In a reversal of the usual trend, Mark James, Europe's Ryder Cup captain in their defeat at Brookline last year, will be an assistant to his successor, Sam Torrance, for the 2001 match at The Belfry. As Torrance was a vice-captain to James last September, this amounts to a shuffling of the backroom team, with Ian Woosnam, should the Welshman not make the side as a player, the other assistant.
"I will be keeping an eye on all the players and keeping my ear to the ground," James said. "I was delighted to be asked by Sam." Like James, who left three players in the clubhouse until the singles, Torrance will not shy away from making difficult decisions. Though announced yesterday this one was presumably taken before the Scot received an unwelcome blow to the head on Tuesday.
Unloading the back seat of his car outside the hotel entrance, Torrance cracked his head on a car door that someone had half-closed, smashing the glass. "Blood was spurting out all over the place," Torrance, who needed two stitches in the wound, said. "It was like something out of a Stephen King movie."
It was on the 18th at The Belfry in 1985 that Torrance holed the putt which brought the Ryder Cup back to Great Britain for the first time in 28 years. But latterly the Birmingham venue has been less kind to the Scot. In 1993, while staying in the hotel during a tournament at the nearby Forest of Arden, Torrance cracked his sternum after hitting a flowerpot while sleepwalking. Later that year, when the Ryder Cup was last played there, he suffered a poisoned toe and had to sit out the singles.
For the first time in seven years tournament golf has returned to The Belfry for the Benson and Hedges International. Torrance is delighted Europe's top players will get to play eight rounds over the remodelled Brabazon course before the next match. "It's a tremendous asset," he said. "It will be good for the players to get accustomed to the changes and I'm sure they understand the benefits of playing this course. Obviously, it's horses for courses. Anyone who doesn't qualify who plays well will come under consideration."
A number of changes, with some holes altered out of all recognition, have been made and so far the reaction has been positive.
"They are a huge improvement," said Darren Clarke. "They have strengthened the course. There will be a huge premium on hitting the fairways as the rough is very thick."
The £1 million event marks the start of the busy part of the season with nine out of 11 tournaments in Britain and Ireland, including the Volvo PGA at Wentworth at the end of the month and the Open at St Andrews in July. The other two events are next week's Deutsche Bank Open in Hamburg and the US Open at Pebble Beach.
Clarke, the world matchplay champion, is playing 12 of the next 14 weeks. The Irishman retains a huge lead on the order of merit despite Colin Montgomerie's win in the French Open last week. Monty, the seven-time No 1, is ahead of schedule given that the first of his six wins last year came in the B&H at The Oxfordshire, but he trails Clarke by £407,000.
The Scot must mean business, for it is rare for him to play a Tuesday practice round outside the majors. The world No 3's goal is to move above David Duval on the world rankings. For that to happen he must win and Duval must finish outside the top 15 in the Byron Nelson Classic. Monty was the world No 2 to Greg Norman for 24 weeks in 1996. "I reckon if you are the second best golfer in the world to Tiger Woods, you must be doing pretty well," he said.Reuse content