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Ryder Cup Captains meet at The Belfry

There was a bear hug, along with all the smiles and handshakes, but that was as close as it got to the "bearpit" atmosphere of the Ryder Cup at Brookline. Four months before this year's match, the two captains, Sam Torrance and Curtis Strange, met in a conference room at The Belfry hotel.

They are old friends and for now there is complete consensus that the controversial events of two Septembers ago will not be repeated. "I don't think we have to say anything to the players about what happened at Brookline," said Torrance. "That's gone and forgotten, let's get on with this one."

"This match is our match and our time," added Strange. "We want to move on. I think I feel the same way about that as Sam. We all know that the players crossed the line a bit, but we all learn from mistakes and they are all grown men from great backgrounds and we're just going to move forward. Ideally, there will be no controversies, nothing other than great golf and Sam's name and my name will never be mentioned."

In contrast to the aftermath from Brookline when the how, where and when of the American players running on the 17th green and stoking up the gallery was endlessly dissected, Torrance raised the subject with his opposite number for precisely 10 seconds. "That was it done and dusted and out of the way," said the Scot. "I think the event can take care of itself."

But Strange acknowledged that, as in 1993 when Bernard Gallacher and Tom Watson helped calm things down after another controversial match at Kiawah Island, how the teams approach the match and conduct themselves are defined by the captains. "It starts with us, Sam and I, and then filters through the players, and the media, to the public.

"The gallery here will be rooting hard for Sam's team but they are good golf fans. It will be a tough atmosphere to play in but it is fun. It is part of my job to prepare my players for that.

"But I don't think there has been animosity between the teams in the last few matches," Strange added. "I think it's more than that it has got such a big event. The players are playing for their flag and that is enough to get the emotions stirred."

Both know that all too well. Torrance lifted his arms ahead in triumph when Europe won at The Belfry in 1985, but shared the bitter disappointment of Brookline as an assistant to Mark James. Strange birdied the last four holes here in 1989 to beat Ian Woosnam and earn America a tie ­ though Europe retained the Cup ­ but in the last of his five appearances he bogeyed the last three holes to lose to Nick Faldo in the pivotal match at Oak Hill in '95.

"Ever since 1985 the Ryder Cup has become a tremendous event," Strange said. "You had better have a lot of guts. Inevitably, it's going to come down to a match on the 18th and you will know more pressure than you ever have before. But that is all part of competing. When I lost to Faldo, to say it was disappointment would be an understatement. I had not only let down myself but the other 11 guys. You know the sun will rise the next morning but I didn't think it would that night."

While Torrance has consulted past Ryder Cup captains in James, Seve Ballesteros and Tony Jacklin, as well as Sir Alex Ferguson, Strange has talked to Dave Odom, the basketball coach at his old university, Wake Forest. "I was asking about how to motivate a bunch of individuals to come together as a team and do something beyond what they think they can do.

"He said that however many titles they may have won, talk to them about what an experience the whole thing would be. That's right because I remember every match I played in five Ryder Cups, every team dinner."

Perhaps he will save the most pertinent words for Tiger Woods. While Torrance admitted the world No 1 was an "intimidating" presence to face, his record in team events is not all it might be. "I don't know if he is intimidating, that's a big word, but I'm glad he's on my team," Strange said. "But he is somewhat vulnerable over 18 holes of matchplay, just like Jack Nicklaus and everyone else. It's just a sprint."

The Belfry has matured tremendously since Strange last played here as he will find out when he plays in the Benson and Hedges International tomorrow. "I will be able to get a feel for the course which might just help the week of the Ryder Cup," he said. "It has grown up a lot and has become a very good course. It's an honest, upfront course and I don't think it will favour either side."


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