie Els class for smoothness if not for power, had produced one more solid drive down the middle of a fairway at the Club de Golf Lomas Bosque in Madrid. For effect, he took his left wrist, wrapped tight in surgical gauze, and shook it vigorously to show that there was no pain.

It was Thursday, the day of the opening ceremonies at Valderrama, about 500 miles away, and the forgotten man of the 1997 Ryder Cup was putting his game on public display for the first time since a ruptured tendon in his wrist had made him the focus of one of the most bitter controversies in the history of the biennial match. Martín, 35, demonstrated the solid, accuracy-oriented game that has won two tournaments on the European tour, the last being this year's Heineken Classic in Perth, Australia. Although his career has been plagued by inconsistency (his best finish in a major is a 30th in the 1989 British Open), he is capable of brilliance. In 1986 he shot a round of 59 during the Southern Argentina Open, which he won with a 24-under-par 256. During the 12 holes he played at Lomas Bosque, Martín hit all of the fairways and greens in regulation, except for the two par-5s, which he reached in two. He made five birdies. "This putt is for the Ryder Cup," he said before sinking a six-footer for birdie on his final hole. "I could have done that in Valderrama."

Martín doesn't want to be misunderstood. Although he had qualified for a spot on the European team, he never intended to play hurt at Valderrama or do anything that might jeopardize his team's chances. He was angered, though, when European Ryder Cup officials insisted that he prove he was fit by playing a practice round on Sept. 3. He refused because his wrist was still tender only 30 days after surgery. Instead, Martín asked for 10 more days, after which he would decide if he was able to play. José María Olazábal, after all, was given that consideration in 1995, and didn't he do the right thing and remove himself from the team? "Of course, they wanted José María to make the team," says Martín. "It was different for me." Martín's request was immediately denied by the European Ryder Cup committee.

All Martín was asking for was respect. "That's what angers me the most—they didn't treat me like the professional that I am," he says. "Do you think Olazábal or [Nick] Faldo or [Colin] Montgomerie would've been treated the way I was? I would've done nothing to hurt the team or create confusion. I've never done anything like that, but nobody trusted me."

On Sept. 13, when Martín went to see the Spanish surgeon who repaired his wrist, the doctor said there was still a chance that the wrist would hinder him in competition. "That was all I needed to hear," Martín says. "I would've stepped down proudly. It was all handled so badly." That's the one thing about the whole Martín affair that no one disputes.

Last week Martín spent three days at Valderrama trying to salvage the situation. He met with Ken Schofield, the executive director of the European tour, as well as with captain Seve Ballesteros. Afterward it was announced that he had been reinstated to the European team with full privileges, although he would not play. In return Martín said he had agreed not to pursue legal action. "It's closed," he said. "I'm happy because I'm morally reestablished to the team." Yet shortly after Schofield announced at a press conference on Sept. 24 that Martín "has been invited to attend the matches and related events in the capacity of nonplaying member, and he has welcomed the chance to play this role with the team," the Spaniard exposed the settlement for the unhappy compromise that it was. "I'm going home," he said, and at the end of the 15-minute charade before the media, he didn't meet Schofield's extended hand with his own. Schofield reached for it anyway and grasped it for the cameras.

Because he felt he was not wanted at Valderrama, Martín left for Boadilla del Monte, a small town west of Madrid, where he lives with his wife, Mercedes, and their two children, six-year-old Miguel Angel and Macarena, 18 months, in a well-appointed three-story house. Mercedes had been reduced to tears during the press conference, and Martín felt he had been snubbed during a team photo session when he was included in some shots but excluded from others.

Most of all, he was angry at Ballesteros, who told him that some players on the team, notably Faldo, had said they would be uncomfortable if Martín was allowed in the team room. "The team room is traditionally closed," says Faldo. "I thought having him with us was fine, but not there." Other players, including Bernhard Langer, didn't object to Martín's presence in the team room, but Ballesteros decided it was better to eliminate the source of any potential disputes. "Seve said what the objections of some of the players were, and he was very nervous when he told me," says Martín. "He couldn't look me in the eye." A few hours later Martín was on a plane to Madrid.

Ballesteros and Schofield seemed to be searching for a way to dump Martín almost from the moment he became a good bet to make the team last February, after his win in Australia, and his injury was a perfect excuse. As a Spanish captain for the first Ryder Cup in Spain, Ballesteros was determined to field the strongest possible lineup, and the only way to get Faldo, Olazábal and Jesper Parnevik all on the team was to eliminate one of the 10 automatic qualifiers. Ballesteros said that he had been operating under the assumption that Martín had given up his spot on the team after undergoing surgery on Aug. 5. Martín says he hadn't, but on the day of his surgery he was quoted as saying that "it hurts me not to be able to play in the Ryder Cup." He also said, "If everything went well and I had a very rapid recovery, even if I maintained the 10th place [on the European money list, which determines Ryder Cup standings], I probably would have to renounce my position." Martín says that the operative word in the above sentence is probably, and that he never gave up his spot.

During the final week of August, when it appeared that Martín would not be overtaken in the standings (Olazábal finished less than $5,000 behind him in 11th), Ballesteros called—for the first time since Martín withdrew from the British Open because of his injury—and asked his intentions. When Martín said that he wanted to try to play, he could tell that Ballesteros was taken aback. Ballesteros called twice more to discuss the matter. "Seve and I had always been friends," Martín says, "but he was talking to me now as a captain, not a friend. Something didn't smell right."

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