My Five: Best Ryder Cup Captains

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My Five: Best Ryder Cup Captains

January 18, 2011

Photo By: Bob Martin/Getty Images

Photo By: David Cannon/Getty Images

Photo By: AP Photo

Photo By: Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images

Photo By: David Cannon/Getty Images

Dave Marr (1981)The urbane Marr happened to have the best team ever put together, with eight eventual Hall of Famers including Nicklaus, Watson, and Trevino. But it was his personal style that makes him the model of a Ryder Cup captain. The Texan was dignified but witty, competitive but sporting, in charge but one of the guys. At Walton Heath, the first match to include Continental players, the Americans fell behind 4 1/2 to 3 1/2 after the first day. Marr stayed cool -- "They're embarrassed enough," he said -- and let his players perform, especially "my little killer," Larry Nelson, who would win all four of his matches. After the 18 1/2 to 9 1/2 victory, Marr was asked if he had a message for his cousin Jack Burke, who had been the last U.S. captain to lose, in 1957. "Yeah," he said. "Tell him I've cleared up the mess he left twenty four years ago."

Photo By: Bob Martin/Getty Images

Tony Jacklin (1983, 1985, 1987)The Englishman stands alone as the most transformative captain ever. When he took over, the U.S. had lost only three times in 24 competitions, and there had been talk of canceling the matches. But with the inclusion of Europe, Jacklin had a new wave of young stars including Seve Ballesteros, Bernhard Langer and Nick Faldo, but even more importantly, insisted that the Europeans do everything first class and begin carrying themselves like winners. A narrow loss in 1983 ignited a fire, and wins in 1985 and especially 1987 on American soil began an era of European superiority that made the event the biggest spectacle in the game.

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Ben Hogan (1947, 1949, 1967)Hogan brought icy determination that elevated the intensity of his players at a time when the Ryder Cup might have otherwise become an exhibition. He led an 11-1 romp in 1947, and in 1949 added gravitas by interrupting his rehabilitation from a near-fatal car accident to travel to England. In all three of his captaincies, he instituted a 10:30 curfew and early wakeup call that no one had the temerity to question. In his final captaincy, a 23 1/2 to 8 1/2 massacre at Champions in Houston, his introduction at the opening ceremonies -- "Ladies and gentleman, the United States Ryder Cup team -- the finest golfers in the world" -- carried so much authority that, according to Peter Alliss, "the British were ten down before a ball had been hit."

Photo By: AP Photo

Paul Azinger (2008)Much has been made of Azinger's Navy Seal-inspired "pod system" in the wake of the route at Valhalla, but it was the personality of the leader that set the tone. Intuitive and fun, Azinger was the catalyst for the most tightly-knit U.S. team in memory. The pressure was undeniably on for a side which had not won since 1999, but the Americans played with a joy and looseness that has so often been lacking. Azinger may have chosen a good framework that gave the players a lot of say, but in the end it was his people skills and likeability that made him a great captain.

Photo By: Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images

Bernhard Langer (2004)Langer seemed almost invisible during the 18 1/2 to 9 1/2 drubbing of the U.S. at Oakland Hills. He uttered no memorable quotes, was never captured in an enduring photo, and as a teetotaler, missed the raucous Euro after-party. But Langer was indisputably in command, a rock the players trusted and respected for his discipline and good judgment, and to whose easy-to-mock and accented monotone they listened. In contrast to counterpart Hal Sutton, it was an understated, mistake-free performance, much like one of his rounds. Said assistant captain Thomas Bjorn, "Bernhard came into the room at the start of the week and told each and every one of them, 'I want you to play like this, like this, and like this,' and no one asked a question."

Photo By: David Cannon/Getty Images

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