Nick Faldo

He is not yet Sir Nick so we cannot call him “The Dark Knight”, tempting though it is, but there is much to suggest that this particular soubriquet would fit Nicholas Alexander Faldo neatly. Here is a man who marches relentlessly to the beat of his own drum, a golfer of impenetrable focus and a businessman of intelligence and ambition.

He always was going to be a Ryder Cup captain. He is not, however, a natural leader. He is too much of a loner. But what he possesses is the stature and the determination that encourages other men to fall neatly into line behind him.

Once there, however, one suspects that they have to do it his way or be on their way. With Faldo you know what you are going to get and what you get is a man for whom no detail is too small, no practice session too demanding and no opponent too good to be beaten. These are enviable qualities when it comes to the often-haphazard job of skippering 12 multi-millionaires in a bi-annual golf match. The bulk of his work will have been completed by the time you read this and all of it will have been done well.

His one blip over the last year has been the loss of one of his vice-captains, Paul McGinley. Quite where the blame should lay heaviest for this unfortunate squabble is unclear, but it showed once again that when it comes to making decisions Faldo is out there on his own. And once these decisions are made this is a bloke who just will not budge. So sometimes he is an uncomfortable companion but it means also that he has a clear vision and, as his record shows, in everything except personal relationships he has tended to be absolutely spot on.

He applied his undiluted determination to becoming the best golfer he possibly could be. His rise through the professional ranks is now woven into the fabric of Britain’s golfing legends, his change of swing via David Leadbetter, his six Majors, three Masters and three Opens. It is a record that makes him the most successful European golfer ever.

He goes to Valhalla as something of an American hero, his TV commentaries now held up as prime examples of sharp English wit even though some of us might feel that Noel Coward and even dear, old Peter Alliss are so far ahead as to be out of sight.

Not that Faldo will care as he banks the millions offered to him by the Golf Channel and others. He told me earlier this year that he was determined to do everything he could to make this a successful Ryder Cup for Europe, said that he did not want to exit Kentucky knowing he had neglected to anticipate and cover some eventuality.

He knows that another victory on foreign soil for a team he has illuminated on a record eleven occasions would be the final coup de grace of a sensational career. As a natural winner he cannot contemplate anything other than success.

And if this is how it works out then he may indeed find himself kneeling next year for someone important to lay a ceremonial sword on those broad shoulders. He would, naturally, welcome such an elevation and quite likely will tell us afterwards that it made a nice change from someone in the media trying to stick a knife into his back. I hope this is how it all works out.

Paul Azinger

“In the end, it’s just golf,” Paul Azinger said recently. Oh, really? After the 1991 Ryder Cup, Seve Ballesteros called the US team, “11 nice guys and Paul Azinger”. The 2008 US captain took it as a compliment and still wears that insult today as a badge of honour. His reposte was: “The king of gamesmanship doesn’t like me? Good.”

It is fair to say that this son of a Vietnam veteran has never shied away from a spot of backchat. And never more so than when starring across at Seve and Nick Faldo. Azinger simply revels in the match play arena – the closest golf gets to being a contact sport. “He’s a great choice as captain. He’s feisty. He brings a little bit of an attitude to a team that I think needs it right now,” said Jim Furyk. Maybe the PGA of America has finally found the right man to stop a run of five defeats from the last six matches.

So just how deep is Azinger’s love for the Ryder Cup? Well, he admitted at the US PGA Championship to taking drugs to get to sleep at night because he just can’t stop thinking about it. Fair enough, perhaps – but, he was talking at the USPGA Championship last year.

Cut him and he bleeds stars and stripes. He has played in four Ryder Cups and he never fails to find something to get hysterical about. That running tiff with Seve began over a dispute about a free drop on his debut in 1989. Then in 1993, Faldo and Azinger refused to ease off in their singles match even when the Americans had already won. Azinger came from behind to steal a half point by holing a 10-footer at the 18th. He remains unbeaten in the singles – and against Faldo. Watching the highlights of that match, Azinger said: “Look at that, I had had cancer, and he still couldn’t beat me.”

Azinger, typically, even won his battle with the Big C. But you’d think that the 48-year-old would have now mellowed with age and smoothed out the edges of his gunslinger’s appetite for trouble. Not a bit of it. “I wouldn’t take anything back,” Azinger said. “Gamesmanship has always been a part of the Ryder Cup, as long as it’s not unsportsmanlike.” Which is probably how he just couldn’t stop himself from calling Faldo a prick in a recent interview. It’s unclear whether he was joking although he did admit recently: “I say stupid things sometimes.”

Azinger has the same passion, determination and bloody-mindedness that inspired Tony Jacklin to turn around a losing streak for Europe in the 1980s. He has taken on the captain’s role on his terms, changing the qualification process to ensure hot players get on his team, and choosing four wild cards instead of two. He has announced there will be red, white and blue in the US team colours. And he has already been whipping up the US fans in an attempt to make home advantage count. “The fans in Kentucky can be the 13th man,” Azinger said. “They’re rabid fans; they understand rivalries. They serve alcohol there so anything is possible. But my message really will be simply that I want the crowd to be completely into it, but in the end sportsmanship plays out. But at the same time I want this crowd to be raucous and unruly too to a point where they’re not out of line.”

So it’s going to be noisy, then. Expect fist pumping, flag-waving, whoopin’ and hollerin’, and chants of “Ewe-Essay! Ewe-Essay!” The Ryder Cup is shaping up nicely to be Hell at Valhalla.