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Dermot Gilleece on how Wild Card selection has always proved a Ryder Cup headache for the Captains

Posted Jun 07, 2010 by Dermot Gilleece

Monty 2

Colin Montgomerie has been doing some serious sabre-rattling about his expectations for the Johnnie Walker Championship at Gleneagles, starting on August 26th.  And no, it's not a Scottish thing.  As Ryder Cup captain, Monty is simply saying that he expects all of those players hoping for wild-card slots on the team for Celtic Manor in October, to be in action for the final qualifying tournament.

The way things stand, there could be eight or nine candidates for only three spots.  Graeme McDowell joined their ranks after a terrific victory at the actual Ryder Cup venue on Sunday.  But the skipper is clearly conscious of events two years ago when Ian Poulter was given one of the two wild-card slots by Nick Faldo, even though he snubbed the Gleneagles event.  The fact that developments at Valhalla proved Faldo to have been correct, seems to be of no consequence. 

From the time Des Smyth and Peter Oosterhuis became Europe's first wild-cards for the 1979 matches at The Greenbrier, the process has nearly always been surrounded by controversy.  The only occasion, incidentally, when wild-cards didn't operate was in 1983 when the entire European team was picked off the Order of Merit.

For the other matches, an indication of the pressures they created, was the situation prior to the naming of the 1991 team for Kiawah Island. Entering the German Open, which was the final qualifying tournament, Ireland's Eamonn Darcy was in seventh place in the table and seemingly certain to return to the team after a lapse of four years since his heroics at Muirfield Village in Europe's first triumph on American soil.

With skipper Bernard Gallacher having three picks, Darcy felt so
sure of his position that he decided to give Germany a miss. The upshot was that in an extraordinary turn of events, he was passed by David Gilford, Sam Torrance and Paul Broadhurst by the narrowest of margins among the top-nine automatic qualifiers.

Then Gallacher named his three wild cards - Faldo, Mark James and Jose-Maria Olazabal - which meant that the Irishman was out in the cold.  Darcy claimed at the time that in the event of such dramatic happenings, Gallacher had effectively promised him a place in the team as a wild-card, which is why he didn't feel the need to travel to Germany.  Either way, his protestations came to nothing.

All the while, the rival teams worked independently of each other where this particular aspect of the matches was concerned.  The Americans continued to do things their way, making no move towards wild-cards, even after a very narrow victory at Palm Beach Gardens, Florida in 1983.  For their part, Europe used three wild-cards for 1987, 1989, 1991 and 1993, before reverting to two picks at Oak Hill in 1995 when Faldo and Ian Woosnam were the choices. Interestingly, among that total of 14 wild cards from 1987 to 1995, the only Irishman chosen was Christy O'Connor Jnr in 1989.  Which tended to heighten Darcy's grievance.
The US eventually adopted the system in 1989, when Lanny Wadkins and Tom Watson became their first two choices.  Curiously, a dissenting voice was that of Curtis Strange, who was himself a highly controversial wild-card in 1995.  In the wake of that American defeat, he said:  "What we're doing now just adds controversy to one of the greatest events in golf.  Why surround it with controversy?"  Indeed.  But he still had Paul Azinger and Scott Verplank as wild-cards when he captained the US team in 2002.

One thing is certain:  Monty is whistling in the wind if he expects all of those Europeans who ply their craft on America's PGA Tour and have not gained automatic places for Celtic Manor, to appear at Gleneagles.  It is reasonable to assume that some of them will have more than a passing interest in the $10 million FedEx Cup bonus, which starts in earnest with the $7.5 million Barclays tournament.

And when does it start?  As it happens, it gets under way on August 26th, the same day as Gleneagles.  Which would appear to be a splendid recipe for some serious Ryder Cup fun and games.

- Dermot Gilleece

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