The Ultimate Ryder Cup Snub - "Most Unfair Decision I’ve Ever Heard Of In Golf History"

Miguel Angel Martin’s name will always be indelibly etched into Ryder Cup folklore but not for reasons that he will wish to remember 

Miguel Angel Martin pictured in 1997
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Miguel Angel Martin’s name will always be indelibly etched into Ryder Cup folklore but not for reasons that he will wish to remember 

Of all the strange goings-on in the lead up to a Ryder Cup these few days were some of the strangest.

Prior to the BMW International Open in 1997 Miguel Angel Martin was sitting in 10th place on the standings with 10 players qualifying automatically.

Jose Maria Olazabal (11th) and Padraig Harrington had chances to overtake the Spaniard in Germany but came up short.

Following the event there should have been an announcement revealing the two captain’s picks but that was then cancelled.

On the Tuesday Martin, who hadn’t played since the Open at Troon because of a wrist ligament injury, was given an ultimatum, via a fax, to play 18 holes at Valderrama the following day to demonstrate his fitness.

With the Ryder Cup still more than three weeks away Martin refused and was promptly replaced by Olazabal.

The statement from the Ryder Cup committed read as follows: “Following close consultation between the Ryder Cup committee and Severiano Ballesteros, it is announced that Miguel Angel Martin has been informed that he will be replaced in the European team by the 11th qualified player, which is Jose Maria Olazabal.

"Miguel Angel, who has because of injury not played competitive golf since July 18, had been requested to demonstrate that there was a reasonable likelihood that he would be fit and competitive for the Ryder Cup matches.

"Miguel Angel informed the Ryder Cup committee that he did not think it was necessary or convenient in his recuperation programme to play 18 holes of golf at Valderrama on Wednesday, which would have provided this opportunity.

“The proposal was intended to give him every opportunity of countering this presumption.

"As Miguel Angel has not availed himself of this opportunity the Ryder Cup Committee and the captain have with regret informed Miguel Angel that he will be replaced.

"The Ryder Cup committee and the captain understand that Miguel Angel will be extremely disappointed, but hope that he will in time understand and accept the correctness of the decision.”

Martin was actually informed by a journalist, rather than the committee, that he was not on the team and promptly threatened a legal backlash that could have derailed the whole competition.

the Heineken Classic golf tournament in Perth

Miguel Angel Martin holds his crystal trophy after winning the 1997 Heineken Classic golf tournament in Perth. (GREG WOOD/AFP via Getty Images)

“I’m going straightaway to my lawyers in the morning. It's crazy - a very, very silly decision. I am going to fight as hard as I can," he said.

"I want to try first to get back on the team but if that if not possible, we will have to see.

"The Ryder Cup is in Spain for the first time and I'm not just going to say that this decision is OK. They could have waited until days before.”

Then things were moved up a notch as Martin singled out Ballesteros, who had mooted two weeks before that Martin’s injury was a problem, as the prime mover in his exclusion from the team.

“Seve I don't think, wants me in the team. I am positive of that," he said.

"But I think I could be on the team still and I want to try. It's a silly decision – that's all I can say.

"They asked me to go to Valderrama but if my doctor says I can't go, then I am not going.

"I don't know what the Americans are going to make of this. The other players are with me, the only people who are against me are the committee and Seve.”

Europe won the 1997 Ryder Cup at Valderrama

To add another layer of mystery Seve then distanced himself despite the statement implementing him in the decision.

“No no no, I was not there. I don’t even have the official statement. It was up to the committee," he said.

"I asked the committee to give him some time. I don’t make the rules here. I only have so much power – please don’t implicate me in this.

"I think there was a mistake in the statement. They asked me what I want and I said I want you to make the right decision.

"I don’t feel guilty – my mind is very clear and I am very peaceful here.

"I am in a difficult position – the Ryder Cup is in Spain, I am Spanish, Miguel is Spanish and he is a good friend.”

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Ignacio Garrido then chipped in, which began a bizarre back and forth between captain and the soon-to-be debutant.

“If he takes this to law he could stop the Ryder Cup being played," Garrido said.

"You do not need to play golf to know if this decision is right. It’s the most unfair decision I’ve ever heard of in golf history.

"If it had been Seve himself or Monty it would never have happened.

"I cannot like Seve’s attitude on this and, if he comes and asks me my opinion, I will say ‘you are crazy’.

"They are not giving Miguel a chance and anyone in his position would react the same. Martin is a good friend of mine but that makes no difference. I would say the same if I didn’t like him.”

And back to Seve…

“Ignacio is Miguel’s best friend, I think you have to have an opinion from a neutral side. He is a little bit too young to make such a statement.”

The final twist in this whole extraordinary episode was when Martin was part of the official photographs, in full team colours, in the week of the matches before flying back to Madrid after just five hours.

He would also attend a news conference with the head of the European Tour Ken Schofield where the Scot confirmed that ‘no compensation was being paid’.

“I am leaving as I don’t feel like being here, I don’t think I can make any contribution.

"All I could do was get in the pictures and be on television.

"I think my practical advice is not necessary for the 12 best players in Europe.

"I extend my hand to Seve Ballesteros and wish him all the success he deserves. And, of course, we will win the Ryder Cup, I hope.”

Europe won the matches, a Ryder Cup where Tiger Woods made his debut, and Olazabal returned two and a half points. He played in all five matches.

Mark Townsend
Contributing editor

Mark has worked in golf for over 20 years having started off his journalistic life at the Press Association and BBC Sport before moving to Sky Sports where he became their golf editor on He then worked at National Club Golfer and Lady Golfer where he was the deputy editor and he has interviewed many of the leading names in the game, both male and female, ghosted columns for the likes of Robert Rock, Charley Hull and Dame Laura Davies, as well as playing the vast majority of our Top 100 GB&I courses. He loves links golf with a particular love of Royal Dornoch and Kingsbarns. He is now a freelance, also working for the PGA and Robert Rock. Loves tour golf, both men and women and he remains the long-standing owner of an horrific short game. He plays at Moortown with a handicap of 6.