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European Captain - Mark James

Europe's new Ryder Cup captain, Mark James, could not present a more vivid contrast from his predecessor, Severiano Ballesteros.

Whereas Ballesteros wears his heart on his sleeve and isn't afraid of display his raw emotions to the world at large, 44 year old James rarely offers a clue to his innermost thoughts.

Whereas the Spaniard is gregarious and demonstrative, James can roll in a 50 foot putt and not even allow a trace of a smile to crease the tanned features hiding beneath his luxuriant moustache.

But the hugely successful golfer born in Manchester, but resident in Ilkley, Yorkshire, for the majority of his days, is deceptive. He is a deep thinker with a clever, concise mind and entertains his friends with his sardonic, wry sense of humour.

James was long regarded as a prodigious talent before he joined the professional ranks in 1976.

As a youngster, James struck a deal with his father. He could play all the golf he wanted as long as he was studied diligently at school. That he did, achieving the distinction of passing nine 'O' levels and two 'A' levels before he completed his education.

As an amateur, James didn't take long to make a reputation for himself. At age 19 he captured his first big title, the English Amateur, at Woodhall Spa then just failed to land the Amateur the following year, losing to American Vinny Giles at Hoylake.

Despite playing in the losing Great Britain & Ireland Walker Cup side at St.Andrews in 1975, James enjoyed a successful match, winning three and losing just one of his four matches.

He turned professional immediately and the impact was instantaneous. In his first year in the paid ranks, he finished joint fifth behind Johnny Miller and a certain Spaniard called Ballesteros in the Open at Royal Birkdale, claimed the Sir Henry Cotton Rookie of the Year title and occupied 15th place on the European Tour Order of Merit with #10,310.

Since then - with the exception of a miserable season in 1996 - James has never finished lower than 32nd in the money list, making the top ten on six different occasions.

There was never much doubt that the combination of a sound game and equable temperament would elevate James to the upper echelons of European golf.

In 1978 he earned the first of 16 victories on the European Tour by collecting the Sun Alliance Match Play Championship, followed swiftly by the now defunct Welsh Classic and the first of two consecutive Irish Open titles. Mark James had arrived.

Not only that, he had reached the summit of team golf equally rapidly, making the transition from the Walker Cup in 1975 to a Ryder Cup baptism of fire at Royal Lytham & St.Annes in 1977, where he lost all three matches. He achieved his highest placing in the Order of Merit in 1979 - third behind Sandy Lyle - but was plagued by putting difficulties which have concerned him at regular intervals since.

His reputation as something of a maverick landed him on hot water after his second Ryder Cup appearance in 1979. James and Ken Brown were found guilty of unacceptable conduct at The Greenbrier and fined #1500 and #1000 respectively.

It was the nadir of his international career, and the Mark James who returned to the Ryder Cup fold in 1981 was a more mature and committed individual than the rebel without a cause from two years previously. James continued to win titles at the rate of approximately one a season while his performances in the Open marked him as a player to be reckoned with. In 1981 he took third place behind Bill Rogers at Royal St.Georges, fourth in 1994 behind Nick Price and eighth the following year as John Daly claimed the claret jug at St.Andrews.

The years of 1989 and 1990 were extremely profitable to James, who won three times in '89 and twice in '90. He also returned to Ryder Cup action in 1989 after an absence of eight years and won three points as Europe retained the trophy.

A 'wild card' pick by Bernard Gallacher at Kiawah Island in 1991, James has played in seven Ryder Cup matches, winning eight points out of a possible 24.

James is a long serving member of the Tournament Committee and was voted chairman in 1994. He also sat on the European Tour's Board of Directors for a spell.

Married to Jane in 1980, he is a devoted fan of science fiction and a particular devotee of Star Trek. However his greatest passion in life is tending the garden at his Ilkley home.

"I feel at home in ground under repair" explained James with typical understated humour. Certainly the European captain will be hoping that everything in the garden is rosy at The Country Club, Brookline, next September.

 


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