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Behind The Ryder Cup - The Players' Stories

Peter Burns with Ed Hodge

As the co-authors readily acknowledge in their introduction, ‘scores of books have been written on the history of the Ryder Cup'. However, this exhaustively researched new volume brings an entirely fresh perspective as it looks to tell the history of the Ryder Cup almost entirely from the point of view of the players and captains. Running chronologically from the first match, held at Worcester Country Club in Massachusetts in 1927, through to the fortieth match at the Gleneagles Hotel in Perthshire in 2014, the reader, through the words of the participants, is made to feel right at the heart of the action in a style that has never have been achieved before. Following are a just few extracts that offer insight into the manner in which this splendid compendium captures the flavour of the matches:

After a predictable hammering in the first contest in 1927, George Duncan, Great Britain's star player of the day, conceded that the American captain “Walter Hagen outwitted us” after asking his British counterpart Ted Ray for the order of play prior to the opening foursomes, without revealing his own hand! “Ted unsuspectingly handed them over. “ From that moment on, all future orders of play have been exchanged simultaneously.

Gene Sarazan tells a marvellous story of an occurrence that turned his singles match on its head during the 1931 match in Columbus Ohio. With his British opponent Fred Robson ahead in the match and safely on the green from the tee at a Par three, Sarazan hooked his shot over the green, whereupon “the ball cannoned off some Coca-Cola boxes and bounded through the door and into the refreshment stand...at first I was going to pick it up but I didn't want to concede the hole without making some sort of stab. The operator of the stand helped my caddie and me move the refrigerator...I took my niblick, and lofted it out through the window ten feet from the cup. Fred three putted carelessly and I rolled mine in for a three! The incident so disconcerted Fred that he never hit another good shot and went on to lose 7&6!”

The disparity between the two teams in terms of clothes and equipment – an issue that remained unaddressed until Tony Jacklin assumed the captaincy in 1983 – went as far back as the Ryder Cup's inception. Hagen, the US captain for the first six ‘editions' stated “I insisted that our fellows be fittingly uniformed...although I picked my teams for their game and not their beauty, I must admit we stacked up pretty well in the Beau Brummel department too.” This approach undoubted lent the Americans a sense of superiority (and conversely added to the British inferiority) through decades of domination. Neil Coles , reflecting on the 1961 Match at Royal Lytham, relates “the PGA gave us a uniform of four golf shirts and one blue pullover to play in. But my pullover was too small and I asked for a bigger one. The PGA said they didn't have one even after I told them it felt restrictive when I swung and I couldn't play in it. They said I had to wear it. I went to the Pringle tent in the golf village and they only had cardigans in my size. So I said “that'll do.” Brian Barnes later echoed the inequality between the sides: “As a team we were very much the poor relations. We'd walk onto the tee with our plastic golf bags, Aertex shirts, two ply wool sweaters and the Americans would be there with beautiful leather bags, cashmere sweaters and trousers that actually fitted.”

Such was the extent of US domination and waning interest in the Cup on the other side of the pond that Tom Weiskopf declared himself unavailable for the 1977 Match in favour of a hunting trip in Alaska. “It's the lions against the Christians,” he explained. It took Jack Nicklaus to help readdress the balance: “When I'm asked what my favourite Ryder Cup moment is, making it more inclusive is my best memory.” As Seve Ballesteros burst onto the scene, Nicklaus was a strong early advocate of expanding the hitherto GB&I team to include the whole of continental Europe. Nicklaus continued: “The US had won eighteen of the first twenty two Ryder Cups, mostly by lopsided margins. By the time of the '77 contest it was clear to me that the imbalance in pitting a nation that possessed fifteen million golfers against two countries with barely a million between them was turning the match into a non-event as far as the American public was concerned. And also to some of its top golfers.” Nicklaus's lobbying had the desired effect and ultimately, perhaps, saved the Ryder Cup from sliding into oblivion.

The book makes us privy to many of the squabbles and disagreements that abound within any team environment. We learn that in the 1969 match Bernard Gallacher believed that the GB&I captain Eric Brown (who Brian Huggett says “didn't like Americans at all”) was “a very good captain, very inspirational.” Whereas Brian Barnes said “He hated Americans. I just found him embarrassing.” That Nick Faldo's unguarded comments while acting as a TV pundit during the 2014 Match about Garcia having a “bad attitude in 2008” had the effect of bringing the team together. Sam Torrance, one of Europe's vice-captains was less than complimentary of the six time Major winner: “To say that right in the middle of the Ryder Cup, what was the a******e thinking about? The guys rallied round Garcia like an injured goose”

Among the host of fascinating insights, the book is replete with very funny stories throughout. Bernard Gallagher tells of Trevino declaring before he played Oosterhuis in 1973 “If I don't beat that guy, I'll kiss the a***s of every member of the team.” Gallacher: “And they went on to halve the match. When Trevino got back to the locker room he found Nicklaus, Palmer, Brewer and Hill all waiting for him with their trousers down.”

Anybody with so much as a cursory knowledge of the Ryder Cup will know that Seve Ballesteros became synonymous with the event; The Player's Stories, more than ever before, provides understanding into the just how important the Cup came to mean to him and he to it. Faldo, talking after the narrow defeat away to the Amercians in 1983: “It was Seve who picked us up. He said ‘now we know we can beat them and will do so next time.' Which is what we did!” Tony Jacklin: “You wouldn't believe the power and strength of mind that Seve brought to our team.” Olazabal, on debut in '87 at Muirfield Village: “the Captain didn't know what to do with me. Seve approached Tony and said: ‘Tony, I will play with Ollie.' And the rest is history.” Colin Montgomerie: “Seve was always the leader, he just couldn't help himself. With Seve you felt you were part of an irresistible force.”

Behind The Ryder Cup The Players' Stories is a wonderful read. With the next chapter of this, perhaps the greatest of all team competitions, set to be written at the end of September over the fairways of Hazeltine, Minnesota, this marvellously researched and pieced together book will entertain and enlighten in equal measure. Congratulations to the co-authors for unearthing a veritable treasure trove of anecdotes that have the effect of practically bringing the reader into the team rooms of every Ryder Cup played from 1927 to the present.

Can be purchased at Amazon here... and at www.birlinn.co.uk/Behind-the-Ryder-Cup.html – where £5 from every sale can be donated to a golf club of the customer's choice.





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