James Lawton: Poulter repays Faldo’s gamble

There were moments yesterday when the captaincy of Europe was not the final glory of Nick Faldo's brilliant career but a late and deadly ambush of both his dreams and his reputation as a serious man of golf.



Ridiculed for his perceived arrogance, needled constantly by his American opposite number Paul Azinger – a man carrying old wounds from the day Faldo wore him down for the Claret Jug of the Open at Muirfield 21 years ago – Faldo found only a version of purgatory in the blue-grass country as he watched his team buckle to the point of collapse. But if the greatest golfer Europe has ever known suffered almost unrelenting humiliation, no one could say that he was without any kind of redemption – especially in the matter of facing down his critics in the most controversial decision of his troubled reign.

Faldo proved that he could at least pick a winner cast in his own, win-and-be-damned style,

Ian Poulter, roundly labelled Faldo's pampered and somewhat arrogant pet, supplied the acts of defiance which said that American re-possession of the old trophy for the first time in four attempts was not as inevitable as it was beginning to seem.

First he did it with a sublime chip shot into the 16th green that stopped dead the symphony of cheers that had been rolling across the beautiful, rolling course almost continuously once the initially shell-shocked early morning American troops, Phil Mickelson and Anthony Kim, and Justin Leonard and Hunter Mahan, fought back after being threatened with almost formal destruction by the dominant Padraig Harrington and Paul Casey and their partners Robert Karlsson and Henrik Stenson.

Faldo, his face a dense mask of growing tension as American red began to spread across the scoreboard, punched the air when Poulter delivered the kind of poise which made him such a force at the Open and persuaded Faldo that he might just be the man to inject new panache and swagger into the old order of European supremacy.

But it was, for some time, an unsustained piece of resistance after Poulter and then his partner Justin Rose on the next hole brilliantly kept alive their chances of winning the pivotal third foursomes match of the morning over Stewart Cink and Chad Campbell, one that earlier they appeared to have enveloped with some wonderfully assured play which left them three up after six holes. Faldo had to wait until late in America's day – their first winning opener since 1995 – for the confirmation that he had been right to insist on Poulter's presence as a wild card. The evidence was provided in a brilliant five-birdie contribution with Rose to a dusk 4 and 2 victory over Steve Stricker and 2003 Open winner Ben Curtis.

This was exactly the dimension Faldo was seeking when he outraged the old pro locker room and overlooked the claims of the resurrected favourite – and surefire Ryder Cup performer – Darren Clarke in favour of the heavily coiffed and extrovert Poulter.

The way Faldo enacted the decision caused as much angry reaction as the thinking behind a move that was quite stunning in its dismissal of one of the most popular men in the game

Anger was compounded when Poulter put down his clubs and, it was suspected, sat down to await the formal offer to join the European team. That, though, was old history, and not least in Faldo's mind, when Poulter and Rose indeed injected a life and a confidence that had, to Faldo's plain alarm, deserted such sound foundation stones of success as Sergio Garcia and Lee Westwood.

As Faldo raced his buggy around the course, with his son Matthew sitting alongside with a look of apprehension that was only marginally less pronounced than the captain's, he settled on his protégé Poulter and Rose as the point of recovery for European poise.

Despite the morning fightback of Cink and Campbell, that still seemed a stirring early possibility when first Poulter and then Rose unfurled those shots on the 16th and 17th that said they might still be the masters of their situation.

It was a pretty thought but as Faldo watched, his brow furrowed and his arms tightly folded, the build up of pressure on the rookies became unsupportable on the final hole.

Poulter and Rose three-putted on the 18th green before conceding defeat to opponents – who had spent so much of the match contemplating the moment when they would have to bend their knees – along with the critics who believed so fervently that by rejecting Clarke, along with the perennial Ryder Cup warrior Colin Montgomerie and elevating Poulter, Faldo had disastrously wrecked both the strength and the psychology of the serial European winners.

By the time of their defeat, however, Faldo had seen enough of the battling potential of the new pairing to give them a second run in the afternoon fourball, and he was brilliantly rewarded.

Faldo, naturally, refused to concede an inch to his intense rival Azinger, who had not exactly brought the glow of trans-Atlantic amiability to a brilliant point when he allowed local television to capture his advice to a group of locals that it was "OK to cheer when Europeans missed their putts."

Unfortunately, it was advice which was provided with plenty of exercise as the Americans worked their way to an early advantage. Gradually, the cheers grew in volume and frequency as Faldo attempted to put some fresh resistance into his troops.

Here, at last, was his true testing ground. However eccentric some of Faldo's public posturings this last week, his flooding emotion when he met the great Muhammad Ali and his exaggerated reactions to suggestions that the weight of his own achievements, and, perhaps, ego, might do much to squash the old European buoyancy and bonhomie, no one here has been inclined to question his ability to analyse the most crucial dynamics of any golfing contest.

Faldo once said, around about the time he was winning his sixth major and announcing his membership of the elite of world sport, "The public respond to great success and they realise it takes a lot to get to the top of the tree in sport... what they don't always quite understand is how hard it is to stay up there."

Plainly, the European golf public will have plenty of opportunity to acquaint themselves with the process over the next 24 hours.

Faldo has made some rather embarrassing lurches here over the last few days, but he has also insisted that ultimately success and failure will be decided by the will and the discipline of his players.

Here yesterday, that will and discipline came only in isolated spurts and no one was more spectacular in this category than the man who inevitably carried so much of Faldo's reputation for sound and dispassionate assessment of the differences between winners and loser.

His decision that at this point in their lives Poulter belongs more clearly in the first category than Darren Clarke suddenly becomes a point of harsh, and, unless things turn more positively here, maybe permanent judgment.

Right now, though, Poulter is a rather convincing reproduction of his master's voice and style. Astonishingly, he may also be his best hope of escaping the worst consequences of a terrible ambush.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence