That would explain
the fury in Euroland when Faldo snubbed the popular Darren Clarke and the not
so popular but effective Colin Montgomerie—heroes of the 2006 Ryder Cup—to
waste a captain's pick on spiky-haired Ian Poulter. (Faldo's defense: "He's
23rd in the world, and he just holed a putt to finish second in the Open
Championship.") It would also explain the howls of disbelief on Fleet
Street on Friday when Faldo turned in a Day 2 foursomes lineup that did not
include the previously unstoppable team of García and Westwood. (Faldo's
defense: "The age of playing all five matches is over.") Those two
bonehead decisions alone cost the Europeans I don't know how many points.
I don't know how
many because Poulter, wounded by the insults, played like a god for Europe and
scored a match-high four points. As for the pairings debacle, Faldo's players
muddied the water on Saturday by pointing out that a tired and listless García
had asked to sit out a match. "So Lee had lost his partner," Faldo
subsequently snarled—er, stated—"and I didn't want to throw him out there
with a new partner that he hadn't practiced with." That strikes me as a
reasonable explanation, but then I haven't spent as much time with Faldo as the
British scribe who accused him of "ironclad solipsism" has.
Actually, I saw
nothing at Valhalla to suggest that Faldo was dictatorial, overwrought,
unhinged or any of 20 other press characterizations. At the beginning of the
week he assembled his team on the 1st tee for a visualization exercise designed
to overcome first-drive jitters. He then sent them out to practice as
threesomes instead of the usual foursomes, saying "when you're doing a lot
of chipping or putting around the green, four is a crowd." In another
innovative move Faldo invited several potential Ryder Cuppers to follow him
around, including two-time European tour winner Martin Kaymer. "You can't
guess what this week is about, even in your wildest dreams," Faldo
explained. "So this was one of my ideas, to bring some players along and
for them to feel it."
Graeme McDowell seemed to buy Faldo's act. "I think he's very calm, cool
and calculated," said the Ryder Cup rookie, who sank a passel of clutch
putts and scored 2 1/2 points for the losers. "He's really involving
everyone—caddies, wives, partners, the whole team." McDowell's sentiments
were echoed by third-time Ryder Cupper Paul Casey, who said, "I've seen a
side of Nick I've never seen before. He's pouring it out, all the stuff he's
stored up during the years. I think he's been a great captain."
I thought so too,
but apparently I was wrong. A great captain would have thrown García under the
bus for asking to sit out, as U.S. captain Hal Sutton did four years ago to a
naive Chris Riley. A great captain would have blamed his team's defeat on the
boorish behavior of the opposing team's fans, as European captain Mark James
did nine years ago at Brookline. A great captain, watching his team fall to the
Americans on Sunday, would have snarled, sobbed, lashed out and then left in a
huff. Faldo merely raced around Valhalla in a golf cart, handing out
encouragement to his players and praise for the U.S. team and their captain,
Paul Azinger. "Twenty-four guys have given their hearts and souls in this
event, and Europe has come up short," Faldo said on Sunday evening.
"But the golf was fantastic."
He was thinking,
perhaps, of Robert Karlsson, whose two points—a win and two halves in four
matches—grievously understated his brilliant play. In the Saturday four-ball
the tall (6'5") Swede birdied seven of the last 10 holes alongside
compatriot Henrik Stenson to wrest a half point from the hot combo of Hunter
Mahan and Phil Mickelson. Karlsson then blistered the previously formidable
Justin Leonard on Sunday by the score of 5 and 3. Afterward, Karlsson threw a
bouquet to Faldo, saying, "At the end of the day, it's very easy to
criticize, but he's been an excellent captain."
A losing captain,
the Faldo haters pointed out with relish. One bomb thrower among the journos
ended the European team's final press conference on a sour note by telling
Faldo that "under your leadership the European team has changed from a
winning team to a losing team. How hard is that for you to take?" José
María Olazábal, Faldo's vice captain, shook his head in anger. "That
question," he said, "doesn't deserve an answer."
actually—had already been provided. "We hold the golf clubs, and we hit the
shots," said Westwood, who pointed out that the foursomes session he and
García had missed was the only one that Europe won. "So Nick was right to
do that." Then García, not known for being a gracious loser, put it even
more bluntly: "If I would have played better and won my match, maybe we
would be talking and writing a different story. It had nothing to do with
for the show of support, refused to snarl.