June 11, 2008

Sam, I Am

Still bristling over Brookline, Torrance awaits a Ryder Cup rematch at the Belfry

"I am terrible. I am very much 100 percent in whatever I do."

Both physically and spiritually, Sam Torrance is surrounded by Ryder Cup memories. Seated in the clubhouse at Wentworth, just outside London and site of the 1953 matches, he rolls his first cigarette of the day. Then, briefly satisfied by the first puff, he leans back in his chair and eyes his interviewer, Golf Digest Contributing Editor and fellow Scot John Huggan. Torrance looks perfectly content, but he's an emotional man. Almost two years ago, standing near the 17th green at The Country Club in Brookline, Mass., he was not at all happy. In the immediate wake of Justin Leonard's Cup-deciding putt, a moment that would become the most controversial in the 72-year history of the Ryder Cup, Torrance was moved to question the sincerity of another man.

"And Tom Lehman calls himself a man of God!" said Europe's assistant captain, as Lehman and a celebrating group of teammates, caddies and wives cleared the green and allowed Jose Maria Olazabal to putt.

Two years removed from that eventful afternoon, Torrance, 47, is preparing to captain the European side for the 34th Ryder Cup Matches, Sept. 28-30 at the Belfry in Sutton Coldfield, England. A 21-time winner on the PGA European Tour, Torrance has fond memories of the Belfry. It's where he clinched the Ryder Cup for his side in 1985, beating Andy North, 1 up, in the decisive singles match to hand the United States its first defeat in 28 years. For Sam Torrance, the Ryder Cup is not just a game of golf.

Golf Digest: Clearly, the Ryder Cup means a lot to you. What makes it so special?

Sam Torrance: The thing about the Ryder Cup is that you can go up to, say, Nick Faldo on the eve of the matches and tell him you're really struggling with your chipping, and he'll help you. He'll tell you anything. Any of the superstars will. That doesn't happen any other week of the year. Even guys you don't particularly get on with become your friends for a week.

Your first experience as a Ryder Cup player came in 1981 at Walton Heath, where the U.S. team dominated. What do you remember most from that competition?

What a team they had. It was the dream team. They were magnificent. We were all in awe of them.

In the singles, I played Lee Trevino, who is a darling and a great friend for a long time. He said to me the night before, "Sam, I'm going to beat the mustache off you."

He did, too--beat me, 5 and 3. So for the victory dinner I shaved it off.

I don't know if I'd do it now, but it seemed funny at the time.

Early on, the Americans didn't seem to care as much about the Ryder Cup as the Europeans.

They didn't until we started beating them. Then they cared.

You were very outspoken about the Americans' celebration on the 17th green after Justin Leonard holed his putt at The Country Club in '99.

We've all got eyes; we all saw what happened. And it was the most disgusting thing I've ever seen on a golf course. The traditions of the game were made a mockery of. So it had to be said. It had to be said.If it's not said then, when are you going to say it?

I was completely in control of what I was saying. No question.

Have you repaired your relationship with Lehman after the controversy?

We've spoken. It was sorted. Not a problem. I won't tell you what was said. Most of it came from him. He said, "Sorry," basically. I have no regrets about what I said.

I was right there at the green when it happened. And before that, on the same green, when [Padraig] Harring-ton had a putt to halve the hole [against Mark O'Meara]. Lehman and [Ben] Crenshaw's missus ran right between Padraig and the hole.

Phil Mickelson has accused the Europeans of deliberately playing slowly to throw the Americans off.

Honestly, I was in every meeting and never heard that. Never. There was no policy regarding slow play.

Yet Mickelson was upset enough to tee off while Lee Westwood and Darren Clarke were still on the previous green.

Which is wrong. It's not up to their players to tell our players to move faster. That's not their job.

What about the length of time Harrington took to play his approach shot to the 17th green against O'Meara?

I'm sure that thought never entered his mind.

It did look bad.

Maybe. But I can assure you it wasn't done in that way.

Wasn't the behavior of the crowd a bigger problem? How much did you see of what went on?

A lot. I saw more of it than most. I was everywhere in my buggy.

Colin Montgomerie says that he wants the crowd to be into it at the Ryder Cup this year, but not too into it. Where do you draw the line?

It's a fine line. We're only human. I'm not condoning some of the stuff we've seen, but it is almost understandable. I draw the line at anything that puts a player off. If someone hits a ball into the water, you're going to get cheers. It's a natural reaction. It's not mocking the player. It's just that someone's situation has just vastly improved, so they get excited. But shouting on backswings or while someone is over the ball? No. I abhor that. Get as excited as you like, but be fair.

Who are these people who shout at the wrong moments? Can they be golfers?

Even a real golfer can get drunk. Alcohol does things to people. I can't believe that a golfer would shout out when sober.

What about players' wives inside the ropes? Should they be there?

Absolutely. It's ridiculous to say they should not be there. They are not as much part of the team as their husbands are, but they are still a huge part of the thing. You can't ask them to walk outside the ropes, for security reasons.

Can you talk about what steps will be taken at the Belfry to prevent trouble?

No, but it's all in hand. A lot of thought has gone into it, believe me. I have no fears whatsoever about the crowd.

OK, there are worries. But I'm not walking around thinking, "This is going to be hellish." I don't see it that way at all.

Are you going to do anything, say anything, beforehand?

Yes, I will. At the opening ceremony. I have lots of things in my mind, and I'm not sure what will come out on the day. But I do know that I will ask everyone there to be fair. Just be fair. Cheering louder for the home side is fine. In fact, if they don't do that, I'll want to know why.

There was a much-publicized incident involving you and U.S. captain Tom Watson two nights before the 1993 Ryder Cup at the Belfry. The story is that when you asked Watson to sign your menu, Watson refused, citing the 800 people in the crowd and saying "Don't start this, Sam; we'll be here all night."

I have no comment to make on that. It's ancient history. There is no need to drag it up again.

Tell me about the controversy over your selection of Mark James as a vice captain for this year. Do you regret selecting him?

No. I regret him having to step down [after the controversy surrounding James' book on the 1999 Ryder Cup]. But that's all. It had to happen, though. The whole thing was out of control and would still have been going on now if Mark had stayed.

What did you think of his book?

Brilliant. Funny. The media over-reacted. We all know what Mark said about Nick Faldo. [James did not select Faldo for the team, and then did not show his team a good-luck note from Faldo.] If you read those comments in the context of the book, they were flippant and barely noticeable. Only when they were highlighted was there a problem.

You haven't played in the Ryder Cup since '95 at Oak Hill. Is that a byproduct of age?

I'm just not good enough. I always pushed myself in Ryder Cup years, but I didn't play well enough. So I went into the fitness regime. I didn't drink for a year and a half. Was in the gym three or four times a week.

Can we talk about your drinking?

I don't mind.

How much did you drink?

I've always had a reputation as a drinker, as most fun guys on the tour do. People see that you're approachable, and take advantage. I'll talk to anyone in a bar. I've always been like that. But I was pretty shrewd, too. Just because you're seen there doesn't mean you're always drinking. I was never one for drinking during tournaments. I've done it, yes. But I think I was pretty clever with it.

Your dad worked with a lot of top players--Seve, Ernie Els, Padraig Harrington and Ian Woosnam. Did he have problems with drinking?

He's an alcoholic. So I've seen what can happen, and it's always on my mind. That said, my dad has done so well to beat it. Magnificent.

But alcohol has never been a problem for you?

No. God, no. John O'Leary [a fellow tour player] and I would never touch a drop from Tuesday to Sunday. But on Sunday and Monday night, it would be wipeout time. Great fun. Maybe a few on Tuesday night--especially if Sunday and Monday had been really bad. But then we wouldn't touch it the rest of the week. That was the way it was, until a doctor friend told me that what we were doing was madness. It is so much better to have one or two a night. Binge drinking is really bad for you, so we got rid of that.

But I'm terrible. I am very much 100 percent in whatever I do.

After competing in eight consecutive Ryder Cups, how hard was it to not be involved at all in '97?

It was actually awesome. I had never watched the Ryder Cup [on television]. Not for 20 years, anyway. Not to be there was a shock to the system, but I sat down on the Friday morning and didn't move until Sunday evening. The only times I moved were to shower and change.

As a player, you've competed with and against many of the great Europeans. Talk about Faldo.

Probably the most dedicated player we have ever had. And one of the best.

Seve?

He's been the Arnold Palmer of European golf, and an inspiration to us all. Faldo was a better player, but Seve was more influential. He was everyone's hero. Look at Seve in '95 at Oak Hill. He couldn't hit a shot, yet he held Lehman until near the end.

Seve was first out, and we were on the range watching him on the big screen. He was incredible. Shots over trees, from bunkers, the lot. What a lift he gave us, because we knew how bad he was playing. His game was gone. He couldn't hit a fairway. He couldn't keep it on the golf course with any club. And he damn near broke Lehman. But Lehman was tough.

How about Olazabal?

A mini-Seve. Great company. A great team man. And a wonderful player and fighter. He never lets go.

Ian Woosnam?

A tiger. Great golfer. Huge heart. Loves life. Loves the game.

You asked him to be vice captain after James stepped down. Why?

My thinking was that Jesse [James] would do the talking, Woosie would do the fighting, and I'd do the picking. [Laughs.] Woosie is magnificent. He'll be fabulous in the team room. He'll be a great captain later on, too.

Langer?

Amazing player. So strong. Been back from the twitches two or three times.

How about Sandy Lyle?

It's hard not to feel sorry for Sandy. He's a great big lump of a lad, and just as soft and as nice as they come. You couldn't meet a nicer bloke. Yet you still feel sometimes like kicking him in the arse. Put him into gear. He has so much talent. I don't know where he went wrong. I really don't. The best thing you can say about him is that he is exactly the same today as he was when he was winning majors. Not many people would have handled the ups and the downs as well as he has.

Monty?

Monty was No. 1 for seven years. What a feat! He struggles with the crowd; that's his problem. Tony Jacklin had the same problem. That just builds up over the years. It's very easy to say to him: Just relax and play your game. But not that easy to do.

If Monty could have cut the crowd out of things, he'd have won four or five majors by now. He brings it on himself, to an extent. Which is unfortunate. But it is frustrating for him to know how good he is and what he is capable of, and then things just don't come off. People say a lot of stuff has happened to Greg Norman in majors, but look at Monty. There was Tom Kite at Pebble Beach. Then Ernie Els at the U.S. Open. And Steve Elkington at the PGA.

But a great man to have on your side. I've got a lot of time for Monty.

Can you name a great player who has not won a major, though?

There have to be a few. Westwood. Clarke.

Are they great?

Well, what makes you great is winning a major.

So Monty isn't great?

All right, I can't think of one!

How do the top Europeans now-- Westwood, Clarke, Monty and Thomas Bjorn--compare with Faldo, Woosnam, Langer and Seve at their best?

Six majors from Faldo. Five from Seve.

It's tough to see this group winning that many. But I can see all of them winning one, at least.

Are they as good?

Oh, yes. Oh, yes. Oh, yes. It's harder to win majors now that it was even 10 years ago.

Why?

The competition. It's fierce now. And you have to beat Tiger.

Does he worry you in the Ryder Cup?

Not really. He can only win one game at a time. And it's one on one, so you never know what can happen.

Yes, he's the best player ever. But he can be beaten. He's been beaten by Westwood, Clarke, Bjorn and Rocca. What Thomas did in Dubai earlier this year was incredible. Four days he had to play with Tiger. To beat him was a huge boost for us.

Even the best European players seem to struggle in singles matches. Are they too tired when they get to Sunday, after being asked to play every match?

Is that what you think?

Yes.

Absolutely not.

But Ian Woosnam has never won a Ryder Cup singles match [six losses and two halves].

That's just the way it comes out. It's like asking a player why they have never won a major. It's just not doing it on that day.

And playing in the Ryder Cup isn't like anything else, is it?

True. I played in a pro-celebrity snooker match once. I'm not a bad snooker player. But I couldn't get near the table, I was so nervous. That gave me an insight into people asking, "How did you get the club away from the ball in that situation?"

You just do it. But when you're out of your depth, it's hard to understand.

What's the most pressure you've ever felt?

Playing the 17th hole in the singles at the Belfry in '85 and the last hole two years later at Muirfield Village. In '85, I had a six-footer to square the game against Andy North. Everyone seemed to be 'round the green. We all knew the situation. I had to hole that putt to have any chance of winning a full point. It was the most nervous I have ever been on a shot. And I holed it.

How?

Just sheer guts, will and determination to get that ball in the hole. I was a basket case.

At the '87 Ryder Cup, I played Larry Mize in the singles. I was 1 down playing the last. He hit it left into water. I hit a good drive.

Anyway, so he's at the back of the green in four, and does he not hole it for 5? I've got to two-putt from 12 feet. I swear to you, I had no idea when I hit that ball where it was going. It could have been 15 feet past or 10 feet short. No idea. I was shaking so badly.

It rolled up stone dead. I have never been so relieved. That was horrific. A year later, it really went.

The weird thing is that the Ryder Cup pressure does that to professionals, even when there is no money involved.

Think about what Philip Walton went through on that last day at Oak Hill in '95 [for the clinching point]. He's 3 up with three to play. He misses the green at the 16th, but Jay Haas is in the bunker. Philip chips stiff, then Jay blades it out of the bunker, it hits the pin and goes in. Then at 17, Philip has a short putt to win the match. And he misses it. Here we go again. Now he has to play 18.

The thing was, Jay Haas was just as bad. Neither one of them could do anything on the last hole. Philip's chip barely made it over the rough in front of the green, and he won the match with a bogey.

What do you learn about players during the Ryder Cup?

Seve, for example, has always been magnificent. In my experience, I have never seen a player so into the Ryder Cup. I wouldn't say Seve hated the Americans, but he loved to beat them.

There was a reason for that, of course. They worked him up something rotten over there. "Steve," they'd call him. He wanted to beat them so bad. Ollie is like that, too. It's not disliking the Americans; it's just wanting to beat them. We want to win.

And when you lose?

It's horrible. I've seen both sides of the coin. The victory dinner is just a nightmare when you've lost. But it spurs you on.

Let's talk about winning, then. What do you remember about your clinching victory against Andy North at the Belfry in 1985?

Incredible. The match was all square on the 18th tee, and after I nailed my drive I knew I'd only have a short iron to the green. As soon as North connected with his drive, I knew it was in the water. He skied it. That meant he'd be lying three to my one. I don't care who you are, you can't give me two shots with a short iron in my hands.

Coming off the tee, I was crying already. Walking over the bridge I saw all the American players there. So I tried to keep a hold of myself. I didn't want to upset anyone.

North pulled his approach shot left, to about 40 feet. I was about 25 feet away. So if he holed for a 5, I had to two-putt for the match. I was praying he didn't hole it. I did not want to have to two-putt. So he misses. And then he did a really classy thing. He could have conceded, but he didn't. He let me have my moment. Without doubt, my best golf moment. By a million miles. Then, five weeks later, I had my worst moment on the course. Want to hear about that?

Of course.

It was at the Dunhill Cup at St. Andrews. We were playing America in the semifinal. It was 1-1 after the first two matches, and I'm in the last game against Curtis Strange. All square on the last tee. Both hit good drives. He plays first and leaves it in the Valley of Sin. I play a wee chip and run to about 10 feet short of the hole.

Curtis putts up to four feet and decides to finish. Knocks it in. So the stage is set for me. Ten feet to put us into the final.

I three-putted.

I just wanted to die. I wanted to crawl in the hole and die.

Talk a bit more about your putting.

You mean what the hell happened? [Laughs.]

You were fine at the Belfry in '85. What changed?

I was a great putter at one stage. Used to have a lovely, slow stroke. It really started the next year. To me, putting is two hands working as one. A twitch is one hand taking over from the other. That's why people try cross-handed, split-handed, whatever. It's involuntary. The mind sends messages down, but they stop at the elbows.

It sounds awful.

It's hellish. Because it just builds up. It gets worse; it doesn't get better.

Did you think you were finished?

No, I knew I'd find something. Mind you, I wasn't that sure. I'd heard about the long putter, so I tried it. Wasn't great. I didn't really know what to do with it. Then, later, I had the whole thing fall apart. So I had to find something.

I had a week off, went home and made myself a long putter, which I tried out on the snooker table in my house. I put the butt end on my chin. Everyone else at that stage had it on the chest. I wanted it be a pendulum, so the chin made sense.

First week out with it, I missed the first green. Chipped to three feet--a bad length--but I knocked it in. Putted reasonably that week and never looked back.

Can you putt normally now, when it doesn't mean anything?

Absolutely. Whether I can do it when it does mean a lot is something I'm not going to test out. I did it one year on the practice green. I got involved in a putting competition with a few others. I putted with a borrowed putter and stroked it beautifully.

So I tried it in the tournament. First hole, 20 feet away. In. Second green, from 10 feet. In. Third green, five feet. In. Fourth green, 10 feet. In. I was thinking, "What have I been doing?" Then I got to the 14th or 15th green, an evil green with a huge slope. I three-putted from three feet. The first one was a real twitch. Definitely. So that was it. Back to the long one. And I've stuck with it.

Why don't you twitch with the long putter?

It's putting one-handed. I only putt with my right hand. My left hand is out of it totally. I might push one or pull one, but I can't twitch. That's the advantage. The disadvantage is that you lose feel. On, say, a 12-foot putt, you can feel it is right edge or left edge with a normal putter. Not with a long one. You make something of a perfunctory stroke and hope it's right.

Would good putters be even better if they switched to a long putter?

No. It's for bad putters.

Let's switch topics: You've got a reputation of being accident-prone.

I've broken my toe. Cracked my sternum. That's about it.

What about your sleepwalking?

That's when I cracked my sternum. I've had a few others. I cracked my head on the boot of a car at the Belfry last year.

So you would dispute the accident-prone tag?

I've been on tour for 30 years! I'd expect to have had a few injuries.

How good were you in your prime?

Not bad. I could hit the ball, and I was a great putter and chipper.

But the standard then wasn't as good as now?

Not even close. Finishing 10th now is like winning a tournament then. The winning scores were pretty good, but to finish in the top 10 wasn't that difficult. We had our superstars. Jacklin. Oosterhuis. And a lot of good players beneath them.

At that stage, did you consider going to America?

Never. I didn't want to. That came later. I tied with Ronnie Black for the 1983 Southern Open the week before the Ryder Cup. If I had won the playoff and been exempt for two years or whatever it was, I probably would have gone. But then I won three or four times in Europe the next year. My best year ever. So maybe it was fate, not winning.

Let's finish up with the Ryder Cup. You have a say in course setup. What can we expect at the Belfry?

There will be nothing outrageous. But I didn't want the rough too long around the greens. They [U.S. players] get that every week. And so do we, but not to the same extent. They're used to playing that explosion shot around the greens, which is actually quite easy, a relatively straightforward flop shot. I don't want that to be the only option. Thick rough around the green is detrimental to the game

What do you say to people who criticize the golf course?

They haven't played it.

Is it getting better?

I've always liked it. Ever since it was opened in the '70s.

You would be in the minority, then.

Probably. But it has always been a great golfer's course. There are no hiding places. You have to play real golf.

Who has the potential to be the Christy O'Connor-type figure for your side this year, a player who may surprise the Americans?

Pierre Fulke. You always get rookies on every side. He has a great short game, always a great asset in match play. I've got plans for him.

With Jesper Parnevik, Sergio Garcia, Olazabal, Jean Van de Velde, Miguel Angel Jimenez and others playing so much in the U.S. this year, do you wish you had more than just two captain's picks?

I'm happy with two. Let's say we went to eight qualifiers and four picks. People are saying we might lose some of those playing in America. To me, there is a lot of pressure on picks. Because you are telling guys who haven't made the team that you think they are good enough and that you want them to come and play. That's fine with two players. But if you go to four players who are not having the greatest years, that weakens my team.

I would much prefer to have guys vying for spots over the last few tournaments, knowing exactly what they have to do--and doing it. That way, you get guys who have performed well under pressure. That's great preparation for the matches.

It has been close for a while now, but is a clear European victory more possible this year?

Of course. We have more good players than we have ever had. If things go really well, there is no reason why we can't win by four or five points. Of course, they can say the same.

In 1989 at the Belfry, U.S. captain Ray Floyd borrowed a line from Ben Hogan by introducing his team as "the 12 greatest golfers in the world." What was your reaction?

That was a bit of a faux pas. We just loved it. Carry on, say what you like. It worked for us, not against us.

Do you look for things like that?

They just happen. But we use them. This year, I'll be using the fact that most of my team will have been at Brookline. Nothing to do with the incident, just the fact that they will remember what it felt like to lose.

That is such a motivator. You don't want to do it again. You get closer to people in that atmosphere.

You've gotten close to opponents at the Ryder Cup, as well.

Freddie [Couples] is a great friend of mine. When Monty and I played against him and Brad Faxon in '95, he was great.

I think we were 1 down. They both missed the green, but Fred chipped in. The green was in a big amphitheater, and you have never in your life heard a roar like he got. On the next tee I went straight up to him.

"---- you!" I said, like a friend would. He told me later on that he had told the other Americans, and they couldn't believe it. [Laughs.] But Freddie is a lovely guy. Peter Jacobsen too. Payne Stewart was a dear friend. Craig Stadler, too.

As captain of the host team, what would you like to tell spectators who'll be attending the matches?

Behave yourselves. Be as fair as you can be. Remember that nothing is bigger than the game. Remember that the Americans are our opponents, not our enemies. Shout as loud as you want, as long as you are fair.

Oh, and one last thing: I don't want anyone shouting, "You da man!"