Ever since the American captain labelled him a "prick" in an interview earlier this year, Nick Faldo has said he was "owed a shot below the belt", and many will believe he has aimed a fist in the direction of his counterpart with his claim that Paul Azinger wishes he had never appointed his assistant captains. What those two gnarled former captains, Raymond Floyd and Dave Stockton, will think about that may make very interesting listening in the Valhalla team room these next few days.
"I think he already regrets it [appointing Stockton and Floyd]," Faldo told The Independent On Sunday. "Maybe 'regrets' isn't the right word. But if he did it again... Well, I don't think those guys have brought to his team what he wanted. He's a bit like me. He feels that you have to make the decisions yourself, in the present time. Maybe those captains are from an old era and this is a new era in Ryder Cup. Jack Nicklaus made a few comments to him and what have you. Yeah, I think he [Azinger] isn't too sure about that one now."
Floyd and Stockton are proud vets of the "War on the Shore" era, the infamous Ryder Cup of 1991 when American jingoism was in its Gulf-induced pomp and a young Azinger was part of a golfing infantry shamelessly decked out in combat gear. Captain Stockton and Field Marshal Floyd inspired them to whip up the Kiawah crowd into a rednecked frenzy and so produce the ugliest atmosphere in the match's history.
When Azinger announced last year that he would be drawing on their "experience" as his two right-hand men, there was an excited tremble among the audience. At last, America were going to show a bit of fight again.
Yet now that shiver has been replaced by a shake of the head; or at least that is what Faldo's comments seem to insinuate. He and Azinger have recently shared dinner together, during which the subject of Nicklaus's advice may or may not have arisen. The old boy has already confessed that on the subject of the assistant captains he advised Azinger to "get rid of them and just go with the guys who play golf". Faldo is apparently suggesting that Azinger only prays that he was able to, and the question now surely is how Azinger will feel about any perceived breaking of the confidence.
Of course, Faldo could always respond with the "I was misquoted" line (just as Azinger did), although as this interview is on tape (just as Azinger's was) it would have to be the old "out of context" excuse. What Faldo cannot and will not deny is his own preference for a bijou back room. In truth, it should contain just the one chair, as he will run the show alone and just use Jose Maria Olazabal as a sounding board. As ever, Faldo will live and die by what he believes.
"This is what I've been saying," Faldo confirmed. "It's too many cooks. Crumbs, Olly and I have got 18 Ryder Cups between us and been under five captains each, so you can draw on that experience. It's not overcomplicated. We have guys who are already playing really well who are very passionate about it. So it's, 'Well done, guys', get them on the golf course and just let them go."
Contrary to popular perception, which has the great loner suddenly deciding to revert to his type and to do it his own way and his own way only, Faldohas long had the "just let them go" philosophy.
In the midst of the record-equalling success of Ian Woosnam's team at the K Club two years ago, Faldo declared: "Just give them a cat's lick, some deodorant and clean shirts and just start over! I don't have to think of much of a gameplan."
It is a belief he probably lost sight of as he rushed to assuage the media at the beginning of his reign by immediately signing up Olazabal and Paul McGinley. Faldo was everyone's friend in those dreamy days of 18 months ago, but he has since retreated into a shell that always fitted him so well. Indeed, he has been encouraged to do so in some quarters; most recently by the captain he admired most during his 11 appearances as the Ryder Cup's most successful player.
"I've had a few great chats with Tony Jacklin the last couple of days, which was really good," revealed Faldo. "He gave me some really good advice in a few different areas. We are on the same wavelength."
These chats occurred at Wentworth on the two days before Faldo named his controversial wild cards, and what Jacklin said evidently hit the mark. "I talked everything through with Nick," said Jacklin. "All of a sudden he's got this mountain of responsibility and he wants to be able to be in charge of it. I was very big on looking guys in the eye and being with them on a one-on-one basis. That's the only way you can find out how somebody feels.
"You can't send assistants off to make decisions you should be making. I think Nick's taken all that on board. He wanted confirmation of what happened back in my day. Everyone needs the comfort of knowing that any decision they've taken is not off the wall. But it's all human stuff. It's not rocket science. Nick's got a good handle on it and knows exactly where he's going."
Within 24 hours Faldo was repeating Jacklin's "rocket science" cliché and agreeing that Ryder Cup captaincy is overrated. "Yeah, it probably is," he said. "Somebody has to have the honour of steering the bus for a while. It all depends what is needed. I'm looking forward to that opportunity to get on with 12 different characters and see what they need.
"I gleaned quite a few things from captaining Great Britain and Ireland in the Seve Trophy, a few secrets that I will pass on to the team. But the bottom line is that it all comes alive Friday morning. We've had whatever it is, 700 days, of speculation and it's all fine, but that's all it is to me: speculative. I can't control the 10 who qualify, but I have to pick for two – and you can see what that causes. So now I've got a team and it's time to start enjoying it."
There will be more to it than that, of course, what with the tricky dilemmas he has in selecting his pairings and his benchings. But Faldo will do it like Jacklin – "by looking at your players and understanding what makes them tick".
For the man who has always concentrated firstly and solely on Nick Faldo, that will surely be his greatest challenge of all.
Meet team Europe...
Padraig Harrington (Ire)
Age: 37. World Ranking: 4. Ryder Cups: 4. Won 7, lost 8, halved 2
The first European to win back-to-back majors goes to Kentucky as the "Celtic Tiger". An adaptable partner for fourballs or foursomes, but the US have targeted him as their main scalp.
Lee Westwood (Eng)
Age: 35. WR: 12. Ryder Cups: 5. Won 14, lost 8, halved 3
A phenomenal Ryder Cup run will see him break Arnold Palmer's record for going the most games undefeated (11) should he survive the opening day's foursomes and fourballs. That says it all.
Sergio Garcia (Sp)
Age: 28. WR: 5. Ryder Cups: 4. Won 14, lost 4, halved 2
At 19, El Niño was the youngest ever to play in the Ryder Cup and soon proved one of the best, too. Seems to find sanctuary in this unique team environment from his agonies in the majors. Inspirational to Europe; annoying to the US.
Henrik Stenson (Swe)
Age: 32. WR: 6. Ryder Cups: 1. Won 1, lost 1, halved 1
An absolute must for the fourballs with his power and birdie-making prowess. Seemingly made for the bombers' paradise of Valhalla. A former World Match Play winner who sank the winning putt in 2006.
Robert Karlsson (Swe)
Age: 39. WR: 22. Ryder Cups: 1. Won 0, lost 1, halved 2
Had his stand-out year so far in the majors, finishing 8th, 4th, 7th and 20th. Imposing specimen who is something of an oddball. Like his compatriot, blessed with awesome power and a silky touch.
Miguel Angel Jimenez (Sp)
Age: 44. WR: 19. Ryder Cups: 2. Won 1, lost 3, halved 0
"The Mechanic" is nobody's idea of a flamboyant Spaniard, but what he lacks in thrills he more than makes up for in consistency. Is a natural for the foursomes (with Rose?). Late bloomer with irresistible joie de vivre.
Graeme McDowell (N Ire)
Age: 29. WR: 30. Ryder Cups: debutant
The Ulsterman has been a Ryder Cup player in waiting ever since he arrived on the scene and is likely to be a fixture for years to come. This former Walker Cup player was brought up on matchplay. Another who should feature in foursomes.
Justin Rose (Eng)
Age: 28. WR: 14. Ryder Cups: debutant
Hard to believe it will be his debut. Proved how much he wanted his place by playing the last two events in Europe and made a lot more friends in the process. Has not enjoyed his greatest season, but is still a big-time performer.
Soren Hansen (Den)
Age: 34. WR: 43. Ryder Cups: debutant
One of the finest ball-strikers on Tour at last has confidence to match ability. With questions over his nerve, this could be the making of a man who has not converted enough of his chances. Only the second Dane to play in the Cup.
Oliver Wilson (Eng)
Age: 28. WR: 48. Ryder Cups: debutant
Will become first modern Ryder Cup player without a fully fledged professional victory, but in no way is a number-filler. He has been runner-up seven times and proved in qualifying at Gleneagles that he has the bottle.
Paul Casey (Eng)
Age: 31. WR: 38. Ryder Cups: 2. Won 3, lost 1, halved 2
Supremely talented, superb at matchplay. A wretched season by his standards, but he has shown just enough in the last month to instil some confidence. The course will suit and he could peak at just the right time for Nick Faldo.
Ian Poulter (Eng)
Age: 32. WR: 28. Ryder Cups: 1. Won 1, lost 1, halved 0
Confident and man enough to rise above mutterings, he should prove himself worthy of wild card. Has everything it takes to be a fine Cup player: charisma and, more importantly, a great putting game.
... and team USA
Phil Mickelson Age: 38. World Ranking: 2. Ryder Cups: 6. W9, L12, H4.
Stewart Cink Age: 35. WR: 10. RC: 3. W3 L5 H4.
Kenny Perry Age: 47.
WR: 17. RC: 1. W0 L2 H0.
Jim Furyk Age: 38. WR: 9. RC: 5. W6 L12 H2.
Anthony Kim Age: 23. WR: 11. RC: Debutant.
Justin Leonard Age: 36. WR: 23. RC: 2. W0 L3 H5
Ben Curtis Age: 31. WR: 32. RC: Debutant.
Boo Weekley Age: 35. WR: 35. RC: Debutant.
Steve Stricker Age: 41. WR: 8. RC: Debutant.
Hunter Mahan Age: 26. WR: 36. RC: Debutant.
J B Holmes Age: 26. WR: 56. RC: Debutant.
Chad Campbell Age: 34. WR: 57. RC: 2. W1 D2 L3.
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