There are some who believe that Ryder Cup performance counts for little when assessing a professional golfer’s life-time achievements, arguing that “majors won” is the only real criteria. Others, notably major winners themselves, contend that certain Ryder Cup deeds are at least as important, if not more so. One golfer, whose achievements in both categories are exceptional, should, one would think, enjoy a reputation that is bullet-proof. But in Nick Faldo’s case, that is far from true.
Sir Nick Faldo MBE, World Golf Hall of Fame, winner of 41 professional tournaments – including three Masters and three Open Championships – also accumulated 25 Ryder Cup points; more than any other player in Ryder Cup history. Surely such a record should guarantee a serene time in retirement, basking in wondrous glory at one’s scale of accomplishment. And that should indeed have been the case, but two happenstances have combined such that Faldo’s reputation is now at risk, and set to sink even lower in the months ahead.
Nick Faldo pondering his losing the Ryder Cup in 2008.
The first of these two events was his much maligned captaincy of the losing European Ryder Cup Team in 2008. The second was his mouth, and the words that came out of it, whilst covering the just completed Ryder Cup for American Television.
To appreciate just how outrageous Faldo’s comments were, some recap of the 2008 Ryder Cup is in order. Team USA won the tie 16.5 – 11.5 to end a streak of three successive wins for Team Europe. This is the only time the US has won the event since the infamous “Battle of Brookline” in 1999. In short, with Team Europe dominating this event in the six years either side of their loss in 2008, European reference to Faldo’s foibles and other captaincy-related issues, concerning that lone loss, have become common place.
At the start of the tie, Faldo’s relationship with the media was changeable and became hostile as he was found out time and again. With actions ranging from self-serving to just plain dumb, Faldo came under pressure from the outset. Photographers took revealing pictures of him holding a list of player’s initials – obviously outlining future partnerships – during practise rounds. Shortly after, his opening speech attracted much criticism for its egocentricity, focusing as it did upon himself and his family. His attempts at humour also fell flat when introducing Graeme McDowell; “Where do you come from again, Ireland or Northern Ireland?”
This then was the precursor to the tactical errors that followed. There were many, but two of the most glaring were the decision to stand down his most successful Ryder Cup pairing of Lee Westward and Sergio Garcia on the Saturday. This was followed by his decision to play a “bottom-heavy” line-up in the singles the following day. It is remembered that USA entered the final day with a 2-point lead. With the US loading their team from the top, they secured the five points needed for victory by the eighth match, rendering the efforts of Europe’s most in-form players – McDowell, Poulter, Westwood and Harrington – irrelevant.
The British press climbed into Faldo’s lack of leadership, PR skills and graciousness. Many noted his continued refusal to accept responsibility for the “calamitous loss” as evidence of his “me-first” attitude to life.
Now advance to the first day of the just completed Ryder Cup; Garcia had scarcely lost his opening fourball match on the first morning. Faldo, in his capacity as commentator for American network NBC, accused Garcia of letting him down six years ago in his team’s 16.5 – 11.5 loss to Team USA. Faldo on Garcia’s 2008 performance: “He was useless.” He went on to say Garcia had a bad attitude during an event where he accumulated only one point from four outings. This and other patronizing comments were made as the morning session came to a close with USA leading 2.5 – 1.5. Such undermining of Team Europe was inexcusable, as was its timing. To say Team Europe was miffed would be an understatement of some proportion.
After halving his Friday afternoon match with Rory McIlroy against Rickie Fowler and Jimmy Walker, Garcia laughed off Faldo’s comments.
“I guess he doesn’t feel European,” Garcia said. “That’s the only thing I can think of. You know, there’s a lot of things I could say about Nick Faldo, but I’m not going to put myself down to his level.”
Graeme McDowell, who made his Ryder Cup debut in 2008, recalled when Garcia and Westwood were dropped by Faldo during that tie.
“You’ve got one of the best Ryder Cup pairings of all time being sat down on a Saturday of a Ryder Cup that we go on to lose,” he said. “I’d say Sergio was fairly useless that afternoon, yeah, because he wasn’t able to play. So, yeah, I agree.”
A few days after the event, Faldo, when pushed by media, refused to apologise for his astonishing attack. Instead he branded Garcia as “lousy” after admitting calling him useless had been too harsh. Faldo, in later commentary, attempted to downplay his comments, but the damage had been done.
One of Faldo’s better moments in his role as Captain was to select Ian Poulter as a wildcard pick in 2008. He was to become the top points scorer – of either team. Poulter was also part of the current team which Faldo saw fit to undermine. In his newly-published book ‘No Limits; My Autobiography’, Poulter does not hold back.
“The European Team was furious with Faldo and lost a lot of respect for him. Sergio puts a brave face on it but the rest of the guys are fuming,” Poulter writes. “I’m shocked that he has said it. It’s highly disrespectful. It’s a cheap shot and it’s the worst possible timing. It makes me laugh. Faldo is talking about someone being useless at the 2008 Ryder Cup. That’s the Ryder Cup where he was captain. That’s the Ryder Cup where the Europe team suffered a heavy defeat.
“And he was captain. So who’s useless? Faldo might need to have a little look in the mirror. I have always got on great with Faldo in the past and I have a great deal of respect for everything he has achieved but this feels like sour grapes. It feels like a guy who is still bitter that he lost in 2008.
“Faldo has lost a lot of respect from players because of what he said. There were plenty of things a lot of the players were unhappy with at Valhalla but none of us criticised him. He may find that begins to change now.”
For the record, Faldo accumulated 25 points for Team Europe from 11 Ryder Cup appearances giving him a win percentage of 54.35%. Garcia, by comparison, has accrued 20.5 points from seven Ryder Cups, giving him a win percentage of 64.06%. When measuring European players who have amassed 20 points or more, Sergio Garcia’s win percentage is the third best of all time.
Sir Nick Faldo; the owner of the worst captaincy record for Team Europe in recent memory, still does not accept his own lack of leadership was the major reason for that loss. Rather, he continues to apportion blame elsewhere – and won’t let a cardinal rule concerning team bonding stand in the way. Hubris indeed.