James will concentrate on art of motivation

WHAT IS it exactly that a Ryder Cup captain does? His job cannot be described as that of a regular coach or manager. The role involves a watching brief for a year or more, the selection of two wild cards and then one week of intense action. Who to play in the foursomes, who for the fourballs, who to leave out, who to bring in, what should the singles line-up be? If anything, when it actually comes down to the three days of play, he is most like the conductor of an orchestra - all the performers know the right notes but the problem is to play them at the right time and in the right order.

WHAT IS it exactly that a Ryder Cup captain does? His job cannot be described as that of a regular coach or manager. The role involves a watching brief for a year or more, the selection of two wild cards and then one week of intense action. Who to play in the foursomes, who for the fourballs, who to leave out, who to bring in, what should the singles line-up be? If anything, when it actually comes down to the three days of play, he is most like the conductor of an orchestra - all the performers know the right notes but the problem is to play them at the right time and in the right order.

As with the awful sound that is produced when this is not achieved, the lack of influence of a captain can be more noticeable. Jack Nicklaus, the great player though he is, gave no lead whatsoever to his team of stars in last year's Presidents Cup in Melbourne. He gave barely a thought to pairings or motivational techniques and the Americans flew home after an embarrassing 20 1/2-11 1/2 defeats by the assortment collected under the title of "Internationals".

At Brookline this week Mark James, after playing seven times, will be trying to retain the cup for Europe that Bernard Gallacher's side won at Oak Hill four years ago and Seve Ballesteros's conquistadors defended in 1997 in Spain. As with Tony Jacklin before, Ballesteros brought an overpowering passion to the role.

James does not. His captaincy will be one of consensus although he is not afraid to go his own way, as when he overlooked Bernhard Langer for the last wild card place in favour of the rookie Andrew Coltart. James places the influence of the skipper somewhere between the extremes of vital and immaterial. "I'd say that people who say it is not important are probably nearer the mark."

But it would be easy to underestimate the adopted Yorkshireman. "I've looked at everything you could possibly look at from past matches," James said. "I've gone through the A-Z of combinations and permutations, anything that has been a factor at previous Ryder Cups. But when it comes down to it, it will be gut instinct.

"Nothing this week will be worse than the decision over the wild card selections and telling players they weren't in the team. My job now, along with my assistants, Sam Torrance and Ken Brown, is to get 100 per cent out of the players and let them concentrate on the golf. I want to get feedback from the players but the players don't need mollycoddling. I am an extremely positive person, more so than appears at times."

Dour is how James usually appears. The private man, in the company of fellow players at dinner or in his garden or skiing or when Star Trek is on the telly, is very different from his public persona. Earlier in his career James used to reduce press conferences to "yes" or "no" answers.

Latterly, he has hidden behind an aridly dry sense of humour, although in less formal, more intimate settings it is possible to get a glimpse of the good communicator who is the chairman of the players' Tournament Committee. "The first thing I noticed about the captaincy was that suddenly I was being taken seriously," he admitted. "Everything I said was being written down. It used to be, and quite rightly so, that everything I said was taken with a pinch of salt."

The saga of whether James would give up the captaincy by qualifying for the team became tedious. Ironically, he had nominated Brown to take over. James and Brown were almost sent home in disgrace from their first Ryder Cup in 1979. Rumours of the two missing team meetings and the like emerged but James disputes the stories without setting the record straight.

What he does say is: "Back then I thought I would be playing in 15 Ryder Cups and would win 20 majors. It was only when I realised Big Jack's record was safe and I missed three Ryder Cups in the mid-80s that I appreciated it more. Everything is bigger about it now. It was never such a circus before. Even the clubheads are bigger."

All captains are different. James is unlikely to march up to a player on the last hole of a vital match as Jacklin did with Christy O'Connor Jnr against Fred Couples at The Belfry in 1989. "If you put him under pressure, I promise you will win the hole and the match. Just have a good swing," Jacklin told the Irishman. O'Connor hit his famous two-iron to four feet and Couples shanked his pitch wide of the green.

At Valderrama, Ballesteros was maniacally brilliant, darting around on his buggy. He was at every vital moment of every match while Tom Kite was chaperoning Michael Jordan and George Bush. Ballesteros was not always welcomed by his players. "Seve gets a bit intense," Colin Montgomerie said at the time. "The whole thing bustles and shuffles around when he arrives."

James will be more in the mould of Gallacher, the Scot who lost his first two matches before getting revenge at Oak Hill. But at 9-7 down on the Saturday night, a pall settled over the European media hotel while trying to fathom the logic of Gallacher's singles line-up. It started with Ballesteros, who hit three fairways (total) in his three matches that week, followed by Howard Clark and James, neither of whom had played since losing on the first morning.

Ballesteros lost, but Clark, helped by a hole-in-one, and James won to set Europe on course for a rare singles series win and an unexpected triumph. "I have to say I think Gallacher's singles order was inspired," James said. "He put two rookies at the end which was unheard of and he put Seve off top. It looked good the night before. European teams are often greater than the sum of their parts and this one won't be any different," James added. "They are all very positive." Team spirit has often bridged the gap in class between the sides and with seven European rookies will have to do so again.

Whatever happens, James will remain cool. The things that make him angry, he says, include "powdery mildew on my sweet peas, poor marshalling, lift queues on mountains and slow drivers. That is about it really, but unfortunately they involve things I like doing a lot. In fact, I'm getting quite cross just thinking about them."

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