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In The End, The Captain Counted

It’s all about the captains. Always has been. Boozie Woosie at the K Club. Seve and his buggy at Valderrama. Hal and his cowboy hat at Oakland Hills. Azinger and his pods at Valhalla, and Faldo and his sandwich list.

Azinger knew how the dice would roll. “I’m either going to be a hero or a goat,” he said in Kentucky in 2008. Sam Torrance revealed what makes a great Ryder Cup captain at The Belfry in 2002: “Winning.” Simple as that. Nothing else will do.

So how will Corey Pavin and Colin Montgomerie be remembered from their stints at Celtic Manor?

Before the U.S. team jetted off to Wales, Pavin said: “I know that the players win the Ryder Cup and the captain loses it. That’s the way it is.” 

But he failed to realize the importance of his influence on the players, on the mood of his team. “I can’t put the ball in the hole,” for them he said.

He was right, literally. But so wrong mentally.

“My players don’t need motivating,” was Pavin’s underwhelming battle cry on the eve of the singles. Yes they do. That’s why coaches, managers and team leaders get the big bucks. That’s why the manager gets sacked when the players fail. Pavin was such a bulldog competitor as a player; he never needed a pat on the back to get the job done. But even the best players need a kick up the backside or a hug. Pavin’s laid-back laissez-faire attitude was not leadership.

But Colin Montgomerie knew all too well the importance of gelling as a team. “It’s all about the team,” was one of his mantras in Wales. Can’t think of any from Pavin.

When Pavin arrived in Wales, he seemed to shut down his emotions. For two years he had been approachable, charming, open and witty. He made several visits to Europe and charmed the media and the fans. He won the phony battle. But he lost the battle. He was unrecognizable at Celtic Manor. What will be his style? “You’ll have to ask the players,” he said deadpan.

Except that he had told his players they didn’t have to speak to the media. Big mistake. He hid them away. If the Americans have to defend why they keep losing, perhaps it would inspire them to fight as a team instead of a ragged group of individuals.

Where was the passion in Pavin and his 12? “I want them to have fun,” Pavin said. Weird. “It’s not fun at the time,” Monty said. He is right. It’s work. Pavin had little energy in Wales and looked out of his depth — and it had nothing to do with the monsoon that emptied on Sir Terry Matthews’ sensational stadium course in Newport.

Pavin looked to have gathered around him a rock-hard gang of vice-captains. Can anyone remember seeing Tom Lehman, Dave Stockton and Paul Goydos? By contrast, Monty’s men – Darren Clarke, Sergio Garcia, Paul McGinley, Jose Maria Olazabal and Thomas Bjorn – seemed to be everywhere.

“It’s important what the captain does but it’s a smaller percentage than what people make it out to be,” Pavin said. Wrong again. It’s as if he didn’t want the responsibility any more.

Monty, however, embraced it. And he knew how a captain could transform a group of individuals into a winning machine. What would Monty’s style be? “A bit of Sam and a bit of Bernhard,” he said. That would be the passion of Torrance (Monty gave his team a roasting to show more passion) and the obsession with detail of Langer (Monty soundproofed his team room).

Both captains said they loved the passion of the Ryder Cup. Both sets of players said it defines their careers. But only one team proved it. There were dark clouds hovering over Celtic Manor most of the week. Pavin seemed to have his own personal one. He just didn’t look capable of inspiring lemmings to leap off a cliff. Monty, on the other hand, was immense, a natural leader, a general.

“Monty has been amazing for two years,” said Graeme McDowell, taking breaks between glugs of champagne. “The Ryder Cup means everything to him. To do this for Monty, and the caddies, and my 11 teammates, and the fans is very special,” he said. “The fans have been amazing, rocking around in all that mud. I love them.”

Captain Pavin please note: That’s what a team sounds like. “I wanted to be a calming influence on the team,” Pavin said shortly after defeat. Sadly, it felt more like an embalming influence.

“I just went with what I thought was best,” Pavin added. “It nearly worked out.” Nearly, though, just doesn’t cut it.

This was the longest and wettest Ryder Cup in history. It also was one of the greatest for drama, all played out on a gloriously sunny Monday with 35,000 spectators sneaking off work to bear witness.

And it will always be remembered as the one when the bulldog was dubbed Borey Pavin, and when Mrs. Doubtfire became Monty, Lord of the Manor.


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