For two captains looking to inspire their teams, a visit from Louisville’s very own Muhammad Ali is about as good as it gets.
The 66-year-old former heavyweight champion showed up in a cart on the 10th tee on the final practice day to meet the U.S. players and pose for photographs before heading off to mingle with the European team. His hands now trembling from Parkinson’s Syndrome, Ali waved to the cheering gallery. His mere presence still affects people like no other athlete.
It was all too much for European captain Nick Faldo, who is usually an emotional iceman. “Well, meeting him was just an incredible moment,” Faldo began before stopping to take a deep breath. Then his eyes filled with tears. “I thought it was really special.” He couldn’t continue.
The next question — a golf question — gave him a chance to gather himself before an Ali follow-up brought the lump back to his throat. His eyes welled up again. Did he expect to be so emotional about meeting Ali?
“Don’t start me again,” he said, laughing nervously. “Yeah. No. Yes. I’m about there [pointing to the top of his forehead] with emotions this week, already. I need to get it out somewhere.”
He’s not such a cold fish, after all. It clearly meant a great deal for one of the all-time great golfers to meet perhaps the all-time-greatest sportsman. But Faldo’s reaction also revealed the enormous pressure he is feeling.
While Faldo was struggling to keep his emotions in check, the American captain Paul Azinger appeared as relaxed as he’s been all week after meeting with Ali and announcing Friday morning’s pairings. His meeting with the former champ seemed more joyful than emotional.
“I’m sure he could hear what I was telling him,” Azinger said. “I saw his eyes open up. I told him that I spoke at his house last year, and I reminded him of a story that I told there, about when I was young. I remembered watching him when he was fighting Ken Norton and Norton broke his jaw. I told him I’ll never forget that as long as I live. And I told him that was an inspiration for me to never quit, no matter what. It was a great privilege to sit next to a great man.”