Having already had a car door slammed in his face this week, Sam Torrance, the Ryder Cup captain, was yesterday fending off a follow-up blow from one of his potential charges at The Belfry for next year's match against the Americans. Torrance has found out early on that in European golf the preparation for taking on the enemy from across the Atlantic is usually to conquer the enemy within.
"We are a year and a half away from the match and already we have had negative noises coming from Europeans," Torrance said. Somehow the subject of the Ryder Cup dominates wherever the European Tour goes, so it was perhaps inevitable that the opening day of the Benson and Hedges International was overshadowed by the latest local difficulty.
The source of the current unrest was Jean Van de Velde. The Frenchman produced one of the rounds of the day, a two-under-par 70. On a cold day with strong winds, the revamped Brabazon course was a demanding test. Only eight players broke par with Wales's Phil Price, the only man to make an eagle all day, leading on 69. Thomas Gogele matched Van de Velde's 70, while among those on one under were Padraig Harrington and Adam Scott, the 19-year-old Australian amateur.
Van de Velde, who outscored the Open champion, Paul Lawrie, by 11 strokes, is rarely shy in expressing an opinion and told Torrance in no uncertain terms he disapproved of the men the Scot has chosen as his vice-captains. He was not critical of Mark James, Torrance's immediate predecessor, and Ian Woosnam directly, but feels a range of nationalities should be represented in the locker-room team.
"We need people who understand the different cultures," said Van de Velde who, like Jarmo Sandelin and Andrew Coltart, did not play at Brookline until the singles. "We are all different people. The southern continentals are more fiery, more temperamental. It makes a big difference if someone can speak to you in your own language."
If this suggests a picture of division between the Britons and the continentals, history suggests they usually appear a more united team than their American counterparts. Per-Ulrik Johansson, twice a Ryder Cup player, disagreed with the Frenchman. "The most important thing is that the captain and his vice-captains get along well."
This was the point Torrance made clear to Van de Velde. "It is a European team," he said. "Woosie is European, Jesse [James] is European and Jean is European. I'm the one in charge and I want people around me who I know and I can trust to tell me how someone is playing. I know how Woosie and Jesse's brains work. If one of them gets in the team, I'll go to the next person who I think can help me, even if he is Japanese."
He added: "If Jean gets in the team we'll make him as welcome as we thought we did last time. I have to take criticism, that's fine. But I'd rather if someone has a problem they come to me rather than blurting it to the world. I don't think we should do our dirty washing in public. I've been thinking about this all day because I'm proud as punch to have this job and I want to do it right."
Torrance still managed a 77, roughly the average on a brute of a day. Lee Westwood was on the same mark, Colin Montgomerie one better and Darren Clarke one worse. An eight at the last gave Seve Ballesteros a sad 87. Ian Woosnam, who shared in the glory Ryder Cup days of the '80s at The Belfry, said after his 77: "I did not enjoy that one bit."
The day's bravest performer was the press officer who confronted Montgomerie after the Scot found the water at the last. "I didn't play very well," came the thundering reply.
Benson And Hedges International Open
(Brabazon Course, The Belfry, Sutton Coldfield): Leading first-round scores (GB and Irl unless stated): 69 P Price. 70 J Van de Velde (Fr), T Gogele (Ger). 71 R Byrd (US), *A Scott (Aus), J Lomas, G Brand Jnr, P Harrington. 72 D Robertson, A Cabrera (Arg). 73 P McGinley, C Suneson (Sp), J-F Remesy (Fr), P O'Malley (Aus), J Senden (Aus), I Poulter, J Bickerton, P Quirici (Swit), G Ogilvy (Aus). 74 P Wesselingh, J Coceres (Arg), J Berendt (Arg), O Eliasson (Swe), C Rodiles (Sp), C Rocca (It). 75 A Coltart, N Fasth (Swe), E Romero (Arg), D Gilford, J Payne, S Hansen (Den), J M Olazabal (Sp), A Wall, N O'Hern (Aus), A Sherborne, S Tinning (Den), D Park, E Darcy, M Florioli (It), M A Martin (Sp), M Blackey. 76 S Gallacher, E Boult (Nz), MA Jimenez (Sp), G Murphy, P Affleck, M Gronberg (Swe), B Langer (Ger), I Garbutt, G Turner (Nz), S Struver (Ger), R Johnson (Swe), D Terblanche (Rsa), D Hospital (Sp), F Cea (Spa), A Hansen (Den), J Mellor, P Senior (Aus), R Karlsson (Swe), C Montgomerie, B Davis, G Owen, P Mitchell. *denotes amateursReuse content