Golf: Faldo playing contact sport

Tim Glover suspects Europe's big two might have made a secret pact
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The Independent Online
Nick Faldo was standing on the 10th tee at the Forest of Arden when a mobile phone (they should be banned from every course in the land) rang. "If it's Seve," Faldo said, "tell him I'm busy."

In more ways than one, a phoney war has been waged between Seve Ballesteros, Europe's Ryder Cup captain, and the former world No 1. If it had, indeed, been Seve on the line, Faldo would have been only too pleased to take the call. During the World Series in the United States last week, Faldo, apparently frustrated to the point of exasperation, said: "There are seven billion people on this planet so why can't he tell just one - me. Tell Seve he can call me collect."

This evening Europe's team to meet the United States at Valderrama in a month's time will be finalised and Ballesteros is expected to reveal, from beneath his sleeve, his two wild cards. Whatever happens in the BMW International, Ballesteros will brandish a piece of paper in Munich announcing peace in our time by naming Faldo. Nothing else makes sense.

In mid-week at the Forest of Arden, where Faldo was hosting his inaugural junior series, he and his manager John Simpson claimed they had been kept in the dark.

Tonight Faldo is in Crans-sur-Sierre preparing to play in this week's European Masters there, and Simpson said: "Perhaps it's significant that we've not heard a word. You never know with Seve. He doesn't even know where we're staying in Switzerland. How will he contact us?"

"By pigeon," Faldo replied.

The suspicion is that Faldo was contacted by Ballesteros last week and sworn to secrecy. Out of respect to the other contenders, the Spaniard did not want any leaks.

"It looks like we're going to lose Torrance, James and Clark who have been part of the team's backbone, so we're going to have a new Europe," Faldo said. "I would have thought that you needed the seasoned guys to put an arm around the newcomers. It's a proven formula which has worked in the past. Oosty looked after me when I played in my first Ryder Cup, Seve did the same with Paul Way and I helped Monty when he made his debut.

"The Americans are favourites but in matchplay you can beat anybody. Although Valderrama's an American concept, we know the course and particularly the vagaries of the wind."

If there have been seeds of doubt about Faldo they were sown for two reasons. Ballesteros, on assuming the captaincy, emphasised that Faldo would not be given an automatic place should he fail to qualify. Second, Faldo has had an anonymous season, particularly in the majors. And he has not exactly bust a gut to make the team on merit.

"I can't be in two places at once," Faldo said. "Everybody knew it would come down to this because I'm committed to playing on the US Tour."

The reasons why Faldo found the grass greener, or at least the greens firmer, on the other side of the Atlantic resurfaced during his visit to the Midlands. In the vernacular of the ground staff, some of the greens at the Forest of Arden are so "stressed out" they are unplayable.

When Faldo made remarks about the European Tour during the Open Championship at Royal Troon, he claimed he was misquoted in a tabloid newspaper and is threatening to sue unless he receives an apology.

We will tread carefully. "It's very disappointing," Faldo said after playing the Forest of Arden for the first time. "It's the same old story. You can't blame the weather. The course for the Canadian Open is under snow for seven months of the year, yet we played in perfect conditions."

Despite the fact that Marriott, the owners of the Forest of Arden complex, may have to dig up the greens on the front nine, Europe's finest will be at the course for the British Masters in three weeks' time, the last event before the Ryder Cup. Faldo doesn't envy them. "It's going to be tough on the guys going from those greens to Valderrama," he said.

If so, when would he be going to Valderrama? "I'll be going down to Spain early, for the paella, the sangria and the practice," he replied, falling for the sucker punch. They have got his measurements for the team blazer.