Bill Elliott: Name Sandy as skipper
Seve, Bernhard, Woosie and Nick have had their chances. It would be nothing short of rudeness not to nominate Sandy Lyle as Ryder Cup captain in 2010.
You may have noticed that this is a golf magazine and so I thought I d kick off this month by talking briefly about football. Now I love football, from the high-level unpaid stuff my younger son plays in the Southern Amateur League through to the Premiership and the Champions League. And everything in between, especially Preston North End.
What I don t love so much is all the newspaper and TV space that footie grabs. The difference between golf and soccer from
a media perspective is this: football is a team game with occasional outstanding individuals, while golf is played by some outstanding individuals who every couple of years try to form themselves into a team.
So there are endless opportunities for football to be portrayed as soap opera. Most of the column inches devoted to it obsess over what one person thinks of another one or who has just slagged off someone else. Golf, on the other hand, is a quiet game, played quietly in front of, mostly, quiet people. Its attraction for many of us lies in this pedestrian quietness.
Anyway, the point here is that every other year we golf writers are presented with an opportunity to write about golf in a similar fashion to our football-reporting brothers and sisters. This is because of the Ryder Cup. Suddenly team-driven chit-chat drips everywhere. Some of this is about who is trying to make the side or what the captain thinks about almost anything. Often, however, it is about who the next skipper is likely to be. It s all good fun but now and then something happens that makes me even more irritated than even stories about Chelsea can manage.
Such a moment arrived while I was at the Masters and a British paper carried a story about how José María Olazábal had been approached to see how he felt about captaining Europe when the old battle meanders down to Celtic Manor in two years time. According to this story Ollie was stitched on if he wanted the job. And the man doing the stitching, it was claimed, was Thomas Björn. The not-so-great Dane is currently chairman of the powerful Tournament Committee on the European Tour, the 15-strong group of men who have it in their gift to nominate the next skipper.
He would also be the same Thomas Björn who so crudely and embarrassingly tore into Ian Woosnam in 2006 because the Welshman had had the temerity not to name him as one of his captain s picks for Ireland. Woosie s team including, of course, his alternative selections beat the Americans by a record-equalling margin. Björn subsequently apologised but the stain remains.
Exactly what was said between Björn and Olazábal is unclear but what I can tell you is that a few days later I spoke to Ollie s close friend and manager Sergio Gómez and, although our conversation was private, I can reveal that he immediately distanced himself from his pal s elevation to the captaincy for Celtic Manor. Instead he spoke about Sandy Lyle in glowing terms. Most people do.
Lyle is a nice bloke who also happened to win an Open and a Masters, a big double Björn, or anyone else on the Tournament Committee, has yet to achieve. Sandy wants to be Ryder Cup captain and has placed his name prominently in the hat. He, too, was bemused when I asked him about all this. Even so, he maintained his usual dignity when he declined the opportunity to get angry at the proposed slight and instead shrugged his shoulders in what was an eloquent enough gesture at a lot of nonsense.
This column, indeed this magazine, believes that Lyle should be captain in two years time. The last time a skipper was picked because Europe absolutely needed to win the matches was Bernard Gallacher in 1995. The only captain before him to be asked to do the job in this way was Tony Jacklin. Everyone else has been made boss because it is an honour they deserved. Well, from the great generation of Lyle, Nick Faldo, Seve Ballesteros, Bernhard Langer and Ian Woosnam only Sandy has yet to have the chance to make a couple of forgettable speeches.
His PR error is to be the same, understated, decent bloke that he always has been but there can be no reasonable doubt that he would make a perfectly acceptable captain. The obvious and honourable thing for the Tournament Committee now to do would be to nominate Lyle, to name Ollie as skipper for America in 2012 and to put Monty out of his misery for Gleaneagles in 2014. Anything else would be indefensible. And rude. As chairman, Björn now finds himself with an opportunity to clean up finally that stain from two years ago and to establish himself as a man of intelligence and foresight.
Bill has been part of the Golf Monthly woodwork for many years. A very respected Golf Journalist he has attended over 40 Open Championships. Bill was the Observer's golf correspondent. He spent 26 years as a sports writer for Express Newspapers and is a former Magazine Sportswriter of the Year. After 40 years on 'Fleet Street' starting with the Daily Express and finishing on The Observer and Guardian in 2010. Now semi-retired but still Editor at Large of Golf Monthly Magazine and regular broadcaster for BBC and Sky. Author of several golf-related books and a former chairman of the Association of Golf Writers. Experienced after dinner speaker.
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