It’s a little early to start talking about the next Ryder Cup, so I won’t. It’s not as if you won’t be hearing enough about it when the media starts their inevitable biennial diatribe about how the matches should be an American rout, by virtue of the fact that people here have actually heard of some of the U.S. team members. But there I go, digressing again.
No, this month I’m going to perform a background check, presidential style, upon my very bestest friend in the world — Mr. Samuel Torrance, the captain of the 2001 European Ryder Cup team and undisputed world light-heavyweight champion of the noble art of falling-over-your-own-luggage-at-the-airport. To give you even a small idea as to how close we are, my wife Anita and I named our infant daughter Erin Torrance Feherty.
Actually, I’m delighted to be able to say that next year, once again, both captains are two of my favorite people. (No, wait a minute, that would mean that each of them is two persons. Never mind. If you’re smart enough to have passed fifth grade math, you’re probably not reading this anyway.) The thing is, Sam and U.S. captain Curtis Strange also have been friends for years, and if any two (or four) people are capable of getting the Ryder Cup genie back into the lamp, it is they.
Okay, so I lied. I’ve done nothing but talk about the Ryder Cup, so here’s the background. In customary political style, much of what is written here will be either false, intentionally misleading, or even downright untrue. The rest will be heavily biased toward my candidate. There will be prizes for anyone who can spot the wee true pieces. (That was one of the false bits.)
Samuel Robert Torrance was born in Largs, Scotland, a little way west of Glasgow. In order to get to know my friend Sam, you must understand where he came from. He is the only son of the greatest golf teacher that Europe has ever seen, Robert Torrance, and his wife, June.
Bob taught me for many years and, in my opinion, knows what Hogan was trying to do better than Hogan did. Like the great man, Bob is fairly economical with his words, which are spoken in a kind of Glaswegian Swahili that only those close to him can understand.
Once, on the practice tee at the British Open at Muirfield, I was walking with him and Sam, listening intently to Bob, when a well-known player (in the world’s top five at the time) shouted over, “Hey, Bob, how about a tip?”
Bob stopped abruptly in mid-sentence and looked around. Seeing who it was, he winked, told us to hold on, marched over, whispered something conspiratorial in the player’s ear, and stood back to watch him hit. Almost instantly, the ball began to fly straight and true. As Bob walked back to join us, the player shouted his thanks.
I asked him what kind of tip he had offered and he replied, “Ah telt him never tae wipe his arse w’ya broken bottle,” as we walked on. “Never tie yer shoelaces inna revolvin’ door,” was another of his favorites, but he only used it on people who were having trouble with their short game.
Needless to say, Bob is a column all his own. Or possibly a book.
Sam was the pro shop kid at Routenburn, where his dad was both pro and greenkeeper, and he grew up with the game, turning pro at age 31/2. His mom once told me that when he was born, he had fine dark hair all over him. I don’t think he ever lost it. He is the hairiest person I have ever seen and rather than shave, he sets fire to himself regularly by dropping hot ashes from his roll-yer-own ciggies. He often has been photographed with a cigarette behind one ear and a pencil behind the other. A beautifully balanced character.
Since 1971, when he joined the European Tour, Sam has played about 650 events, more than anyone in the Tour’s history. He has also made it look like more fun than anyone in history. I was fortunate enough to travel to about 250 of those events with him, to places like Madrid, Stockholm, Hamburg, Paris, Dubai, Rome, Milan, and Amsterdam, to name a few.
As captain of the European Four Tours’ world championship team in 1991, he issued a no-practice decree to us, and, as we watched the other teams suffer in the 110-degree Adelaide heat, we sipped cold beers in the clubhouse. Naturally, we won.
He was my partner and mentor at the 1991 Ryder Cup, and through the ups and downs in my career and personal life, he and his wife Suzanne were always there, ready to celebrate or support. It’s a strange thing to say, but one of the highlights of my career was his win at the ’95 Irish Open. My most cherished photograph is of him, after holing a putt on the second playoff hole, hoisting me into the air in a giant bear hug, with a grin that lights up my office.
Sam and I spent 10 years together, traveling the European Tour and around the world. If I finished my round before him, I would regularly check the scoreboard to see how he was playing, always hoping he would tie me, so we might play together the next day. In all those years, it only happened twice, and both times the bastard beat me.
I must have played 1,000 practice rounds with him and he was always my partner. I have never met a better gambler. Playing with Sam was like a license to extract cash from your opponents, who were always affectionately referred to as “mullets.” Once, at Wentworth, we were playing against a couple of mullets and were one-up through 11 holes when Sam called me over to the edge of the 12th tee where he had trapped a little snake under the head of his 5-iron.
Snakes are an uncommon sight in the British Isles and there is only one poisonous species. I decided that I’d do a Marty Stouffer and identify the little fella. I grasped Sam’s 5-iron and ran my right hand down the shaft to about a foot from the clubhead, under which the little serpent squirmed furiously.
“That, Samuel,” I announced pompously, “is an adder, the only poisonous snake in Britain,” and I attempted to flick the scaly little bugger away. The problem was, I flicked him just a little fat, you see, and he wrapped himself around the shaft and popped up just enough to sink one of his little gnashers into the tip of my right index finger.
“Oh, dearie me,” said the hairy one, in a bladder-endangering fit of laughter. “You’ve been bitten by a snake.”
“Maybe I’d better go in,” I said. Sam thought for a while — about a millisecond. We were about 200 smackers in front at this stage. “Nah,” he said. “It’s just like a bee sting. Don’t be such a big fairy.”
So on we went. Within a minute or so, my fingertip was totally anesthetized. You could have whacked it with a mallet and I wouldn’t have noticed. By the time we had gotten to the 15th tee, the finger was swollen, ramrod straight, we were only one-up, and Sam mentioned that it was unfortunate that the snake hadn’t bit me on the willie. By the 18th green, my right hand was twice the size of my left.
We won the match and an hour later I was in a hospital bed being pumped full of cortisone and painkillers. The doctor said that the centrifugal force generated by swinging the golf club checked the progress of the venom and might have saved my life.
Sam said he knew that. Outside the hospital, reporters waited for him to come out. “How is he?” one of them shouted.
“He’s got blood poisoning and they doubt very much if he’ll make it,” Sam said, as he walked toward his car. He opened the door and turned to face them, enjoying their shocked expressions. “Oh, you mean David,” he said. “He’ll be fine. I thought you were asking about the snake.” I had to read that the following day.
Sam has won 20 times in Europe, and he’s not done yet. He is undoubtedly the best-loved player, by peers and the public alike, ever to have played the European Tour. He will be the greatest captain ever, whether the team wins or loses.
My only concern is that, after his initial pep talk before the opening ceremony, the entire European team may be seized by an irresistible urge to rip off their underwear, don kilts, and paint half their faces blue to face the Americans. That would get things off to a rip-roaring start, wouldn’t it?
Especially if the wind blows.