Golf: James ready for the captain's role

Ryder Cup: Ballesteros warns of huge pressure as Europe looks to a safe pair of hands to lead the defence in 1999
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The Independent Online
DOWN BY the River Liffey last weekend, the Animal Liberation Army was not required. Cats were not being drowned in bags as much as being let out of them. As sure as the European tour moves on from Ireland to Germany, in Munich tomorrow Mark James will be named as the Ryder Cup captain for the match, at the Country Club of Brookline in Boston, against Ben Crenshaw's Americans next year.

It is almost 11 months since Seve Ballesteros resigned in triumph after retaining the Cup in Spain, but the lack of speculation regarding his successor has been muted only due to the shortage of credible candidates for the job.

Once Sam Torrance rediscovered his winning touch at the French Open in June, the only runner remaining was James. The whispers have suggested no one else and, during the course of the Smurfit European Open, while Mathias Gronberg was cake-walking to a 10-stroke victory, the pointers became ever more blatant.

A not-so-subtle clue came in a passing conversation between Ballesteros and James. "Congratulations." "Thank you," was the gist of it. For Seve, read "Jesse".

James is 44, has won 18 times on the European tour and has played on seven Ryder Cup teams between 1977 and 1995. His outward demeanour is sometimes connected in a perverse manner to his true feelings, and a well- cultivated sense of humour - for someone whose interests include gardening, Star Trek and American football - is rarely seen in public, except during the odd outing on A Question of Sport.

Gone is the rebel who, with Ken Brown, was disciplined for boorish behaviour at the 1979 match at The Greenbrier, including refusing to dress in team uniforms and attend team meetings. When James was injured after the first session, Brown initially refused to play with anyone else, then said not a word to his new partner, Des Smyth. Brown was fined pounds 1,000 and banned from international competition for a year; James was fined a then-record pounds 1,500.

Now, having risen to the chairmanship of the European Tournament Committee, James enjoys the respect of the other players - a vital ingredient, according to another former captain, Bernard Gallacher. At Valderrama last September, James was a member of Ballesteros's backroom team. But his will be a more reserved captaincy, less demonic and hands-on (usual his players' clubs) than the Spaniard's. In contrast, his wife, Jane, has long been a leading cheerleader among the wives.

"Mark has played on several teams and has watched other captains - Brian Huggett, John Jacobs, Tony Jacklin, Bernard Gallacher and me," said Seve. "I am sure he will take the best from everybody."

Though his record in the match - won eight, lost 15 - is nothing special, James' early appearances came when the Americans were still dominant. More important is the fact that he has been involved so many times. At Oak Hill two years ago, when Europe went into the singles trailing, he won an important match in the number three berth in the order.

An element of unpredictability could be an advantage, and he can be relied upon to say the right things at the right time. If he might be inclined to Hoddle-esque obfuscation, he is also unlikely to rush out his own account in hardback form immediately afterwards.

Apart from the obligatory remark that it would be an honour to do the job, James has hardly conducted a public campaign to land it. But then nor has anyone else. Ian Woosnam said he would do the job, but regretted the statement. Instead, James, who is also a member of the European tour's board of directors, became the man favoured by the executive director, Ken Schofield.

Ballesteros feels it will have helped not to have been named as early as he was. James faces only a year before he sits down in Munich, at the end of the 1999 BMW International, to name his wild cards. Part of the trouble of attracting candidates like Bernhard Langer - Ballesteros's first choice upon his resignation - was the necessity for them to take time out from their careers when they could still make the team.

"It is definitely better that the captain has been named later than I was," Ballesteros said. "The period as captain certainly affected my career. The demands on your time are so many."

As much of an honour as the job is, Ballesteros confirms it is not to be undertaken lightly. "I have had no second thoughts about giving up the job," he said. "I don't think I will ever be captain again. I will never say never, but 99.9 per cent is no for sure.

"It was different for me because the Ryder Cup was in Spain and I am Spanish. There were some difficult times, things that were not in the script. When I was named I had a mission to win the Ryder Cup. That was achieved but there were disappointments along the way, a few bitternesses."

But for a man who has been such a part of the Ryder Cup since the European team was introduced in 1979 - since when the overall score has been 5.5- 4.5 to the Americans, a vast improvement on the previous one-sided nature of the contest - not to be in attendance in some capacity will seem strange.

"My goal is to play well and enjoy the game, not to play in the Ryder Cup. If I can do that I may be able to get on the team but I have played on winning teams, losing teams and been the captain. I am proud of what I have done.

"It is up to Mark who he appoints as vice-captain. It is important to have someone to exchange views with but if I am not playing, I don't think I should be there. I was spoken to informally about who should be the captain but I said I didn't want to be involved because whatever I say, I will automatically make enemies. I am not going to give any advice. If Mark asks, I will give him answers but to say things through the newspapers is not the way.

"I wish him good luck. My heart has always been in the Ryder Cup... I don't want to see it go down again." James has a lot of live up to.

THE MEN JAMES MUST FOLLOW

Europe's Ryder Cup captains since 1979

JOHN JACOBS

1979 Europe 11, USA 17

The Greenbrier

1981 Europe 9.5, USA 18.5

Walton Heath

TONY JACKLIN

1983 Europe 13.5, USA 14.5

PGA National

1985 Europe 16.5, USA 11.5

The Belfry

1987 Europe 15, USA 13

Muirfield Village

1989 Europe 14, USA 14

The Belfry

BERNARD GALLACHER

1991 Europe 13.5, USA 14.5

Kiawah Island

1993 Europe 13, USA 15

The Belfry

1995 Europe 14.5, USA 13.5

Oak Hill

SEVE BALLESTEROS

1997 Europe 14.5, USA 13.5

Valderrama

MARK JAMES: RYDER CUP RECORD

1977

Foursomes: Won 0, lost 1

Fourballs: Won 0, lost 1

Singles: Lost to Ray Floyd 2&1

1979

Fourballs: Won 0, lost 1

Singles: Injured, agreed half

1981

Foursomes: Won 1, lost 1

Fourballs: Won 1, lost 1

Singles: Lost to Larry Nelson 2 holes

1989

Foursomes: Won 0, lost 1

Fourballs: Won 2, lost 0

Singles: Beat Mark O'Meara 3&2

1991

Foursomes: Won 0, lost 2

Fourballs: Won 2, lost 0

Singles: Lost to Lanny Wadkins 3&2

1993

Foursomes: Won 0, lost 1

Fourballs: Won 0, lost 1

Singles: Lost to Payne Stewart 3&2

1995

Foursomes: Won 0, lost 1

Singles: Beat Jeff Maggert 4&3

Overall

Foursomes: Won 1, lost 7 Fourballs: Won 5, lost 4 Singles: Won 2, lost 4, halved 1 Won 8, lost 15, halved 2

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