Golf: Ryder Cup - Faldo now the overseer as he abandons one-eyed approach

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The Independent Online
From the sound of things Nick Faldo interprets senior status as an opportunity to prove that he is not without consideration for others. "If I'm paired with a rookie it will be my responsibility to shield him from the bullets," he said yesterday.

Faldo's resilience is magnificently illustrated by six victories in major championships and a record of 11 Ryder Cup appearances, but benevolence does not fit with his reputation.

On these occasions Faldo is sure to be reminded of his failure to assist David Gilford when they were defeated 7 and 6 by Paul Azinger and Mark O'Meara in 1991 at Kiawah Island. Attaching no blame to himself, Faldo insists that it was an error in selection. Gilford may have a different point of view, one that is still held against Faldo when proceedings at Kiawah crop up in conversation.

One of the advantages Faldo still possesses over most of his rivals in strokeplay is concentration. Unfortunately, this does not always allow for what teamplay means to the other fellow. Single-mindedness is a strength but in the context of a Ryder Cup it can be a weakness.

Consequently, Faldo's assertion that Europe's debutants are guaranteed the benefit of his experience and wisdom caused a raising of eyebrows. "Let's wait and see," was once cynical observation.

The notion of Faldo as paternal figure is, to say the least, an interesting development, one that works greatly to Europe's advantage. "It will be important to take the pressure off the younger guys," he said, "just let them play and be themselves or be better than themselves. Set them free. That was the way I felt when I was starting and I think that's what we've seen over the years. We've got to let them freewheel it."

It was early in the day and Faldo was sitting alongside Colin Montgomerie, who is younger by five years but no stranger to the Ryder Cup experience. "It's difficult to describe what you feel in your first Ryder Cup," he said, "but we're all more light-hearted today than we'll be on Friday. It's important to try and relax."

The impression you often get is that a calm state of mind is as foreign to Montgomerie as concern for others has been for Faldo. When things are going well the Scot has the sunniest disposition imaginable but misfortune can seriously alter his demeanour.

It remains to be seen whether Faldo can shrug off the disappointments of a pretty bleak season, especially when he has had a putter in his hands, but later in the day he was out on the course watching one of Europe's rookies, Lee Westwood, as though eager to put paternalism into practice.

Typically, you may think, the Ryder Cup that Faldo recalls with least affection was at The Belfry in 1985 when the US were rolled over for the first time in 28 years. Yet to fashion the swing that would bring a flood of majors, Faldo was only selected for two matches and failed to score a point. "It was a pretty miserable time for me," he said. "I wasn't playing well and didn't really feel a part of things. I was told that I shouldn't be out there and to give someone else a chance. But if that was the low point, fortunately there have been a lot of highs. All the matches have been memorable."

The confidence exuded by Faldo and Montgomerie induces optimism in the European supporters who are presently swarming all over Valderrama. And it is given impetus by Severiano Ballesteros's recurring stubbornness whenever the idea of a US victory is put to him.

According to Faldo and Montgomerie, the captain is doing fine. "Seve's intensity in trying to beat the Americans is second to none and it's showing," Montgomerie added.

Faldo weighed in with an assessment of Ballesteros as compared with the two past captains, Tony Jacklin and Bernard Gallacher. "As the week goes on Seve is sure to get tougher," he said. "He's got pairings and orders to put in and that's when the intensity of the job really comes into it. But, we are all there and we are going to help. I don't think he is going to put us into situations where players feel uncomfortable."

Faldo's introspection on the golf course is famous but, for the time being at least, he actually sounds like a team player.