Later on this year, the Celtic Manor Resort in Wales will host the 2010 Ryder Cup.
As we sit here on the 14th February, there are a few questions about the forthcoming Ryder Cup that every golf fan would love to know the answer to:
Will Tiger Woods be playing?
Will Rory McIlroy take his first Cup by storm?
Will Monty be as inspiring as Captain as he was a player?
Just three of many questions which will be thought and speculated over in the coming months.
But let us not get ahead of ourselves. Let’s look back. Let’s wind the clock back ten years (and five months).
The 1999 Ryder Cup at the Country Club in Brookline, Massachusetts, will forever be remembered for ‘that putt‘, that fifty-foot monster of a sunken putt and the American team’s celebrations which followed.
Whilst most golf fans will be able to recall that putt, you would be forgiven for not being able to remember who was on that losing European team for one simple reason – some of the team that played in 1999 have disappeared entirely from our radars. In particular, the rookies of 1999 have never been able to recapture the form that sent them to Brookline.
So, of those involved in the European team in 1999, who might you have forgotten about?
The captain: Mark James. In the first few years following the event James found himself in the public eye repeatedly.
Initially the captain was criticised by many for his tactics at the Country Club; before the event he had picked Andrew Coltart as his second wildcard-pick ahead of European legends Bernhard Langer and Nick Faldo and then provided his critics with even more ammunition by refusing to play Coltart in any of the Cup’s pairs matches. James also chose to not play two of his other rookies Jarmo Sandelin and Jean van de Velde in the Friday and Saturday matches.
Going into the final day the European team had led 10-6 – by the end of the day they had lost the Ryder Cup 14.5 – 13.5. All of the rookies had lost their respective singles and Captain James was denounced for not having given his rookies more experience before their one-on-one Sunday matches.
In 2000 Mark James wrote and released a book entitled Into the Bear Pit. The book caused serious controversy in the golfing world. It slammed the actions of the US team on that final day in Brookline and it included comment on his tense, strained relationship with Nick Faldo. Perhaps most strikingly, James wrote of how he had thrown in the rubbish bin a note of encouragement that Faldo had personally written for the European team, before the Cup had begun. A media storm followed in which both James and Faldo refused to apologise to the other and the 1999 captain was relieved of his position as one of Sam Torrance’s vice-captains for 2001 Ryder Cup.
In 2000 James was diagnosed with testicular cancer but successfully returned to golf the year later having made a full recovery. By this point the argument between James and Faldo had begun to quell. In 2002 he released a sequel to his first book entitled After the Bear Pit in which he wrote of his recent illness and a little more about the events in Brookline.
In late 2003 James earned his full playing rights to compete on the 2004 Champions Tour in America. In July of 2004 he won the first major of his career when he won the Ford Seniors Players Championship. Since then Mark James has continued to compete on the Champions Tour and has added two tour wins to his major championship. Last year he earned a cool $500,625, finishing 77th on the Order of Merit.
The Rookies: For Jarmo Sandelin, Andrew Coltart, Paul Lawrie and Jean van de Velde, Brookline was their first Ryder Cup. Whilst three of them did not play before the Sunday singles, Paul Lawrie was one of the major revelations of 1999 Ryder Cup.
Lawrie was paired with Colin Montgomerie in all of the pairs matches and had picked up two and half points before he even teed off on Sunday. In his singles match he came up against the experienced Jeff Maggert and won the tie 3&2 to become one of only three European players to win their one on one match. In 2000 Lawrie struggled to maintain the form which had won him two titles in 1999 and slipped down to 26th on the European Order of Merit. In 2001 however he was victorious in the Dunhill Links Championship and in 2002 he won the Celtic Manor Wales Open and finished ninth and tenth respectively in these two seasons. Unfotunately for the Scot has not won since the victory in Wales and has failed to compete consistently for wins since. In the seven years since 2002 Lawrie has only broken in to the top-50 of the European Order of Merit twice, lost his PGA Tour exemption in 2004 and is no longer even the best Lawrie on the European tour; Peter Lawrie (no relation) is now the top-performing Lawrie.
For Jarmo Sandelin the decade since Brookline has been even tougher. Despite his win at the 2002 BMW Asian Open Sandelin struggled to even maintain his tour card in the early years of the new millenium. Between 2001 and 2004 he finished outside of the top-100 of the Order of Merit and in 2005 he finished 140th and lost his tour card. Thankfully for the Swede he won his tour card back straight away at Qualifying School and went through something of a resurgence in 2006 eventually finishing 44th on the Order of Merit. This resurgence did not last long and once again Sandelin began to struggle; after three disappointing years on tour the Swede lost his tour card once more last year.
As with Sandelin and Lawrie, the new millenium has not been kind to another of the 1999 rookies, Jean van de Velde. In 2002 the Frenchman lost his tour card and did not appear at all the year after having injured his knee in a serious skiing accident. In 2004 he returned to golf and won just over 50,ooo Euros – enough to only finish 170th on the European Order of Merit. 2005 was van de Velde’s standout year in the decade since Brookline thanks to a surpise runners-up finish to Jean-Francois Remesy at the Open de France. The Frenchman regained his tour card in 2005 and kept it until 2008 with a win at the 2006 Madeira Open his personal highlight. The former Open runner-up could not retain his card in 2008 however and last year failed to earn over 30,000 Euros. Van de Velde’s future in golf looks uncertain at best.
Andrew Coltart’s only match at Brookline was a 3&2 loss to Tiger in the singles. Following the Ryder Cup, the Scot managed to maintain solid performances on the European Tour and in relation to Sandelin and van de Velde he remained successful in the five years after the Ryder Cup. Coltart has struggled to keep his playing rights since 2004 however and has had to attend Qualifying School four times in the past six years (thankfully every time he has been to ‘Q-school’ he has obtained a full card for the following year). Coltart has become the personification of the ‘journeyman’ in recent years and will be hoping that when he turns 40 in May this year, the birthday will represent the beginning of a much more settled and successful decade.
The Ryder Cup is hugely important and qualifying for it is an achievement which will remain on a golfer’s CV forever.
What it does not do is guarantee future success. Just ask Andrew Coltart, Jarmo Sandelin, Jean van de Velde and Paul Lawrie if they would swap their one Ryder Cup appearance for better fortunes in recent years and some the answers might surprise you. At the time the Cup is the be-all and end-all and was undoubtedly for all four of the golfers above but ten years on it must seem a distant memory.
Many golfers have had great years and qualified for a Ryder Cup. Maintaining the sort of form that sees you qualify for two, three or four Ryder Cups is, however, a very different thing altogether.
By Ross A. Fox