Sam Torrance was in such good spirits he was beginning to sound like a spokesman for the American Tourist Board. "The food's great, the course is great, the beds are big and soft and everything's perfect," Uncle Sam said.
At the age of 42 the Scotsman gives the impression of having discovered the secret of, if not life, golf. After alighting in Rochester from Concorde with his actress wife Suzanne Danielle, Torrance was on cloud nine. He leads the European Order of Merit with close on pounds 620,000 after winning the British Masters at Collingtree on Sunday. He had already won the Italian and Irish Opens and was second to Colin Montgomerie, the Scotsman who is inclined to steal Sam's thunder, in the German Open and the Lancome Trophy.
Torrance, the son of Bob, a former club professional who now makes a living by teaching professionals, did not win a tournament last year. "I don't know what it is but I always seem to reserve my best form for Ryder Cup years," Torrance said.
He made his debut in the biennial match against the United States in 1981 and has played in every one since. "I would get greater enjoyment out of beating America than winning a million pounds," Torrance said at Collingtree on Sunday evening. This would probably be interpreted as a cliche from most people but not from Torrance. He had just won pounds 108,000 and was celebrating with a pint of beer in one hand and a rolled-up cigarette in the other: the picture of contentment.
Torrance was not only on top of the Order of Merit he looked as if he was on top of the world. If he does the National Lottery look over his shoulder and take a note of his numbers. The man is unrecognisable from the journeyman pro who cut a popular figure on the circuit but who was not regarded as a major contender. Back him to win the odd championship in Italy or Jersey but not the Open.
As for the Ryder Cup, it is just as well that he makes it into the team on merit for the chances of him being selected are slim. His record is wretched: played 23, won four, lost 13, halved six. At The Belfry in 1985, the match which marked Europe's renaissance, Torrance holed the winning putt. If that was one of the most delicious moments of his career, one of the worst arrived at the same venue in the last match two years ago.
Torrance's Achilles' heel is that he is accident prone, and two years ago he went sleep- walking, bumped into a flower pot and damaged a toe. In the Ryder Cup he withdrew from the singles. "It hurt not to play and it hurt to play," Torrance said yesterday. "I've got nothing to prove. I've earned my way on the team. I'm a capable golfer and I'm here to play golf. As for my record, I tried my best. I'm only 42. I know I look older but if Raymond Floyd can make it at 48 I think I can."
The image of Torrance holing that putt at the 18th at The Belfry 10 years ago is slightly different from the current version. Apart from the fact that he has a more generous waistline, he made that putt with a conventional club. Three years later, after winning pounds 44,000 in 12 months and finishing 51st in the Order of Merit, he became the first professional on the regular tour to experiment with the "broomstick" putter.
The club is so long it sticks ostentatiously out of the bag and airlines have trouble with it. It was no coincidence that the luggage of Philip Walton and Mark James arrived here late. They are both members of the coven that use the broomstick putters. Torrance does not subscribe to the theory that his career has been turned on its head solely by the introduction of the elongated putter. "I would have found something," he said. "Whatever it takes."
Yesterday Torrance attended a press conference, the mood of which gradually deteriorated. "I must be honest," Torrance began."I think it's about the best course I've ever played. It's a real good old-fashioned test of golf. No gimmicks. It's right there in front of you. It's a great challenge."
Most people thought that the "War on the Shore" at Kiawah Island, South Carolina in 1991 breached the boundaries of sportsmanship and etiquette. Not Torrance. He was not aware of the commotion by the ocean. "I thought the crowds were great," he said. "The media made more of it than the players. We weren't upset by any of it. The crowds are obviously going to be hostile and shouting for their team. We don't blame them for that. Let them show who they like."
As for Oak Hill he has found the New Yorkers most hospitable but then the match hasn't started yet. "The crowds have been fantastic on the course," Torrance said. "They're really supportive. They applaud us on to every green, every tee. There have been shouts of welcome and good luck."
Torrance's mood began to change when he was asked about the sniping between Tony Jacklin and Bernard Gallacher. "What sniping?" Torrance said. "You'd better ask Tony. We're here to represent Europe and Bernard Gallacher." Nobody is closer to Gallacher, a fellow Scot, than Torrance. He even forgave him when the captain badly advised him on club selection during the Sunningdale Foursomes earlier this year.
Torrance did not have a good time at The Belfry two years ago and it was not just because of a bruised toe. At a dinner he asked Tom Watson, then the American captain, to autograph a menu and Watson declined. Yesterday somebody said to Torrance: "Will you be asking anyone to sign a menu tonight?" "Give us a break, will you," Torrance replied. "We're here to talk about golf, not about marriages and not signing autographs. Time out."
Tomorrow Sam will play it again and this time there will be no time out. Europe and Gallacher expects Torrance to deliver.
n Sky TV announced yesterday that they have secured the United Kingdom rights to the next two Ryder Cups, in 1997 and 1999, for an undisclosed sum.Reuse content