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Are These The Worst Ryder Cup Captains in History

By: | Fri 04 Aug 2023

WITH anticipation growing as the 2023 Ryder Cup at Marco Simone looms into view it got us thinking about the role of the non-playing captain.

Can a captain who doesn’t hit a shot in anger really make a difference? Without a shadow of doubt. 

There have been some inspirational leaders over the years, men who have brought the very best out of their players. But there have also been some individuals who can be blamed for the outcome.

Here we look at some of the best and worst captains on both sides.

Let's start with the best...

Tony Jacklin

Jacklin was the man who changed everything for Europe. He captained the team in 1983, 1985, 1987 and 1989. He insisted upon first-class travel and accommodation for his players and their caddies, but his real masterstroke was in persuading Seve Ballesteros to come on board. The Spaniard turned out to be Europe’s talisman. Jacklin won twice as a captain, including Europe’s first victory on American soil. The Ryder Cup would never be the same again.

Paul McGinley

McGinley holed the winning putt for Europe in 2002. He was captain at Gleneagles in 2014 and is widely regarded as being one of the best to lead Europe. His research was exhaustive. He knew his players’ strengths and weaknesses, he knew who they wanted to play with. He also worked hard to set up the course perfectly for his European players. Everything he touched during those three days in Scotland turned to gold.

Paul Azinger

Azinger had been a ferocious competitor in the Ryder Cup, locking horns with Seve Ballesteros on more than one occasion. And he simply hated being on the losing side. He adopted a pod system that saw players whose games complemented one another being paired together. He was an inspirational leader who was also helped by the fact that Europe’s captain at Valhalla in 2008 was Nick Faldo (see below).

Bernhard Langer

Langer captained Europe to victory at the 2004 Ryder Cup at Oakland Hills. Anybody who has followed his playing career will know that he leaves nothing to chance, planning everything in meticulous detail. And his approach to team captaincy was exactly the same, pairing players together he knew would produce the best results for Europe. It also helped that his opposing captain was the hapless Hal Sutton.

Jose Maria Olazabal

The Spaniard captained Europe at Medinah in 2012. It was the first Ryder Cup since the passing of the legendary Seve Ballesteros and Olazabal first decision was to ensure Seve’s image was emblazoned on the team uniform. The spirit of Seve was typified by Ian Poulter in a brilliant performance in the Saturday fourballs alongside Rory McIlroy that dragged Europe back into the match at 10-6 down to inspire a sensational comeback. Afterwards, a tearful Olazabal looked skywards and said: “Seve, my firmed, this one is for you."

And what about the worst...

Tom Watson

Tom Watson

(Image Credit: Kevin Diss Photography)

Having led his country to victory in 1993, Watson returned to captain the USA at Gleneagles in 2014. He remains one of the most popular men in the game of golf and is much-loved on both sides of the Atlantic. But he was in his 60s when he was asked to lead his country, and one of his vice-captains, Raymond Floyd, was even older. They were completely out of touch with their players - and oh how it showed. Europe romped to victory. And, shamefully, Phil Mickelson publicly lambasted Watson in the aftermath of a humiliating defeat.

Hal Sutton

Oh dear! Sutton had one masterplan - to pair Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson together in both fourballs and foursomes. It turned out to be an utter disaster. In the first place, the two men could barely stand the sight of one another. That was bad enough. But both men were wild from the tee and it was obvious to just about everybody other than Sutton that they would be a disastrous combination. And that is exactly how it turned out. That was his Plan A. He did not have a Plan B!

Nick Faldo

If ever there was a man who should have been a natural Ryder Cup captain it was six-time major winner Faldo, who was also the record points scorer at the time. But his captaincy at Valhalla in 2008 was shambolic. In the aftermath, he described Sergio Garcia as being useless - Faldo should have taken a long hard look at himself in the mirror. He paired players together who didn’t gel, he dropped his best players at crucial times. And he had only one vice-captain because he believed that he could do almost everything himself.

Mark James

James was Europe’s captain at Brookline in 1999, the infamous Battle at Brookline. This was the Ryder Cup that is remembered for the American team invading the 17th green after Justin Leonard holed a huge putt in his singles match against Jose Maria Olazabal. The home side produced an incredible comeback. Afterwards, there was much criticism of the American players but the truth is that James was a disaster as a captain. He named Andrew Coltart as one of his wild cards but did not play him until the singles. He also left Jean Van de Velde and Jarmo Sandelin on the sidelines until the singles. All three were like lambs to the slaughter.

Padraig Harrington

Harrington is one of golf’s deepest thinkers and there was plenty of optimism ahead of the contest at Whistling Straits in 2021. Things didn’t turned out as planned as Europe were on the wrong end of a hiding. It has to be said that Steve Stricker’s American team were outstanding but at times Harrington seemed like a rabbit caught in the headlights. Some of his selection decisions were questionable, to say the very least.

Do you agree with Derek's picks for the best and worst captains? Let us know in the comments below!

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