LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Nick Faldo stunned the golfing world last night by dropping Sergio Garcia and Lee Westwood from Saturday morning’s foursomes.
That’s right-you read it correctly.
That’s the Sergio Garcia who has never been beaten in nine foursomes matches. And that’s the Lee Westwood who battled hard for two half points on Friday to extend his unbeaten run to 12 matches. What on earth is Faldo thinking? Well, we’ll all have to tune in Saturday to find out because Europe’s captain scarpered back to his hotel before the pairings had been made public.
Smart move, Mr. Faldo.
When he came in to talk about Friday, he must have known how controversial his new Saturday pairings were, but he must also have known that he would be long gone into the Louisville night by the time anyone found out.
On Thursday, Faldo looked and behaved like a man on the verge of a nervous breakdown. He cried at the slightest mention of Muhammad Ali. He bumbled his way through a speech at the opening ceremony, calling Soren Hansen “Soren Stenson” and asking Graeme McDowell if he was from Ireland or Northern Ireland. But on Friday, once the matches had begun, he seemed to be more in control of his emotions and to be enjoying himself.
Indeed, when three of the first four European groups in Friday morning’s foursomes left the first green 1-up, Faldo was buzzing up and down the fairway in his captain’s buggy, full of early-morning joie de vivre. “Crumbs. Crikey. Lovely jubbly. Spiffing,” he would have said if he was in his day job in the commentary box.
But 10 hours later, Anthony Kim was riding shotgun in a buggy and whooping up the crowd like an American Sergio Garcia, waving his country’s flag and making “raise the roof” motions with his hands. The day hadn’t quite panned out the way Faldo had hoped it would at around 9am. His side trails 5 1/2 to 2 1/2, the worst start for the Europeans since 1979 at the Greenbrier when a certain Nick Faldo of England made his first appearance in the Ryder Cup on U.S. soil, having made his Cup debut — at the tender age of 21 — in 1977. The USA kept that early momentum going and went on to win 17-11.
For once, the omens for Team USA are looking good. They could look even better after Saturday morning’s foursomes.
Paul Azinger was handed Faldo’s pairings and his eyes lit up, and he failed his attempt to smother a broad grin. But he took the diplomatic line and said, “I’m not going to get drawn into what Nick is up to.”
Listen carefully. Hear that? It’s the sound of Azinger roaring with laughter in the U.S. team room.
Two of Europe’s strongest players will spend the morning riding around Valhalla in a cart. They’ll be watching poor Oliver Wilson make his debut (in foursomes, for Heaven’s sake!) against Phil Mickelson and Anthony Kim. Mark that one down for a red point. Especially since Wilson’s partner will be Henrik Stenson, Europe’s weakest player on Friday morning.
“My emotions are up to here,” Faldo said on Thursday, pointing to the top of his forehead. How was he feeling on Friday night? “I’m ticking along. Yeah, I’m a lot more even today, stronger, or whatever,” he said. That was before anyone got a peek at his pairings. He’s ticking along nicely, it seems, to play the lead in a remake of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.
Faldo’s ears must still be humming from the roars of “Booo!” that rang out across Valhalla Country Club as darkness fell on day one of the Ryder Cup. But he shouldn’t take the boos personally. They’re not from the European fans. Yet. They’re, of course, from American fans of crowd-favorite Boo Weekley.
While Americans “booo,” many European fans are wearing T-shirts with the slogan “Faldo’s Barmy Army.” For the uninitiated, “barmy” is British slang for “mentally irregular.”
Barmy? After Captain Nick’s Garcia-Westwood benching, they got that right.