Sam Torrance interview: There is no finer man to be captain
EARLY LAST week, Colin Montgomerie's mobile phone rang. When he answered, the unmistakable voice on the other end of the line had only one question of the man who has eight times been European golf's number one player.
"Mister captain I presume?" said Sam Torrance, by way of congratulating his compatriot on becoming skipper of the 2010 European Ryder Cup side, an appointment that, despite the late intervention of Jose Maria Olazabal, will surely be officially confirmed at a press conference in Dubai on Wednesday. Certainly, no denial passed from Monty to Sam, who is more than delighted that his fellow Scot will be Europe's first Caledonian captain since he himself led the side to victory at The Belfry back in 2002.
"I like this move by the (European Tour Tournament] committee," declares Torrance. "It shows real forward thinking. They haven't bowed down to any kind of outside pressure. And Monty is the right man for the job. The Ryder Cup is so important to our tour, we just have to get the right man. It raises the profile of the tour and all the players. Nobody would know who the hell I am if it wasn't for the Ryder Cup.
"I think we – and by we I mean Europe – made a mistake when the job was recently given to people who probably deserved it on their records but who weren't the right kind of person. Not this time though. Monty will give it everything."
No prizes for identifying just who Sam was referring to, of course. As we saw only too clearly from the incredibly inept performance of Nick Faldo last September at Valhalla, choosing a Ryder Cup captain is an easy thing to get horribly wrong. While it remains difficult to imagine any skipper winning golf's fiercest biennial battle single-handed, the way in which the six-time major champion botched almost every aspect of the job made it clear that the team leader can have a huge influence on the likelihood of losing.
Which is why, this time round, the pressure on the 15-strong committee to get things right was perhaps greater than ever. Little wonder then that last week's decisive meeting in Abu Dhabi was one where raised voices were the rule rather than the exception.
Still, they got there in the end. According to Torrance, in selecting Monty the committee would be making the best decision possible.
"There is no finer man out there to be captain than Colin Montgomerie," says the man from Largs. "But I have to admit he wasn't part of my reckoning. I just didn't think he would consider it. Like everyone else I expected him to wait for Gleneagles in 2014 and in the meantime he'd be trying to play in at least one more team. But it is fantastic news that he wants to take on the role this time round.
"I'm not sure that this was Colin's idea originally. I think that someone with a bit of balls – probably Paul McGinley – came up with it, suggesting that Colin be made captain for 2010. Which, now that I think about it, makes a lot of sense. Why would Colin want to wait until he is 51 and off the tour?
"He's unbeaten in singles and he has always been great in the team room. Colin has always had time for people in that situation. He has a wealth of knowledge on the game and the particular pressures of playing in the Ryder Cup. He loves the Ryder Cup. He adores the Ryder Cup. He'll be a great captain.
"Plus, if you look at who will probably make the team, most of them will have played in at least two Ryder Cups with Colin. That's a tremendous asset both for them and for him. They have seen him at his very best."
Of course, even the greatest and most astute skippers have needed a strong support team around them. So don't be surprised if one S Torrance is shortly appointed to the role of vice-captain alongside Monty. He could do worse, of course. As ever, Torrance, who was vice-captain to Mark James at Brookline in 1999, is well up for the challenge of winning back old Sam Ryder's wee trophy.
"I would certainly accept that role," he says without a moment's hesitation. "But I have no idea what Monty is thinking. He'll have his own thoughts about what and whom he wants in his backroom staff. But I'd be honoured to accept if he offered me the job.
"Ideally, vice-captains bring experience to the table. They are buffers between the players and the captain. Especially for team rookies, it can be daunting to approach the skipper with a request. It is easier to ask a tricky question or a negative question to someone with experience. My two vice-captains were great. Ian Woosnam, for example, was someone every player found it easy to approach about anything. Through him I found out exactly who didn't want to play with whom. Or who didn't want to play late in the singles. All kinds of stuff really.
"The vice-captains are also the eyes and ears of the captain on the course. You need four pairs of each – two vice-captains and two assistants – so that one guy can follow each group on Friday and Saturday. Any captain needs all that information coming back. It's impossible to watch all four matches."
Indeed, a Monty/Sam combination is one that has worked more than well in the past. In 2002, the Torrance stewardship was marked by what was surely Monty's finest-ever performance in Europe's colours. Unbeaten in his five matches, the Scot was never once even one down in any of them.
"What Monty did on that final day was fantastic," recalls Torrance. "I spoke to everyone the night before about where I wanted them to play. I wanted Monty out there first. He was our best player and I wanted him to lead off and show the rest what to do. He drew Scott Hoch, one of the toughest buggers you'd want to take on, and Monty went out and trounced him. So he's a wonderful leader.
"The biggest thing Monty brings to any team room is just his being there. When you win the Order of Merit eight times you automatically command respect. Okay, he didn't win any majors, but we all know how tough it is to top the money list once never mind eight times. That is unbelievable.
"So Monty's presence was worth so much. Whenever he walked in people sat up and paid attention. And they will do that when he is captain. Monty gives us the best chance of winning the trophy back."
As for the other candidates, Torrance shares the widespread disappointment that Sandy Lyle will likely miss out in his bid to be the last of Europe's Big-Five from the 1980s to become Ryder Cup skipper. But, on the other hand, that Monty's likely successor will be Jose Maria Olazabal, is something he readily endorses.
"The order has worked out perfectly," continues Torrance. "I'm sure Ollie knew deep down that he probably wouldn't make the next team, but he knows he will be captain. He's had a wonderful, illustrious career but a torrid time with his health. So I don't blame him for wanting to have one more go. Monty, in contrast, has been there and done it in the Ryder Cup. His time is now.
"Monty will be the same age I was as captain when he does the job. That's perfect. He's still on the tour. He's out there every week, as I was. That was very important in my captaincy. Because I was around so much there were opportunities for a wee nod or a wink with players. I was able to offer encouragement and advice when it was needed. I was never off the phone too.
"I think that aspect of things is what cost Sandy the job. He's been off the tour for a long time now. He'd have been a good captain, but is that enough? We don't want just 'good' any more, we want the best. And we've got the best. Monty is the best man for the job."
Okay Sam, we get the message. Go Monty!
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