Golf: James ready to put accent on youth

Ryder Cup: Two of the greatest names in European golf - Faldo and Ballesteros - could miss out at Brookline
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The Independent Online
THE VIEW from the inductee's chamber, an eerie high in the tower at the World Golf Hall of Fame here, stretches as far as the nearby town of St Augustine, reputed to be the oldest settlement in America. It takes in a golf course named the Squire and the Slammer, which was designed with help from two of the game's great names, Gene Sarazen and Sam Snead, and includes the plush offices of the PGA Tour's television production company. The huge income provided by the Tour is what allows the past to be honoured.

Until the weekend, 72 crystal cones hung from the ceiling of the inner sanctum of the Hall of Fame. After yesterday's induction ceremony, three more have been added with the images and signatures of the late Lloyd Mangrum, the 1946 US Open champion, Amy Alcott, winner of a US Women's Open and three Dinah Shore tournaments, and Seve Ballesteros.

This was not an occasion to dwell on the current performances of the Spaniard but to revel in his past glories. Three victories in the Open Championship and two at the US Masters arrived in outrageous style and accompanied with rare charisma. Ballesteros, 42 next month, was the European version of Arnold Palmer. "If people compare me to him, that's a great honour," said Seve. "Arnold Palmer did a lot for the game of golf, not only in America but all over the world."

Where Ballesteros led, four others - all, remarkably, born within a year of each other - followed. Seve was the first since Tony Jacklin to believe he could beat the Americans on American soil and once he did, Nick Faldo, Sandy Lyle, Bernhard Langer and Ian Woosnam knew they could, too. Individual success was matched by victories in the Ryder Cup, which from the mid- 1980s has been propelled into an occasion of wider significance than mere golf.

Ballesteros played on eight teams once the Continental Europeans were brought in to bolster the efforts of those from Great Britain and Ireland who had previously gone through the biennial charade that the match was a competitive contest. Seve's on-course zeal was kindled by Jacklin in his years as captain and continued to burn, almost out of control, when the Spaniard took over the non-playing captain's role at Valderrama 18 months ago.

Despite the emergence, over the last decade or so, of many high class players, such as Jose Olazabal, Colin Montgomerie, Lee Westwood and Darren Clarke - although only Olazabal has claimed a major championship - Europe's victories at Oak Hill in 1995 and two years later in Spain still featured the old guard prominently. Faldo, crucially, won the last three holes against Curtis Strange to win a point four years ago, and then guided the rookie Westwood to good effect at Valderrama.

This September at the Country Club of Brookline it will be different. Ballesteros, his body ravaged by injuries, showed at Oak Hill that his magical short game was no longer enough to bail him out of trouble. He has not made a cut this year, while Faldo has made just one.

For the Englishman, it is his putting that has gone, followed by a deterioration in the rest of his game. He still desperately wants to extend his Ryder Cup record of 11 appearances, but you would not put the mortgage on it. But neither would you put the mortgage on him not winning a seventh major.

Woosnam's back, suffering not only from years of golf but the baling of hay as a youngster, means he cannot physically put in the hours of practice that Faldo does. But when the muse is with him, the Welshman can still produce, as with his 28 for nine holes at the Forest of Arden last year and in winning the 1997 Volvo PGA Championship. Perhaps the safest bet is Langer, who seems to be fit again and has started the year well. Hit by injury in '96 and '98, he showed he is still a winner in 1997 by claiming four victories.

But, suddenly, among those expected to make Mark James's European team in September will be Westwood, Clarke and Thomas Bjorn, all of whom only played at Valderrama. The experience will come from Olazabal, Montgomerie and, possibly, Per-Ulrik Johansson, who has two appearances behind him.

James, who played seven Ryder Cups, is ready for the transition. "A number of our top players have turned 40 and it may well be time for some of them to miss a Ryder Cup," he said. "You can never tell because the people we are thinking about are incredibly talented and have been at the top for a very long time and are very capable of playing good golf. The odd one of them will miss but I'm sure all of them won't."

What James will not do is give one or both of his wild-card selections to a "name" without proof that they are performing well. Indeed, his instinct will be to turn to those who finish 11th and 12th on the points table. I do not like mentioning specific names, but those (Faldo and Ballesteros) are two of the greatest names that Europe has ever seen. A team with them playing well is obviously going to be better than a team without them.

"We have a lot of young talent coming through. If some of the older players don't make it I know we will have others who are playing well and desperate to prove themselves in the arena. I think these days the young players coming through are very different to the young players coming through 15 years ago. They have a lot more experience and are more capable of dealing with the type of problems the Ryder Cup will pose. Within reason I wouldn't be afraid of having a number of rookies in the team. I'll be looking more at how they are playing rather than how many Ryder Cups they've played in."

It is early days on the qualifying table. There have been 15 events with 23 to come, including the bigmoney tournaments and all four majors. Miguel Angel Jimenez, who has won twice in the last seven months, and Patrick Sjoland, who performed well at the World Matchplay in San Diego, have received late invitations to the US Masters which will boost their chances.

Sven Struver, Alex Cejka, Robert Karlsson, Andrew Coltart and David Howell, who won against a good field in Dubai last month, all have their work cut out to remain in the top 10. But all have won on tour and are capable of doing so again. They will have to. James's team may hold some new names, but they will all be winners.

RYDER CUP STANDINGS

EUROPE (Eng unless stated)

1 Colin Montgomerie (Sco) 5,890pts

2 Miguel Angel Jimenez (Sp) 3,787

3 Darren Clarker (N Irl) 3,453

4 Lee Westwood 3,412

5 Sven Struver (Ger) 2,660

6 Alex Cejka (Ger) 2,616

7 Robert Karlsson (Swe) 2,322

8 David Howell 2,302

9 Andrew Coltart (Sco) 2,161

10 Patrik Sjoland (Swe) 2,122

11 Jarmo Sandelin (Swe) 2,090

12 Steve Webster 1,978

13 John Bickerton 1,805

14 Bernhard Langer (Ger) 1,756

15 Paul McGinley (Irl) 1,715

16 Pierre Fulke (Swe) 1,570

17 Paul Lawrie (Sco) 1,562

18 Jose Maria Olazabal (Sp) 1,550

19 Van Phillips 1,457

20 Per-Ulrik Johansson (Swe) 1,313

UNITED STATES

1 David Duval 967.500pts

2 Tiger Woods 861.875

3 Mark O'Meara 802.500

4 Davis Love III 559.500

5 Jim Furyk 550.500

6 Payne Stewart 532.500

7 Jeff Maggert 485.000

8 Justin Leonard 439.375

9 Fred Couples 426.250

10 Steve Stricker 412.500

11 John Huston 399.583

12 Hal Sutton 371.250

13 Fred Funk 370.000

14 Billy Mayfair 347.500

15 Jeff Sluman 335.417

16 Phil Mickelson 335.000

17 Lee Janzen 297.500

18 Steve Pate 286.214

19 Bob Estes 270.000

20 Andrew Magee 264.167

THREE PLAYERS WHO HAVE MADE THE BREAKTHROUGH THIS YEAR

JOHN BICKERTON

Age 29. Midlander who has started his third year on the European tour in fine style, already securing his card for next year and losing a play- off for the Portuguese Open to Van Phillips. Given a book by his wife in the winter called "Face the fear - and do it anyway" which has changed his mental approach. Won five mini-tour events out of 10 in seven weeks in Florida during the winter. Ryder Cup maybe a goal too high but currently 13th on the qualifying table.

MIGUEL ANGEL JIMENEZ

Age 35. Spaniard who was Seve Ballesteros's vice-captain at Valderrama, now catching the eye with his performances on the course. Unorthodox swing but one that produces rocket-straight drives and long iron shots. Victory in home town of Malaga two weeks ago was his fifth on tour, including his chip-in win at the Lancome Trophy, where the leaderboard also included the names of Mark O'Meara, David Duval, Nick Faldo, Fred Couples and Colin Montgomerie.

PATRIK SJOLAND

Age 27. Winner of just one European tour title, the Italian Open last year, but has shown himself to be a gritty opponent in the head-to-head version of the game in the World Matchplay events at Wentworth last October and in San Diego last month, when he reached the third round. Deadly with wedge shots from 100 yards, and on and around the greens. Golf career put on hold in 1992 when involved in a car crash on icy roads in Sweden. He exited, at speed, via the sun-roof, which was closed at the time.

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