Commentary

British tabloids having a field day after Faldo, Europeans lose Ryder Cup

Originally Published: September 23, 2008
By Bob Harig | ESPN.com

It is no stretch to say Nick Faldo is the most accomplished British golfer of all time. Harry Vardon and Young Tom Morris provide interesting arguments, but certainly in modern times, no player who speaks the Queen's English stands as tall.

[+] EnlargeJose Maria Olazabel and Nick Faldo
Frank Victores/US PresswireEuropean Ryder Cup captain Nick Faldo, right, took heat from the British press for many things, including having just one assistant captain in Jose Maria Olazabal, left.
You know the record: six major championships, including three Masters and three Open Championships. Eleven Ryder Cup appearances, with no player on either side of the Atlantic playing more matches or earning more points.

It is a storied career, one capped by his European Ryder Cup captaincy over the weekend, where the vultures were out in full force and continued to pounce after the Europeans lost to the United States for the first time since 1999.

The always entertaining and typically over the top European media -- especially in Britain -- were frothing after Faldo allegedly made blunder after blunder in guiding his squad to a 5-point defeat at the hands of the seemingly more savvy American captain, Paul Azinger.

From the lack of enough assistant captains, to his frosty manner, to his sitting of stars Sergio Garcia and Lee Westwood on Saturday morning (never mind the Europeans played their best session with those two on the sideline) to his backloading his Sunday singles lineup, the needles aimed at Faldo were pointed and sharp.

Is Faldo now paying for the standoffishness that permeated his playing career?

NBC's Johnny Miller suggested during Saturday's telecast that Faldo would be vilified back home without a positive result at the Ryder Cup, with several of his so-called dubious decisions overshadowing his sterling playing record.

That is preposterous, really, but in Europe, that seems to be the case. The Ryder Cup is so massive, so important to the Continent, you cannot dismiss the notion, no matter how ridiculous it may sound. Imagine Jack Nicklaus, the most accomplished golfer of all time, waking up to tabloid headlines because he captained the first losing team on American soil in 1987.

It wouldn't happen here, but it is part of the process over there.

Certainly, Faldo offered plenty of room for second-guessing by keeping two of his best players on the sideline despite a rare three-point deficit heading into Saturday. Turns out, Garcia begged off due to fatigue, and Faldo didn't want to put Westwood out with a partner with whom he had not practiced.

Is that so bad?

Still, it was just another decision in a series of questionable decisions -- some important, others not so much -- that was getting plenty of scrutiny.

Among them were his choices of Ian Poulter and Paul Casey as his at-large selections instead of Darren Clarke, a European stalwart two years ago in Ireland who had won two tournaments this year. (Poulter went 4-1, the best player on the European side while Casey was 0-1-2.)

Faldo was also criticized for having just one assistant captain, Spain's Jose Maria Olazabal. (Who cares, really? This is golf.)

And then there were the remarks made at the opening ceremony. In introducing Padraig Harrington, he said the Irish golfer has "been hitting more balls than potatoes have been dug up in Ireland." (Stereotypical, to be sure.) When he introduced Graeme McDowell, Faldo tried to make a funny: "Are you from Ireland or Northern Ireland?" (Without an entire political discussion, suffice to say the remark was viewed as insensitive, given the history between Ireland and Northern Ireland, where McDowell hails from.)

Then at the closing ceremonies, he finished by saying, "See you all in Wales in 2010. Bring your waterproofs!" (Ouch. Seeing as Wales tourism officials were on hand all week promoting the venue, that hurt.)

Of course, insensitive remarks are one thing, captaining the team is another, and the decision to send three of his best players -- Poulter, Westwood and Harrington -- out last during singles is causing the greatest consternation. It doesn't do any good to have your best players fighting for points if the outcome is already decided, as it was. That was a risk, and it didn't work. That is sports, isn't it?

Sure, Faldo can be questioned about this decision. The same thing happened to U.S. captain Curtis Strange in 2002 when he had Tiger Woods anchor the lineup and his match with Jesper Parnevik proved to be meaningless. Of course, Phil Mickelson had lost to a guy named Phillip Price, and Strange couldn't do anything about that.

Likewise, is having Sergio Garcia in the leadoff position a poor decision? He's only one of the most accomplished players in European Ryder Cup history. In fact, for all the pleas to put more strength at the top, the Europeans got a tie from Paul Casey and victories by Robert Karlsson and Justin Rose in the first four matches. They had actually pulled to within a point.

"At the end of the day, it comes down to playing well," Garcia said. "If I would have played better and I would have won my match, maybe you know, some of the others coming down the stretch. ... maybe we would be talking and writing a different story."

And it sure is hard to argue with Henrik Stenson being put in the fifth position. The Swede won the Accenture Match Play Championship a year ago and he is the seventh-ranked player in the world, the fourth highest at the Ryder Cup. He just happened to run into a red-hot Kenny Perry. Was Westwood or Harrington -- both of whom lost to inferior players -- going to change that outcome?

Sometimes it is simply about who played better. We said the same thing when the Americans were losing, and losing badly. Their stars, specifically Woods, Mickelson and Jim Furyk, did not shine in the past three Ryder Cups, and the U.S. lost.

Azinger did an admirable job in his captaincy, pushing for changes in the selection process and captain's picks and devising a plan to put his players in mini-groups to better maximize their strengths. It worked, but only because the players executed.

Meanwhile, Faldo's trio of Garcia, Westwood and Harrington combined to go 0-7-5.

Is that "Nasty Nick's" fault?

"We hold the golf clubs and we hit the shots, not the captain," Westwood said.

Bob Harig covers golf for ESPN.com. He can be reached at BobHarig@gmail.com.

Bob Harig | email

Golf Writer, ESPN.com