Gallacher looks for a perfect pair

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On the practice putting green Ian Woosnam, about to hit his first ball in the Ryder Cup, was a bag of nerves. Sam Torrance, his partner in the fourballs, took the avuncular approach and attempted to reassure the little Welshman. "Come on, Woosie, just relax," Torrance told him. "I'll hit off first, follow me. I'm playing great."

On the first tee Torrance blasted the ball straight right and out of bounds. Woosnam birdied the hole. Torrance made such an erratic start that Woosnam did not see him for three holes. They were playing Ben Crenshaw and Calvin Peete at the PGA National, Palm Beach Gardens, in Florida 12 years ago. Torrance birdied seven of the last 10 holes and he and Woosnam halved the match.

Under the captaincy of Tony Jacklin, the occasion marked the beginning of a European renaissance. They were beaten 141/2 to 131/2 and that represented a huge improvement on an 181/2-91/2 hammering at Walton Heath in 1981. In the final match in the singles in Florida, Tom Watson defeated Bernard Gallacher 2 and 1 to secure victory for the United States.

Next week at the Oak Hill Country Club in Rochester, New York, Gallacher, Europe's captain, will attempt to bring the cup back and whether he succeeds will depend not simply on the form and the nerve of his players. Gallacher and his counterpart Lanny Wadkins may be non-playing captains but the part they play in the match will be crucial.

One of Gallacher's most important roles will be to find the right blend in the foursomes and fourballs and also the most effective batting order in the singles on the final day. Under Gallacher's captaincy Europe have been beaten 141/2-131/2 at Kiawah Island, South Carolina and 15-13 at The Belfry two years ago.

Some of his partnerships were dissolved, notably Nick Faldo and David Gilford in the foursomes at Kiawah where they were annihilated 7 and 6 and there were questions over his order in the singles at The Belfry in 1993 when Seve Ballesteros, Jose-Maria Olazabal, Bernhard Langer and Nick Faldo brought up the rear and only Faldo, with a half, avoided defeat.

Gallacher's task next week has not been helped by the withdrawal of Olazabal. The Spaniard's foot injury means a reprieve for Woosnam but it splits up the Olazabal-Ballesteros partnership, the most successful in Ryder Cup history. "The question now," Gallacher said, "is who will partner Seve?"

Gallacher will already have a rough idea of his pairings but he will experiment with combinations in three days of practice at Oak Hill. Gallacher will draw on the observations of old hands like Tommy Horton and John O'Leary as well as listening to the views of his senior players.

Ballesteros, currently playing in the British Masters at Collingtree, was asked if he had a preference for a partner. "If I have to choose one player it will be Colin Montgomerie. He is the best player in the world right now. This is one of the many positive things about our team. I don't think anybody should be worried about my form. I am capable of beating anybody at any time. This is match play. You don't have to keep the score."

Monty has been in such outstanding form that it is not surprising Ballesteros would like to partner him. The Spaniard, however, may be jilted. Montgomerie formed a successful liaison with Faldo in the last match and it will be a surprise if they are not reunited. "I feel sure I'll be partnered with Nick again," Monty said. "For Seve to say he would like to play with me is a great honour. If I keep driving the ball straight and he chips and putts the way he does we could be quite a good combination. We are happy to give our views but Gallacher makes the final decision."

Torrance has already expressed the view that he would like to play with Woosnam."I think we would make a great team," Torrance said. They are similar characters in that they both enjoy a drink and a cigarette and if they were paired together they could smoke their opponents out of Oak Hill.

Woosnam, though, is not quite so sure about a Scottish-Welsh marriage. "Sometimes when Sam and I play together we tend to do well on the same holes," Woosnam said.

"You need somebody who will make birdies at different holes. Sometimes it is not best to play two very aggressive players together. I think that's why Faldo and I gelled together well. He's very steady, he made a few birdies a round and I came in on different holes. This is something you've got to think about."

Gallacher, who tomorrow will be keeping a watchful eye on events at Collingtree, has already played a modest role in beating one United States team. He helped Great Britain and Ireland as a consultant in the Walker Cup match at Royal Porthcawl last week and although the players were amateurs, the preparation and level of competition was no less intense.

Similarly, the strategy of the captains was no less important and in this regard Clive Brown, in leading Britain and Ireland to a 14-10 victory, proved far more astute than his opposite number.

"The Ryder Cup," Montgomerie said, "is not just about golf, it's about what happens between your ears. It has very little to do with how you're playing, everything to do with how you can handle it because it is the most pressurised situation any of us will ever be in." Gallacher and Wadkins know the feeling.