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Should Faldo Be European Team's Captain Again?

By: Tony Dear


It wasn't reported to any great extent in the U.S. Even British and European newspapers gave it limited space. You'd have thought the Sun and its fellow red-headed tabloids would have been all over it, however, unanimously and unequivocally opposing the move and taking the opportunity to dream up more dubious headlines: "Not Again Nick!" "Fal-Doh!" etc., etc.

Perhaps the news that Nick Faldo wants another go at a Ryder Cup captaincy was regarded as just too implausible for extensive coverage. After all, the six-time major champion did make a bit of a pig's ear of it the first time around.

Right or wrong, fair or not, there's no denying Faldo's critics had plenty of material. They cited the baffling pairings - teaming Henrik Stenson and Paul Casey together in the first day's foursomes, for example, when their respective talents, i.e. lengthy but less than accurate drives, suggested they would be better together in the fourballs - and the questionable quips ("sandwich list," "Does Graeme McDowell come from Ireland or Northern Ireland?," "bring your waterproofs to Wales in 2010" and so on) that Faldo himself thought rather droll but which made those who heard them fidget in their seats. Choosing to leave Sergio Garcia and Lee Westwood out of the Saturday morning foursomes had observers scratching their heads . . . with both hands. And then there was the risky and ultimately fruitless plan to stack the back-end of his singles' line-up with the players he perceived as those most likely to win: Ian Poulter, McDowell, Lee Westwood and Padraig Harrington.

Not nearly enough water has passed under the bridge since the 16-to-11 defeat at Valhalla for European golf fans to forget the catalog of imprudent decisions and ineffective handling of the press of "Captain Calamity" (the Daily Mail's rather cruel moniker) and consider his wishes seriously. It's likely, in fact, insufficient water exists for fans to overlook the result, relent and welcome his possible reinstatement.

Only the players themselves gave Faldo the benefit of the doubt, not that there was much, refusing to blame him for their team's first loss at the biennial event since 1999 and only their second in 15 years. Even so, ask any one of the 12 who they'd like to see as captain at Celtic Manor in 2010, or Medinah in 2012 and - save perhaps for Poulter who only made it on to the team after his somewhat surprising wild-card selection - it's a fair bet not one of them would designate Faldo.

Irrespective of whether or not the players wanted him back, or even if the European Tour Committee somehow thought his performance merited a second chance, the fact is Faldo has had his go and should bow out now.

Remember that Seve Ballesteros only captained the side once, and if anyone deserved a second, third, fourth or even fifth crack at it, it's him. But the reality is there is only a small window of opportunity in which players can be awarded the prestigious and potentially lucrative role nowadays as there are so many worthy of it. Ideally, according to recent thinking anyway, they need to be in limbo: not so involved with their own game as to ignore the position's numerous demands which start appearing long before the event itself, but not so removed from life on tour as to be unfamiliar with the players.

The average age of Europe's last five captains was 48. Ballesteros was 40 when he took charge at Valderrama in 1997 but his appointment was a special case, not only because Seve is a special case but because the matches were played in his native Spain. Faldo was the oldest of the last five, having reached his 51st birthday in July. Indeed, he was the oldest captain since John Jacobs, who was 56 when his side was trounced by America's best-ever team, at Walton Heath in 1981.

By the time the sides do battle in Wales, Faldo will be 53 and probably far too immersed in his TV analyst role to have any meaningful social connection with the players. Plus, it was hoped the respect he was no doubt due would inspire Faldo's charges to great things at Valhalla. It didn't pan out that way and in two years' time, his hitherto glowing reputation would be sullied by the less than stellar leadership he displayed in Kentucky.

His replacement, most likely to be announced in January, will come from a trio of players with excellent credentials. Ian Woosnam captained the side at the K Club in 2006 when Europe recorded their second nine-point margin of victory in succession. And he is, of course, Welsh, a fact that would add an extra decibel or two to European voices. Two-time major winner Sandy Lyle is the only member of Europe's "Big Five" yet to captain the side and would be an extremely popular choice. Jose-Maria Olazabal, the third candidate and also a two-time major winner, has the respect of everyone in the game for the determination and dignity he showed in overcoming serious health issues to win his second Masters title in 1999. Now 42, he is also the youngest of the three contenders and still a regular on the European Tour when his health permits.

Despite considerable support for each, the favorite must surely be Olazabal, Faldo's assistant at Valhalla. Woosnam is keen to have another go and he would seem a better fit than the Spaniard given his nationality. But Seve is the only European to have captained the side in his home country in the last 20 years, plus Woosie's done the job already so should really give way to others.

Lyle, like America's Larry Nelson who was passed up in favor of less successful but more media-friendly contemporaries, certainly deserves a chance. But one wonders if his boat has sailed. The 50-year-old has been on the outside looking in since his game went sour in the mid-1990s and, though he's playing regularly again, you have to doubt if his appearances on the Champions Tour in America provide the insight into potential team members that the job requires. That said, it could be argued (and frequently is) that age and current playing status of the captain doesn't matter so much as the esteem in which he's held, in which case Lyle would be the ideal choice. Always a popular figure, he would have little trouble encouraging a supreme effort out of his players.

In 2010 it will be 18 years since his last European Tour victory (1992 Volvo Masters) and 22 years since he won his second major (1988 Masters), but if Lyle were to take on the role of a more ceremonial captain, given the job simply out of admiration and acknowledgement of his former standing in the game, no one would be complaining.

People might react differently were Faldo ever to be reappointed, however. The former top-ranked player in the world boasts one of the greatest playing records in the history of the game, but his record as a Ryder Cup captain does not compare favorably. Many would say he should never be given the chance to improve it.

Tony Dear is an Englishman living in Bellingham, Wash. In the early 1990s he played on the Liverpool University golf team which played its home matches at Royal Liverpool GC. Easy access to Hoylake made it increasingly difficult for him to focus on Politics (his chosen major) and he subsequently dropped out. He ended up teaching golf at a club south of London, and made a futile attempt at becoming a player." He moved into writing when it became abundantly clear he had no business playing the game for a living. A one-time golf correspondent of the New York Sun, Tony is a member of the Pacific Northwest Golf Media Association and Golf Travel Writers Association. In 2009, Tony won first place in Editorial/Opinion in the ING Media Awards.