Seve Ballesteros and Jose Maria Olazabal, the greatest partnership in Ryder Cup history (Getty Images)
My All-time European Ryder Cup team
As focus turns to The 2010 Ryder Cup, Renton Laidlaw, commentator for The Golf Channel, gives his All-time European Ryder Cup Team.
By Renton Laidlaw
In the 15 Ryder Cup contests played since 1979, when the event first embraced golfers from Continental Europe and not just Great Britain and Ireland, 65 players have been involved.
England has provided 21 players, Spain and Scotland nine, Sweden eight, Ireland six, Northern Ireland four, two each from Denmark, Wales and France and one representative each from Germany and Italy.
It gives me plenty to choose from as I set about selecting my greatest European Ryder Cup Team of all time.
Those players who in the past 31 years have collected the most points in the fourballs, foursomes and singles – 420 matches in all – come high on the list but before I delve into that I want to look at some other interesting facts surrounding golf’s greatest team contest.
If the Americans held sway in the years following the inauguration of the match in 1927 – they lost only three of the 22 matches prior to 1979 - the inclusion of players from Continental Europe transformed the contest.
Since 1979, Europe has produced as many amazing and unforgettable moments of sheer golfing brilliance as the Americans have, and the two Teams head to The Celtic Manor Resort with seven wins each from those 15 contests – the 1989 match resulting in a tie – although Europe has an overall points advantage, leading the Americans by 212½ - 207½.
Of course, choosing an all time great European Team is very subjective. This is my choice but I appreciate it might not be yours.
Some players are automatic selections and simply cannot be left out. So let us start with five who fall into that category: Severiano Ballesteros, Bernhard Langer, Sir Nick Faldo, José Maria Olazábal and Colin Montgomerie.
These five have remarkable Ryder Cup records. Ballesteros, especially when partnering fellow Spaniard Olazábal, was always an inspiration. He played in 1979 but failed to make the Team in 1981.
He returned in 1983 and thereafter collected 21½ points from 32 games, winning 11 times out of 15 in partnership with Olazábal and only losing twice. That was not all. In 1983, when Europe came within a point of winning for the first time on American soil at PGA National, he selflessly took a young Paul Way under his wing, won 2 ½ points out of four in foursomes and fourballs and inspired the youngster so much that Way beat Curtis Strange 2 and 1 in the singles.
That was the year Ballesteros played one of the greatest shots ever seen when he took a three wood from a deep fairway bunker at the last and somehow managed to get the ball on the green and earn a half point against Fuzzy Zoeller. The shot could have won the contest for Europe but Lanny Wadkins later played a superb approach to the last to gain a vital half-point for the Americans.
German maestro Langer has long been known for his clinical approach and never more so than in The Ryder Cup. He was a brilliant Captain in 2004 but that was no surprise. As a player he had been one of the truly strong men of the side whose potential moment of glory at Kiawah Island in 1991 was cruelly snatched away when his putt for victory was deflected away from the hole by a spike mark, giving a very relieved and exhausted Hale Irwin the half point the Americans needed to hang on to the famous gold trophy. Langer, being the man he is, handled his disappointment with typical graciousness and courage.
Langer is the ultimate team man, a real Cup all-rounder. In 42 games he won 24 points – 18½ of them in foursomes and fourballs in which he played with no fewer than 12 different partners. In singles he lost only three out of ten, underlining how reliable his contribution was.
Sir Nick Faldo, top scorer with 25 points from 46 games, is another Ryder Cup great. He and Ian Woosnam were a devastating duo while in singles, Faldo had impressive victories over Tom Watson, Raymond Floyd, Lee Elder, Paul Azinger, Johnnie Miller and Jay Haas.
Olazábal whose career has been dogged by injury and illness, is an automatic choice not just because of his partnership with Ballesteros but because he is one of the great characters in world golf. From 31 games he collected 20½ points.
If Seve was an inspiration in the 1980s, that role was taken over by Montgomerie in the two decades which followed and nobody matches his singles record of played eight, won six and halved two.
The Ryder Cup inspires Montgomerie just as he will look to inspire his Team as Captain at Celtic Manor in October. He won seven points out of 14 fourball games with six different partners and 9½ out of 14 in foursomes with the same number of partners.
Moving on from the initial five, I now nominate four more Ryder Cup greats who would grace any line-up, starting with a man I have already mentioned – Ian Woosnam. The Welshman would certainly make the side because of his indefatigable spirit and his partnership with Faldo. There would be spots in the Team, too, for three other golfers with impressive records – Lee Westwood, Sergio Garcia and Darren Clarke.
Westwood, whose value to the Team is unquestionable, has earned 16 ½ points from his 29 matches and is the natural on-course general to follow the role played in the past by Ballesteros and Montgomerie.
Garcia’s flair and enthusiasm is as important off the course as it is on it, where he has teamed up well with Jesper Parnevik, Westwood and Olazábal.
The man known as El Niño has as much commitment to the cause as Ireland’s Clarke, who missed out on a place in 2008 at Valhalla but who has earned 11½ points from his 20 games nevertheless, most notably the three he made in emotional circumstances at The K Club in 2006.
With his friend Westwood by his side, Clarke, whose wife Heather had passed away a few months earlier, won two fourball matches and then took care of Zach Johnson, the former Masters Champion, in a highly charged singles. It was a truly massive achievement in the circumstances.
Padraig Harrington, winner of two Open Championship titles and the US PGA Championship, has undoubted calibre and would also make my Team. He has won two of his seven fourballs – both with Montgomerie – and has halved three and won two in foursomes.
That makes ten and now it becomes much more difficult. I understand how tough it must be each time for any Captain to choose his final picks but in this case the task is more difficult because I have over 50 players available for the final two places!
High on my list to fill those spots is Bernard Gallacher, a Ryder Cup stalwart, and Peter Oosterhuis. Jesper Parnevik also deserves to be considered as does Luke Donald, who may have missed out last time but in his two matches has won 5½ points from seven.
Dare I leave out Sandy Lyle, a double Major winner who played in five Ryder Cups? Then there are the host of golfers whose contribution in Ryder Cups at one time or another has been crucial: Christy O’Connor Jnr, for instance, with his famous two iron second shot at the last which helped him end the challenge posed by Fred Couples in the drawn match at The Belfry in 1989.
Irish players have played significant roles in matches when the overall result is on a knife-edge. Remember Eamonn Darcy keeping his nerve by holing a lightning fast downhill seven foot left to righter on the last to beat Ben Crenshaw at Muirfield Village when Europe scored their first win on American soil in 1987? Or Philip Walton’s one hole triumph over Jay Haas when Europe won by a point at Oak Hill in 1995? And do not forget gutsy Paul McGinley rolling in the winning putt against Jim Furyk in the Sam Torrance-inspired 2002 victory?
Then there is Manuel Piñero, who won four points out of five overall – three of them with Ballesteros – in 1985 and when given the task of leading the side in the singles, responded brilliantly with an inspired victory over Lanny Wadkins
Others worthy of consideration are Costantino Rocca, who scored an important 4 and 2 victory over Tiger Woods in the Valderrama triumph; Peter Baker, anxious all week about the health of his young daughter who had been hospitalised, who somehow dug deep to beat Corey Pavin in 1993; and Welshman Phillip Price, under the most extreme pressure, who played some of the best golf of his career to beat Phil Mickelson in 2002.
Miguel Angel Jiménez also deserves consideration, but ultimately I am going to go with the two men who were Captain Nick Faldo’s picks the last time – Paul Casey and Ian Poulter.
Poulter rewarded Faldo for his confidence in him with an impressive performance at Valhalla in 2008 where he finished top points scorer of the 24 men in action, while Casey, with five points from his nine games so far is a dogged competitor whose claims are hard to ignore.
So there you have my Team: Ballesteros, Langer, Olazábal, Faldo, Montgomerie, Woosnam, Garcia, Clarke, Westwood, Harrington, Casey and Poulter.
I know I could select a different dozen who would give my chosen 12 a jolly good game – and I’m sure you could too.
Renton Laidlaw- reproduced by kind permission of Colin Montgomerie's Official Guide