Up for the Ryder coup

Gallacher's men have the experience to conquer the Americans in their own backyard. Peter Corrigan takes
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The Independent Online
WORKING on the principle that it is better to learn to Walker before you Ryder, the American team to face Europe at the Oak Hill course in Rochester this week enjoyed a slight edge in the early assimilation of that distinctive and often destructive pressure imposed by international match golf. Six of the Ryder Cup Americans saw Walker Cup action in their pre- professional days compared to only five of the European team.

While not a massively significant statistic, it is one of the few in favour of the Americans if you care to take a dispassionate look at the records of the players involved. Since dispassionateness is the first casualty of an approaching Ryder Cup we had better get in quick with the view that the European team has little to fear if you strip down both teams to nothing but their bare statistics.

If you need a reason, therefore, to explain why the Americans are installed as heavy odds-on favourites you will have to delve into those depths of our nature where lurks a tendency towards a feeling of inferiority whenever we face the mighty Yank. History always impresses the odds-makers, of course, and we have won only 5 of the 30 previous encounters while the Americans have won 23. And, finally, any impression that the European team is going to invade the States as a thoroughly bonded and determined commando unit has been destroyed by two months of bickering and belly- aching about the selection system.

Belief that the burden can be removed from European shoulders was greatly encouraged by last weekend's Walker Cup victory of Great Britain and Ireland. Not enough credit has been paid to the R & A for reacting to the 19-5 beating we took in America two years ago by introducing a squad system that so comprehensively improved morale. The team's confidence in the face of a record even sorrier than their professional counterparts' might even have contained a few pointers for Europe's Ryder Cup captain, Bernard Gallacher, who helped out at their squad sessions.

A far more daunting atmosphere awaits in Rochester for this most pressurised of all golfing encounters but having seen one set of odds overturned must improve the optimism of the Ryder men. The Walker Cup is the only possible schooling experience for the Ryder Cup, and even that is not available to players from continental Europe. The Americans who played in the Walker are Corey Pavin, Davis Love III, Phil Mickelson, Jay Haas, Brad Faxon and Curtis Strange while our double internationals are Colin Montgomerie, David Gilford, Howard Clark, Mark James and Philip Walton. But any slight advantage contained in that statistic is wiped out by the overwhelming superiority the Europeans have in actual Ryder Cup experience. The American team have a total of 15 appearances in previous matches. The Europeans have amassed 49.

Three of the American team, Tom Lehman, Jeff Maggert and Loren Roberts, have not played in either event. Europe have only one player totally new to this form of golf, the Swede Per-Ulrik Johansson. Walton, the other newcomer, has not only played in two Walker Cups but holds the best GB scoring percentage of six points out of a possible eight.

Since Walton has been the undeserving victim of the selection controversy that has clouded the European preparations, I trust his confidence will be bolstered by his Walker Cup past as well as his form this year. The leading players who said that the team should comprise the top nine in the qualification table plus three "wild card" choices of the captain, and not 10 and 2 as it is, were implicitly criticising the presence of Walton who finished 10th.

The fact that Walton has won two European tournaments this year should save him from any suggestion that he is not worth his place, especially as the second of those victories was gained in a final-round head-to-head with Colin Montgomerie. Since Montgomerie is roundly recognised as possessing the most consistent form in the world, Walton has the credentials to support his inclusion and when Gallacher ushers his charges aboard Concorde tomorrow his first task will be to massage morale at the bottom end - the two debutants plus David Gilford and Costantino Rocca who each have one less than happy appearance to live down.

When it comes to countering any pessimism, Gallacher should forget the historic imbalance in the results since the event began in 1927 and concentrate on the past 10 years. The score over the last five matches is two apiece with one tie. If Bernhard Langer's famous putt at Kiawah Island in 1991 had been holed and if one of the close singles games in '93 had gone our way, the Americans would not have won any. The total points scored over the last five ties are Europe 72, USA 68.

No one can argue against the quality of the US team which includes present major title-holders Ben Crenshaw and Corey Pavin. But in terms of individual honours from this highly intense battle they have yet to prove themselves. Much will depend on the captain's pairings and Gallacher has far more guidelines than his opposite number Lanny Wadkins. The comparative inexperience of his team means that Wadkins will be matching players for the foursomes and fourballs with little to go on. He can match only one pair who have previously played together. Curtis Strange, who has played in four Cups, played once with Peter Jacobsen in 1985 and once with Jay Haas in 1983. They won on both occasions but since Strange can play with only one at a time, it follows that every other will be a new relationship.

In happy contrast, Gallacher has a record book full of tried pairings. The loss of Jose Maria Olazabal robbed him, and Seve Ballesteros, of the most successful partnership but he has several proved pairings left, not the least being Nick Faldo and Montgomerie. In his nine appearances Faldo has also played with Langer, Woosnam, Torrance and Gilford. By no means all thepartnerships have proved successful but at least Gallacher knows which to avoid. This is powerful ammunition in Europe's favour. Finding the right partner for Ballesteros will be an early problem but when you can start each of the foursomes and fourball sessions with Faldo and Montgomerie, Langer and Woosnam, you will not lack solidity.

The singles have traditionally been our weak link but if the pairings can sow enough dismay among America's inexperienced players there is no reason why the discord displayed by our superstars should not blossom into harmony.

A rough guide to the Ryder Cup

How they play

On Friday and Saturday, foursomes (two-man teams taking alternate shots), and fourballs (both team-mates play each hole and the lower score counts). On Sunday, singles (18 holes of matchplay).

The key hole

The most important hole at Oak Hill is the first one of all: "The Challenge", once described by Ben Hogan as "the toughest starting hole in golf". The 440-yard par 4 has to be played as a dog- leg. Trees and a bunker threaten wayward drives on the left, and it is easy to shoot out of bounds on the right. A further obstacle is Allen's Creek, which crosses the course 80 yards in front of the green, which is also guarded by three bunkers. When the 1989 US Open was played at Oak Hill, the

average score at the opening hole was 4.25.

1st hole -

The Challenge

1927 Worcester, Mass USA 91/2 GB 21/2

1929 Moortown GB & I 7 USA 5

1931 Scioto, Columbus USA 9 GB 3

1933 Southport & Ainsdale GB & I 61/2 USA 51/2

1935 Ridgewood USA 9 GB 3

1937 Southport & Ainsdale GB & I 4 USA 8

1947 Portland USA 11 GB 1

1949 Ganton GB & I 5 USA 7

1951 Pinehurst USA 91/2 GB 21/2

1953 Wentworth GB & I 51/2 USA 61/2

1955 Thunderbird USA 8 GB 4

1957 Lindrick GB & I 71/2 USA 41/2

1959 Eldorado USA 81/2 GB 31/2

1961 Royal Lytham GB & I 91/2 USA 141/2

1963 Atlanta USA 23 GB 9

1965 Royal Birkdale GB & I 121/2 USA 191/2

1967 Houston USA 231/2 GB 81/2

1969 Royal Birkdale GB & I 16 USA 16

1971 St Louis USA 181/2 GB 131/2

1973 Muirfield GB & I 13 USA 19

1975 Laurel Valley USA 21 GB & I 11

1977 Royal Lytham GB & I 71/2 USA 121/2

1979 Greenbrier USA 17 Europe 11

1981 Walton Heath Europe 91/2 USA 181/2

1983 PGA National USA 141/2 Europe 131/2

1985 The Belfry Europe 161/2 USA 111/2

1987 Muirfield Village USA 13 Europe 15

1989 The Belfry Europe 14 USA 14

1991 Kiawah Island USA 141/2 Europe 131/2

1993 The Belfry Europe 13 USA 15

Percentage players

% of matches won

US top five

Gardner Dickinson 90

Tony Lema 82

JC Snead 82

Sam Snead 81

Larry Nelson 73

European top five

Jose Maria Olazabal 65

Severiano Ballesteros 63

Nick Faldo 58

Peter Oosterhuis 55

Jose Maria Canizares 54

US bottom five

Fuzzy Zoeller 15

Fred Couples 38

Curtis Strange 41

Paul Azinger 43

Ray Floyd 44

European bottom five

Eamonn Darcy 18

Harry Weetman 20

George Will 20

Peter Townsend 27

Peter Butler 29

All-time greats

Arnold Palmer 22 matches won

Billy Casper 20

Lanny Wadkins 20

Seve Ballesteros 19

Nick Faldo 19

Peter Oosterhuis 14

. . . and not-so-greats

Christy O'Connor Snr 22 matches lost

Ray Floyd 16

The hole truth

19 things you need to know about the Ryder Cup

Samuel Ryder, after whom the Cup is named, was an English nurseryman who made his fortune selling penny seed packets.

Although the first official tournament was held in 1927, the first casual match between Britain and the USA was held in 1921 at Gleneagles. The British won.

The European team for this year's Ryder Cup will fly to Rochester, the nearest town to Oak Hill, on Concorde. The airport has been repainted in their honour.

The sand in the Oak Hill bunkers is trucked in from Pennsylvania. It costs $30 a cubic yard.

The model for the miniature figure atop the Ryder Cup itself was Abe Mitchell, personal golf tutor to Samuel Ryder.

Renting a house in the vicinity of Oak Hill during the Ryder Cup costs from $1,500 to $30,000, depending on size and proximity to the course.

The first non-British-and-Irish players to compete against the USA were Severiano Ballesteros and Antonio Garrido, of Spain, in the 1979 Ryder Cup.

Hole No 7 at Oak Hill, The Creek's Elbow, is said to be haunted by the spirit of "Buffalo Bill" Cody, who hunted and fished on what is now the golf course when he lived nearby in the 1870s.

More than 100 countries world-wide will take television coverage of the Ryder Cup. At least 1,500 media passes have been issued.

Peter Corrigan has one of them.

Oak Hill has rented out 56 corporate hospitality tents: more than any other tournament in golf history. Tent prices: $110,000, $185,000 and $260,000.

The most experienced Ryder Cup player of all time is Britain's Neil Coles, who played in 40 matches.

Hole No 10 at Oak Hill, Council Grove, was an ancient meeting place for the Seneca tribe of American Indians.

Although there is no prize money in the Ryder Cup, the players receive clothes, equipment and about $4,000 in expenses.

All 25,000 tickets for Oak Hill, priced at $200 and $250, sold out in 48 hours.

Researchers from California State University recently concluded that Rochester's citizens were the kindest and most helpful in the United States.

The American team unwound after play in the 1993 Ryder Cup by playing Balderdash and Pass the Pigs.

Fashion tip: On Friday the European players will wear Azalea-coloured sweaters (a sort of browny orange), on Saturday they wear Prussian Blue, and on Sunday, when bottle will count for a lot, Bottle Green.

If you want to get a decent drink at Oak Hill, ask for Carl Ciotti: he's the

chief bartender