Colin Montgomerie was a stripling when he attended his first Ryder Cup match. It was at Walton Heath in Surrey in 1981 and Europe were hammered 181/2-91/2. Montgomerie, a paying spectator then, said: "It was just daft. The Americans were frighteningly good."
Under the captaincy of Dave Marr, the United States fielded probably the strongest team in the history of the competition: Nicklaus, Watson, Trevino, Miller, Floyd etc etc. It was overkill. Fourteen years later Big Monty, one of Europe's leading lights, casts an eye over the American team and remarks: "There's nothing frightening about them."
This is true. No Nicklaus or Watson or even John Daly. Instead there are people with names like Maggert, Haas and Faxon. The only drawback to Montgomerie's argument is that the European team looks equally fragile. On the grounds that we have two non-vintage teams the 31st Ryder Cup could be a close encounter of the torrid kind.
The United States are favourites, justifiably so, simply because of home advantage. Oak Hill is a classic, old money course which has found favour with the Europeans, but the intrinsic differences in conditions between the continents will count against Bernard Gallacher and his team.
They have had three days to acclimatise but ideally what they need is three years. The rough is different, the fairways are different, the greens faster and smaller. America, despite the comparative anonymity of their team, have much greater strength in depth and could afford to leave out a player who won the Open Championship at St Andrews two months ago.
Lanny Wadkins, the captain, pointed out that his team contains two current major winners in Ben Crenshaw (the Masters) and Corey Pavin (the US Open). Wadkins made no mention whatsoever of Daly and handed his two wild cards to Curtis Strange and Fred Couples. There is no way that Europe could have left out a major winner even if he did have the sobriquet of Wild Thing.
As it is there has been a deafening gnashing of teeth over Europe's decision to fall in line with the US and restrict Gallacher's hand to two wild cards. Montgomerie suggested that the European captain should have the discretion to choose all 12. Tony Jacklin, with just a whiff of sour grapes, said Europe had shot themselves in the foot.
Gallacher may not rival the Duke of Wellington as a leader but the Scotsman has had a bum rap. Jacklin was fortunate in that when he captained the team in the roaring Eighties his key men, Ballesteros, Faldo, Langer, Woosnam and Olazabal, were major players. The same cannot be said now. Ballesteros, plagued with back trouble, is struggling; Faldo has made no impression this year; Langer is solid rather than dynamic; Woosnam has hardly played and when he has he would have been better off staying at home; and Olazabal, of course, pulled out with a foot injury.
By and large the Ryder Cup has been a frustrating experience for Gallacher. He was beaten by Tom Watson in a crucial singles match in Florida in 1983. Europe lost that one by 141/2-131/2 and in his first match as captain he got the same result at Kiawah Island in South Carolina in 1991. Two years later at The Belfry the US won 15-13. Gallacher said that two terms was quite enough thank you but the players persuaded him to stay on.
The US changes its captain far more frequently than Europe and in this regard Gallacher has the edge on Wadkins. If he has made mistakes in the past he will have learnt from them. As for Wadkins, who has been banging on about restoring sportsmanship and tradition to the game, the abiding Ryder Cup memory is of him walking off the 18th green at Muirfield Village in 1987. In the opening foursomes, he and Larry Mize were four up on Faldo and Woosnam and lost the match at the last hole. Wadkins grabbed hold of a cameraman and manhandled him off the fringe of the green. Rochester will be no place to abuse photographers and Big Monty would not be advised, as he stands over a teasing three footer, to yell: "No cameras."
A young bank clerk named George Eastman began experimenting with dry plates and film in his mother's kitchen and his first camera, introduced in 1888, launched a new industry. A century and a bit later, Eastman Kodak employs about 45,000 Rochesterians. In 1906 the Haloid company - renamed Xerox in1961 - had its start in a loft above a shoe factory and went on to develop the world's first automatic paper copier. Rochester is upstate and upmarket, and Oak Hill is a playground in the Ivy League.
When a brash Tex-Mex by the name of Lee Trevino won the US Open here in 1968 he became the first player in the history of the championship to break 70 in all four rounds. Trevino, with a four-leafed clover in his back pocket, would stand in the car park and drink beer after the day's play. When he was asked what he was going to do with the $30,000 prize money he replied: "Buy the Alamo and give it back to the Mexicans."
Oak Hill had never been treated with such disdain and the club decided that nobody would so so again. They remade 11 of the holes and when Nicklaus won the US PGA Championship here in 1980 he was the only player under par. Par is a parsimonious 70 and with only two par fives, neither reachable in two, and a string of long par fours Oak Hill is a course and a half.
Strange won the US Open here in 1989 - the weather then as now was inclement - beating Woosnam by a stroke. Strange's aggregate was 278, two under for the championship and he managed only one birdie in the last 36 holes. What mattered is that he kept the ball in play. If Seve is not the force he was, the same can be said of Strange. The Virginian has not won on the US Tour since his triumph at Oak Hill six years ago.
"He brings heart and guts to the team," Wadkins said. And grey hair. By Sunday evening the majority of the players here will be reaching for the Grecian 2000.
Ken Jones on Ballesteros the enigma, course guide, page 26
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