SAM TORRANCE played one of the greatest masterstrokes in Ryder Cup history when, as captain in 2002 at the Belfry, he sprung a surprise on his American opponents ahead of the decisive singles contests. Sensing a need to get back on the front foot after the United States had drawn level, Torrance front-loaded his order with his best players. Here he explains a decision that helped Europe win back the iconic trophy.
I think that Curtis [Strange, US captain] was trying to second-guess me a bit with his decision to put [Phil] Mickelson and [Tiger] Woods right at the end of his line-up. That was something I never did all week. I wasn’t concerned about what the Americans were thinking. I was just trying to give my own team their best chance of expressing themselves. And, at 8–8, I felt we had to attempt to seize the initiative on the final day.
I had also given my singles strategy a huge amount of thought in the previous 18 months. At a Sunningdale Golf Club dinner I was sat next to a member called David Holland, and he had told me that night that, to him, a Ryder Cup captain could do worse than simply send out his singles players in an order dictated by best first and worst last.
Now, I wouldn’t rank any Ryder Cup player ‘best’ or ‘worst’ – at that level they are all magnificent players – but I knew what he was saying and it did stick with me throughout 2001 and then into 2002 when the original match was postponed. And, the more I thought about it, I couldn’t come up with any situation on a Saturday night when that method of selecting your line-up would not work. If you were four points down then obviously you wanted your strength up top in the singles, and if you were four points up then there was also much to commend a strategy in which you tried to wrap everything up early by again putting your leading players out in front. If you were tied . . . well, you wanted to seize the initiative.
Another part of my thinking was my belief that, in the heat of a Ryder Cup, and in the cauldron of a last day when everything is on the line, it doesn’t really matter who you have in your final four singles places. I don’t care if it is Woods or Nicklaus or Ballesteros at his peak, or Faldo. In those last matches, with the pressure on, anything can happen, and in Ryder Cups it often has.
I had no fear about exposing any of my so-called lesser players to what they might face in the bottom part of the draw. I have a phrase for it: out of the shadows can come heroes. In 2002, they certainly did.
Extracted from An Enduring Passion: My Ryder Cup Years by Sam Torrance, published by Mainstream in hardback at £16.99. Sam will be signing copies on Tuesday at Waterstones, Jubilee Place, 12 noon, and on Wednesday at Waterstones, London Wall, 12.30, and Waterstones, Ludgate Circus, 3.15.