And so the lid at last begins to lift on the error-strewn reign of the last Europe captain. For two years, the side who were so unexpectedly buried in the dirt of Kentucky have refused to go on record about the failings of Sir Nick Faldo. Until now.
With the 38th staging of the Ryder Cup just six days away, players of the calibre of Lee Westwood and Graeme McDowell are prepared to come out and say what many have long suspected. Faldo, as it has always been officially claimed, was not simply an "unlucky" captain who lost because of the poor form of his leading players. In fact, his mistakes were numerous.
Westwood and McDowell point out the faults without any axe to grind or knives to implant. It's just that they see the new man, Colin Montgomerie, ready to rectify the gaffes of Valhalla. And both plainly believe that if Europe are to reclaim a trophy they had previously lost only once in the preceding 15 years, they will first have to reclaim the "X-factor" which previously galvanised their team room.
"We had a great team two years ago, but we were outplayed by a great US team," recalls McDowell, the US Open champion. "We might still have lost, but maybe if we'd had a bit more energy in the team room it could have been different. What was missing for us? We didn't have that extra spark in the team room; didn't have that X-factor in terms of someone to get up and rally the troops. Jose Maria [Olazabal] gave a great speech on the Saturday evening when the singles line-up came out. But that was the first really emotional speech we'd had all week."
It was too late, by then. Paul Azinger's underdogs were on their roll and, with a partisan crowd behind them, their momentum was to prove irresistible. While his opposite number had introduced an SAS-inspired pod system to hurtle his players to the brink of their emotions, Faldo had merely turned up in the week with one vice-captain and not much of a plan. And in the eyes of Azinger and McDowell, they couldn't even turn up at the right time.
"What shocked me was that no European player showed up at Valhalla on those early days," says Azinger, who had granted his opponents access to the course on the preceding Monday and Tuesday. "Faldo didn't gather his team and have them there, nor did anyone show up on their own. For the first time this made me wonder if we were going to face the same kind of cohesive European squad we had seen in the past."
McDowell certainly felt like a rushed debutant. "I think at Valhalla, we got there on Tuesday," he says. "It meant the Wednesday and Thursday were very busy days and by the time Friday came around, what with the travelling, it had all been a bit of a blur. This time, Monty wants us there by lunchtime on Monday. The build-up's going to be a lot more relaxed and a lot more organised."
Apart from Montgomerie, there are four other reasons why McDowell has confidence in the Scot's set-up – Darren Clarke, Sergio Garcia, Thomas Bjorn and Paul McGinley. "I think the back-room staff is going to make a big difference," said McDowell. "It does seem as if Monty has looked at what happened two years ago and seen where he can improve it. I definitely think that we'll have that extra dynamic in the team room this time around, with Sergio and the boys. There'll be people with that passion to get the guys up for it from the word go."
Westwood concurs. "Monty has a good mix," says the world No 3. "Darren is not afraid to say what he thinks in a team room but is still quite laid-back. McGinley is fairly studied and thinks deeply about everything. Thomas is pretty blunt and gets straight to the point. And then there's Sergio, who will bring enough passion for 40,000. Yeah, it'll be a good team on and off the course."
The on-course presence of Montgomerie's fab four is important, as Westwood explains. In Kentucky, Faldo was outscored 4-1 by Azinger in proper assistants; and the word "proper" is used purposefully as Faldo had friends such as DJ Spoony and the Iron Maiden drummer Nicko McBrain manning the buggies, as well as his teenaged son, Matthew.
"Nick didn't have enough vice-captains," says Westwood. "We felt very isolated out on the golf course. You're already up against it with the American crowd to deal with but they had a vice-captain with every match; we didn't. Monty has now remedied that. You need four vice-captains relaying information to the captain, because he has a hell of a lot on and needs other people's eyes that he trusts when he is deciding the team for the afternoon. And it's good for the players. Put it this way, if Darren is riding along in a buggy alongside it will be comforting if something has gone wrong – there will be sticky patches for everyone."
The trouble is sometimes it's the captain, himself, who floods the fairways with treacle. For Westwood it bizarrely came during the Friday afternoon fourballs when he was on his way to equalling Arnold Palmer's record of 12 successive matches unbeaten. Faldo suddenly arrived on the tee box to inform the startled Englishman he was being dropped from the next morning's foursomes. It was a decision which still baffles McDowell. "A guy like Westwood needs to be playing every game," he says.
Westwood isn't about to go that far, but he does have a gripe. "The only thing I regret is when I was told," he said. "Yeah, you're going to have to be told at some point but there are better times to do it other than when you are going down the 10th, one up in a match. I would think Monty will be more sensitive to such things."
That is essentially why Montgomerie was appointed over another major legend like Sandy Lyle. The Tournament Players' Committee saw in Faldo a man out of touch with the players, who was plainly insensitive to their needs. "He treated it like his own testimonial and paid little interest in treating the position with the seriousness it deserved," so a leading player on the Tour told The Independent. Rookies like Oliver Wilson were cast adrift and largely left to their own devices all week. In the run-up, Faldo did not bother to make contact with the prospective members of his team.
As Peter Hanson now reveals, Montgomerie has been rather more hands-on. "Actually, I was quite close to making the team two years ago," says the Swedish debutant. "I finished 12th on the qualifying list and it was the top 10 who made the team. But Faldo did not even speak to me once, which was disappointing. In contrast, Monty was on the phone in the final stages of the qualifying race, encouraging me and asking what makes me tick. He has already made me feel such a part of his team."
Will all this be enough? That is a question which has occupied Montgomerie in what he admits have been weeks of sleepless nights. "I am anxious about the result and getting the team to play to their undoubted potential," he said. Monty is wise to have nerves, as it would be an absurd lie to suggest his reign has run smoothly so far. A personal scandal left him looking vulnerable and at times ridiculous, while his selection dilemma still threatens to haunt as the overlooked Paul Casey tries to make up the five shots in Atlanta on leaders Luke Donald and Jim Furyk to land the $11.35m FedEx Cup prize tomorrow. But if his top performers are to be believed he has gone a long way in redeeming the Faldo Flop.
What does seem certain is that the Ryder Cup captain genuinely does matter nowadays, a surely unarguable truth expounded by Padraig Harrington. "It will be which captain gets the most out of his team at this Ryder Cup who will walk away as the winner," says the Irishman. "In fact, I think the captain is more important than the players. If Monty can get his pairings and the atmosphere right, I think we will win."
So over to you, Monty. The message from the troops is clear: don't do a Faldo.
The Back-Room Boys: Lee Westwood on Captain Montgomerie and his lieutenants
Colin Montgomerie, Scotland
Age: 47, Ryder Cups: Played 8 Won 5
"With Monty not having won any majors, he is seen as a Ryder Cup legend – someone who would step on to the first tee, stick their chest out, chin up and lead the team off in a positive fashion. I think he'll do that as a captain too, particularly with the vice-captains he's chosen"
Darren Clarke, N Ireland
Age: 42, Cups: P5 W4
"Is not afraid to say what he thinks but is still laid-back"
Thomas Bjorn, Denmark
Age: 39, Cups: P2 W2
"Is pretty blunt and gets straight to the point"
Paul McGinley, Ireland
Age: 43, Cups: P3 W3
"Is fairly studied and thinks deeply about everything"
Sergio Garcia, Spain
Age: 30, Cups: P5 W3
"Will bring enough passion for 40,000"
Ryder Cup Countdown: 6 days to go
There have been six holes in one at the event. European Peter Butler hit the first in 1973, while Paul Casey and Scott Verplank both did so in 2006.Reuse content