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Keep them Happy

Imagine Golf Club's Dermot Gilleece looks back on Tiger Wood's poor Ryder Cup performances suggesting Pavin has his work cut out

Posted Sep 08, 2010 by Dermot Gilleece

ryder cup win

It is often said that the primary function of a team captain in golf is to forget about technique while concentrating simply on keeping his players happy. The thought strikes me in the context of the entirely predictable selection of Tiger Woods among US skipper Corey Pavin's four wild-cards for the Ryder Cup battle with Europe at Celtic Manor on October 1st to 3rd.


Happy team members tend to play well.  And the converse tends to be equally true, which may explain why Woods made such a disappointing Ryder Cup debut at Valderrama in 1997, winning only one and a half points out of five while being crushed 4 and 2 in singles combat by Costantino Rocca.

This, of course, was the first European staging of the Ryder Cup outside Britain, and with Seve Ballesteros as captain, there were predictable histrionics.  Indeed a rumpus began even before the event got under way, over Miguel Angel Martin, who gained the unique distinction of becoming a non-playing 13th man in the European line-up.

It was also notable as the Ryder Cup in which a passionate cry for help from Woods, went unanswered. Only five months after he had won his first US Masters by a record, 12-stroke margin, Woods experienced serious putting problems on the Saturday at Valderrama.  Interestingly, Tom Kite, the player who finished a distant second at Augusta on that occasion happened to be skipper of the American Ryder Cup side.

In the event, Woods's woes on the slick, undulating surfaces of Valderrama were highlighted by a putt across the green on the long 17th which he sent ruinously into the water in fourball partnership with Mark O'Meara.  Not surprisingly, they lost by 2 and 1 to Nick Faldo and Lee Westwood.

On experiencing these problems with the blade, Woods, in normal circumstances, would have gone straight to his father for help. But Earl Woods wasn't there. Woods senior had decided not to travel to the Ryder Cup, presumably in a fit of pique over the refusal of the PGA of America to include him in the official party.  And when Tiger phoned him on that Saturday at his home in Cypress, California, Earl was out playing golf with friends.

His wife, Kultida, Tiger's mum, left a message that he was to phone their son urgently, but because of the nine-hour time difference it was the middle of the night in Spain when the call came.  And when a transatlantic phone-call was eventually made the Spanish operator in the US team's San Roque hotel refused to put it through to the player's room on the grounds that he was sleeping and shouldn't be disturbed.  When Woods senior rang a second time, at 7.00am Spanish time, the players had already left for Valderrama.

The upshot of it was that father and son never made contact and after the shock defeat by Rocca, the 21-year-old was reduced to tears as Europe retained the trophy.  "It was my fault," Earl Woods later claimed.  "I should have been there to support Tiger when he needed me.  I won't let it happen again."

He went on:  "Tiger was having problems with his putting and he doesn't trust anyone with it except me."  But David Leadbetter took the view that Kite should have rested Woods on the Saturday, given that the player had been struggling in every session of matches.  In the event, Woods extracted only half a point from Saturday's play and that was as Justin Leonard's partner in the afternoon foursomes.

"You have to wonder whether Tom Kite was afraid to leave him out because of the public pressure," said the Florida-based coach. The upshot was that Woods disappointed in an event he was expected to dominate.   And we can only speculate as to the event to which this experience shaped his decidedly average Ryder Cup performances from then on.

- Dermot Gilleece

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