Welshman who starred in 2002 triumph tells Martin Dempster Europe’s off-form men will come good in Paris this week – just like he did
Sergio Garcia isn’t the first player to head into a Ryder Cup bereft of confidence. Just ask Philip Price. His form took such a downward dip between qualifying for the biennial match and locking horns with the Americans that it was actually suggested to him that he should consider giving up his place on the European team.
A delay in the Welshman making his one and only appearance in the event was a contributory factor. Price qualified for Sam Torrance’s side for a contest scheduled to take place at The Belfry in 2001 but, following the 9/11 terrorist attacks that year in the US, the match was put back 12 months.
“That was terrible, just terrible,” said Price of the unfortunate delay. “I’d already suffered the summer before and my game had gone by the time I made the team in the last event. I then thought having an extra year would be great, but it was actually worse.
“I didn’t find any form in that year and there was always the scrutiny. One comment was, ‘Do you think you should pull out?’, which was quite painful. I had to live with that. It was a pretty unpleasant build-up – really unpleasant, in fact. It could have been the worst experience I ever had. I could have been awful. Luckily, I wasn’t.”
In the singles, the quietly-spoken Pontypridd man was roaring like a lion as he rolled in a lengthy putt on the 16th green to beat Phil Mickelson 3&2. That contributed to the home side winning 15½-12½, sparking more than a decade of European domination in the event.
“Every year the Ryder Cup has taken place since my one, they’ve shown bits from it. They keep showing my long putt to beat Phil – I think they must like my reaction for some reason,” said Price, smiling, of that sweet success. “I’m sure at some point shortly they’ll stop showing it as it was so long ago, but it’s a good memory, that’s for sure.”
Is it still vivid? “Yeah, really clear,” he replied in a flash. “It was tight going into the singles and four of us rookies [myself, Paul McGinley, Niclas Fasth and Pierre Fulke] were having breakfast together and I remember Paul McGinley saying, ‘Boys, we need to dish something up today’.
“That was a bit of a team talk and I think we all went out and dished something up that day, which was good. It was a different type of nerves I had that day. I was more pumped up than worried, to be honest.”
Mickelson will be making his 12th Ryder Cup appearance in next week’s event in France, breaking the tie with Nick Faldo for the most appearances from either team. His longevity in the event has set up the chance to break or tie as many as 11 records at Le Golf National.
That being the case, is beating the left-hander the proudest moment of Price’s career? “No, I’d say that would be winning the European Open,” he insisted of tasting victory in that event at The K Club in 2003. “All the best players in Europe were playing that week and to come out on top was special. The Ryder Cup was an exciting, odd, unique thing. It was probably more noticeable than anything else I achieved, though.”
There are five European rookies this time around, though the main spotlight is likely to be on Garcia, after he was picked by the home captain, Thomas Bjorn, ahead of both Rafa Cabrera Bello and Matt Wallace, along with Ian Poulter, Paul Casey and Henrik Stenson.
“I would have thought he can rise to the occasion,” said Price of Garcia, who, of course, triumphed in The Masters in 2017 but missed the cut in all four majors this year. “He’s had quite a big change over the last year or so, winning The Masters, getting married and becoming a father.
“I’m guessing, but I would have thought that motivation has maybe been a bit awkward for him this season. I would have thought the Ryder Cup will get the juices back. He also did well in the French Open this season [finishing eighth behind Alex Noren].
“As soon as I arrived at The Belfry in 2002, I felt great. I stopped fretting about it. I stopped worrying about it. Sam was great. Sam was fantastic. He made a big difference. Definitely to me. A few boys were out of form heading into that match. It was an odd Ryder Cup because of the year everyone had to wait after qualifying for the teams. Sam never made us question whether we were going to win. Not once. It was quite an odd experience. When he was talking to us, I remember sitting there thinking, ‘Do you realise how out of form we are?’ He got us feeling really good. He did that all week. I thought we were the favourites the way he was talking and that made us feel great.
“Nobody felt unwelcome. Nobody was unwanted. Everyone pulled together big time. You can come in as a rookie and feel unwelcome, but Sam never allowed any of that.”
With the match tied at 8-8, Torrance pulled off a masterstroke by frontloading his singles line-up. The tone was set by Colin Montgomerie as he hammered Scott Hoch to put the first point on the board and, following further victories from Bernhard Langer, Padraig Harrington, Bjorn and Price, it was McGinley who clinched the win as he rolled in a ten-footer at the last to finish all square against Jim Furyk, the US captain next week in Paris.
“What Monty did that day was crucial,” said Price of Europe’s long-time talisman in the event. “Sam said that the goal was to get off to a good start, which we did and the mood around the course was great as a result of that.
“I remember Woosie [Ian Woosnam] saying to me, ‘Don’t be looking at the scoreboards’. I didn’t need to as I knew the mood among the fans was good out on the course. I knew that there was a good feeling and it was great to be part of that. Sam’s strategy worked so well as it created that mood so quickly.”