Nick Faldo was held culpable for many things which went wrong at Valhalla Golf Club last weekend, but he could not be blamed for this pairing. There stood the second best golfer in the world criticising the 13th best for continually taking air shots. Unless Phil Mickelson was very much mistaken, Lee Westwood had clearlyhad a few. The area of combat was the ping-pong table in the American team room, and the time of combat was just past sing-song.
"It was me and Phil against Sergio [Garcia] and Oliver Wilson, and Phil kept getting annoyed with me for missing," admitted Westwood. "But I could see three balls and I kept hitting the wrong one. After that, I think their bar shut so we had to go down to ours. There were still plenty of us when the sun came up. Boo [Weekley] was there, obviously, but there was also Jim [Furyk] and Justin [Leonard] up on chairs, with us calling them names. That's how the Ryder Cup should end, really."
Of course, such a morning after the fight before is unique in a sports event of this magnitude; but then the Ryder Cup is unique. On one hand it possesses the feel of a "goodwill" match, and on the other it can stir all the vitriol of top-flight football. This uneasy alliance of the fun and the world-shatteringly serious is undoubt-edly the reason for the absurdly mixed reaction of the past six days.
While Faldo has been given the treatment in the British press, the Americans – not to mention a coupleof Britain's more cerebral commentators – have looked on in horror and mouthed their disgust. Their objections to the Faldo-bashers seem to be based around the paucity of points garnered by Westwood, Garcia and Padraig Harrington, the ignoredcloseness of the competition and the British media having a few old scores to settle.
While conceding that there has been a degree of "payback" in the Captain Cock-up hysteria, it has only been a small degree. The defence of Faldo can only rest on the well-worn argument that "it's the player who hit the shots", but if that is strong enough to stand alone then why has Paul Azinger been praised so strongly? Azinger's assistant seems to know why. "Two pretty even teams, two pretty uneven captains," said Dave Stockton. "You can't imagine all the thought that Paul put into it."
The inference here was plainly of Faldo's lack of thought. It has been generally accepted that if Faldo was outthought by Azinger – which he clearly was – then it was in the months and weeks before Valhalla. While Captain America clearly knew everything about his men, Faldo just as apparentlyknew all too little about his. Have a listen to Westwood's agent, Andrew Chandler. "With Lee two up after nine holes of Friday afternoon's fourballs, who on earth thought it would be a good idea to tell him that he was going to be left out of the following morning foursomes? Unbelievable," he said.
"I'm sure Lee was completely deflated, particularly since he was told during his 27th consecutive match. I'm sure it also affected his concentration while hitting his confidence levels for the next two days.
"A captain really has to understand what makes players tick, but unfortunately Nick Faldo did not see this as a prerequisite for the job. He didn't do anything in the build-up to discover how his best players perform and under what circumstances they perform best. Unfortunately the Ryder Cup turned out to be all about Nick Faldo."
The team-room walls certainly backed up Chandler is this regard, as they were dominated by pictures of Faldo in the pomp of his career. Perhaps the idea behind this was to instil a feeling of awe in the players regarding their captain, but that was not wise, as awe never has sold too well to multi-millionaires. In a game that is decidedby fractions it is too easy to say that the players should perform to their best whatever the conditions, and Faldo himself recognised this. In the run-up he told The Independent On Sunday: "It's all about making sure the players have everything around them they need to go out and perform."
Yet now, as he has heard the stories of Westwood beating fatigue at the British Masters (the defending champion held the lead going into yesterday's fog-delayed third round) and as he has watched Garcia do the same at the Tour Championship (last night the Spaniard was restaging his singles battle with Anthony Kim as the pair went out in the final grouping in Atlanta), Faldo must surely have the slightest twinge suggesting he failed to extract the best out of his stars.
So why no complaints made in public from within? Because of some sense of loyalty, most probably, or because of the fear of being labelled a whinger or a tell-tale. But one needs only to scratch the surface to write off a lot of the compliments as a sham. Whispers have emerged of rows between Faldo and players, of one player even talking about quitting the camp, and of widespread disillusionment as to the make-up of the backroom.
"While America had Ray Floyd and Dave Stockton and Olin Browne whipping around on buggies, we had DJ Spoony and Faldo's 16-year-old son," was how one Ryder Cup player put it. That just about sums it up. As Chandler says, it was all about Faldo, and that means the inquest was inevitably going to be all about Faldo, too.