Gallacher ill-served by the heavens

Peter Corrigan at Oak Hill describes the discord jarring a captain's swansong
Click to follow
The Independent Online
WHEN Bernard Gallacher apologised to his European team late on Friday night for a selection error that might have helped to edge the Ryder Cup out of their reach, he was confirming to his critics that his reign as captain has been too flawed to be remembered kindly.

The apology concerned the omission from Friday afternoon's fourballs of Ian Woosnam, the Welshman whose feisty nature might well have been handy in Europe's vain effort to repel an overwhelming American attack.

Those who were at Oak Hill on that torrential day would be inclined to sympathise with anyone misled by the day's ravages but Gallacher's confession was typical of a frank nature that may not have served him well in a job that requires political as well pure golfing instincts.

Like his opposite number, Lanny Wadkins, Gallacher was required to submit his afternoon fourball pairings at noon sharp at which time the situation was not screaming for wholesale changes. His top pair of Nick Faldo and Colin Montgomerie were fighting back convincingly after a disastrous start; Sam Torrance and Costantino Rocca were proving the uselessness of dieting as an aid to winning golf; and, while Howard Clark and Mark James were struggling, Bernhard Langer and Per-Ulrik Johansson were steadily trouncing the senior American partnership of Ben Crenshaw and Curtis Strange.

At 11.55 precisely, Langer and Johansson were three up and looking irresistible. Gallacher, who had been intending to play both Woosnam and Philip Walton in the afternoon, was suddenly in a quandary. He had already decided that Seve Ballesteros and David Gilford - an inspirational pairing as it turned out - would play in the afternoon and they were a convenient replacement for Clark and James. But with the German and Swedish partnership so dominant, how could he drop them?

He turned to Woosnam, who was sitting next to him watching the proceedings on television, to say: "I'm sorry, Ian." Woosnam replied: "You just do it. They look good out there."

Within minutes of Gallacher submitting his list, the heavens opened wider and Crenshaw and Strange mounted a counter-attack that looked at one time capable of winning the match. Langer and Johansson eventually won but not before they were both tired and soaked through and with little time to prepare for their afternoon challenge against the formidable Corey Pavin and Phil Mickelson who were dry and rested.

It is a matter of doubt whether Woosnam and Walton would have fared any better but they would have been fresh and, as things turned out, Europe's lone winners in the afternoon, Ballesteros and Gilford, were the only pair who had not been lashed by rain in the morning.

"My error was exacerbated by the weather and I've told the players it is my fault and that is all there is to it," said Gallacher who, when he bids what is likely to be a relieved farewell to all official ties with the Ryder Cup tonight, will be pursued into the infinitely quieter life that awaits him by echoes of a troubled time at the helm. Even if he leads Europe to victory after today's 12 singles matches, there is the unfair accusation that sound leadership has been lacking over the three Ryder Cup encounters he has been in charge.

His critics were closing in on him on Friday long before he confessed his Woosnam faux pas. Stories of players making their own decisions about whether or not they should play fuelled allegations that he had made a hash of the fourball pairings that afternoon. Tabloid newspapers carried reports that he had sought the permission of Ballesteros before excluding him from the foursomes and had left Woosnam out at the Welshman's own behest. As both players vehemently confirmed, neither was the case. He left them out because he felt others were playing better.

Gallacher came into the event quarrelling; most notably with Tony Jacklin, his predecessor as Europe's captain. Jacklin had been sniping at the selection system and the Scot's captaincy. Pressed by journalists about criticism from Jacklin who now plays on the US seniors tour, Gallacher replied: "Jacklin's over here now. He's an American." He didn't mean it as a compliment.

Having played in eight Ryder Cup matches between 1969 and 1983, Gallacher had impressive credentials for the job. Now that his period as captain is over he will repair to his job as club professional at Wentworth where his shop is the most lucrative in the business. An astute businessman, he has no need to rejoin the professional scramble, either on the regular tour or the seniors tour for which he becomes eligible in four years. His golfing acumen has made him comfortably self-sufficient and if fate decrees another narrow defeat under his stewardship he does not deserve to be ushered out of office with the disrespect usually attached to a departing manager of the England football team.