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Leave well alone
It comes as a relief to hear that Bernard Langer has let it be known that he wishes to retain his captain's role of the European Ryder Cup team. Speculation over the last few weeks has been that, for Langer, once is enough. Thankfully, the speculation has proved unfounded and Langer has formally indicated his preparedness to lead the team for the matches that will take place at the K Club in Dublin in 2006.

In total, five distinguished men of the green have thrown their hats into the proverbial ring to challenge for the leadership: Ian Woosnam, Nick Faldo, Sandy Lyle, Jose Maria Olazabal and now, finally, the hero of the hour in Detroit, St Bernard of Oakland Hills is prepared to make himself available.

Jamie Spence, chairman of the Tournament Players Committee has received all of the applications and will put them before his members to make their choice when they meet in Dubai on March 1. The meeting should not be a long one, for there is surely little to consider, given the credentials of the applicants. But pro golf does not live by talent alone and the lads in suits may have something to say in the matter.

In the weeks running up to the Dubai meeting the Press will have much to say on the matter too and the lads in suits will do what they can to fuel the debate. Captaincy carries kudos as well as financial reward. There will at least be a book contract and, a winning Ryder Cup captain can resurrect his name in the golf market place in an altogether different context. This can all become quite unattractive as the lads in suits make mileage out of controversy, for controversy makes more money than compliance. It will doubtless be suggested that Langer lacks lustre and that sponsors may be more amenable to Woosnam's mighty mouth than Langer's lucidity.

It is no secret that there is a powerful lobby for Woosnam. He is a loveable little character who is at his best with a pint in his hand and an audience with a thirst. He is just what the media needs and also what the sponsors want. He is a great golfer who has achieved great things, but is he a leader of men? Can he impart confidence and calm to a disparate band of individuals and, more importantly, induce them to win against the odds in the face of hype and ballyhoo? There is more to winning the Ryder Cup than playing good golf and much of it is concerned with tact and diplomacy.

For Faldo, Lyle and Olazabal there is likely to be little support. With two green jackets in his wardrobe and still competitive, Olazabal is a great player who could yet play himself into the team but he simply lacks the clout necessary for leadership at this time. Ollie has the passion and the commitment; his dance on the 18th green at Muirfield Village was in the Astaire class but it will take more than a fandango to sway the suits in Dubai. Sandy Lyle is a good guy, indeed he is the most likeable and naturally talented of all and his golfing record merits his consideration. But there it all ends for Sandy has always been a quite reserved champion, a loner and outsider who is not likely to stoke any fires of contention and he will therefore not appeal to the suits.

If Woosnam is most likely to upset the apple cart, Faldo can be counted on to give it a good shake. Faldo is the most significant figure in European golf in the last 50 years and is certainly assured a place in the annals of the game. He has enjoyed the most extensive respect and the least affection and one would doubt if either sponsors or players would be supportive of him. Faldo is perceived as an egoist and it is doubtful if he could induce a team spirit - the element that most would agree has driven European success in winning seven out of the last 10 Ryder Cup meetings. He was always the most focused of players and would certainly be focused in the captain's role, but it is questionable if he could command the affection and respect to focus 12 other egos.

Langer put up an impressive performance at Oakland Hills, quite apart from the fact that his team's nine point win matched the record set in the event by the Americans at Walton Heath in 1981 when many thought that there was no way back for European golf. His calm and charm throughout the most trying and vulgar of opening ceremonies was remarkable. His restraint in front of the media when his team returned a five-point lead after the first day was memorable. But only Langer could celebrate his team's victory with aplomb. It was his smile of pleasure that lacked any sign of self-satisfaction, which endeared him to the hard-core of patriotic America and induced more than a few US commentators to remark, regretfully, on their team's excesses at Brookline in 1999. That alone puts points in the bag for Dublin in 2006.

In contrast to the chaos in the US team, it was Langer's attention to detail as well as his ability to induce unity in a team considered underdogs that won the day in Detroit. Tom Lehman is not likely to repeat Hal Sutton's mistakes but he is likely to transmit his nervousness and innate angst to a team already uncertain. Langer, on the other hand, can only convey the habit of success and quite self-assurance - Spence and his selection committee would be well advised to leave well alone and retain captain Langer.

©    31 - JANUARY 2005

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