"Another Ryder Cup shot!" Posed in full follow-through, Miguel
Angel Martin laughingly delivered his Latin-inflected parody of
an American sportscaster. His swing, in the Fred Couples-Ernie
Els class for smoothness if not for power, had produced one more
solid drive down the middle of a fairway at the Club de Golf
Lomas Bosque in Madrid. For effect, he took his left wrist,
wrapped tight in surgical gauze, and shook it vigorously to show
that there was no pain.
It was Thursday, the day of the opening ceremonies at
Valderrama, about 500 miles away, and the forgotten man of the
1997 Ryder Cup was putting his game on public display for the
first time since a ruptured tendon in his wrist had made him the
focus of one of the most bitter controversies in the history of
the biennial match. Martin, 35, demonstrated the solid,
accuracy-oriented game that has won two tournaments on the
European tour, the last being this year's Heineken Classic in
Perth, Australia. Although his career has been plagued by
inconsistency (his best finish in a major is a 30th in the 1989
British Open), he is capable of brilliance. In 1986 he shot a
round of 59 during the Southern Argentina Open, which he won
with a 24-under-par 256. During the 12 holes he played at Lomas
Bosque, Martin hit all of the fairways and greens in regulation,
except for the two par-5s, which he reached in two. He made five
birdies. "This putt is for the Ryder Cup," he said before
sinking a six-footer for birdie on his final hole. "I could have
done that in Valderrama."
Martin doesn't want to be misunderstood. Although he had
qualified for a spot on the European team, he never intended to
play hurt at Valderrama or do anything that might jeopardize his
team's chances. He was angered, though, when European Ryder Cup
officials insisted that he prove he was fit by playing a
practice round on Sept. 3. He refused because his wrist was
still tender only 30 days after surgery. Instead, Martin asked
for 10 more days, after which he would decide if he was able to
play. Jose Maria Olazabal, after all, was given that
consideration in 1995, and didn't he do the right thing and
remove himself from the team? "Of course, they wanted Jose Maria
to make the team," says Martin. "It was different for me."
Martin's request was immediately denied by the European Ryder
All Martin was asking for was respect. "That's what angers me
the most--they didn't treat me like the professional that I am,"
he says. "Do you think Olazabal or [Nick] Faldo or [Colin]
Montgomerie would've been treated the way I was? I would've done
nothing to hurt the team or create confusion. I've never done
anything like that, but nobody trusted me."
On Sept. 13, when Martin went to see the Spanish surgeon who
repaired his wrist, the doctor said there was still a chance
that the wrist would hinder him in competition. "That was all I
needed to hear," Martin says. "I would've stepped down proudly.
It was all handled so badly." That's the one thing about the
whole Martin affair that no one disputes.
Last week Martin spent three days at Valderrama trying to
salvage the situation. He met with Ken Schofield, the executive
director of the European tour, as well as with captain Seve
Ballesteros. Afterward it was announced that he had been
reinstated to the European team with full privileges, although
he would not play. In return Martin said he had agreed not to
pursue legal action. "It's closed," he said. "I'm happy because
I'm morally reestablished to the team." Yet shortly after
Schofield announced at a press conference on Sept. 24 that
Martin "has been invited to attend the matches and related
events in the capacity of nonplaying member, and he has welcomed
the chance to play this role with the team," the Spaniard
exposed the settlement for the unhappy compromise that it was.
"I'm going home," he said, and at the end of the 15-minute
charade before the media, he didn't meet Schofield's extended
hand with his own. Schofield reached for it anyway and grasped
it for the cameras.
Because he felt he was not wanted at Valderrama, Martin left for
Boadilla del Monte, a small town west of Madrid, where he lives
with his wife, Mercedes, and their two children, six-year-old
Miguel Angel and Macarena, 18 months, in a well-appointed
three-story house. Mercedes had been reduced to tears during the
press conference, and Martin felt he had been snubbed during a
team photo session when he was included in some shots but
excluded from others.
Most of all, he was angry at Ballesteros, who told him that some
players on the team, notably Faldo, had said they would be
uncomfortable if Martin was allowed in the team room. "The team
room is traditionally closed," says Faldo. "I thought having him
with us was fine, but not there." Other players, including
Bernhard Langer, didn't object to Martin's presence in the team
room, but Ballesteros decided it was better to eliminate the
source of any potential disputes. "Seve said what the objections
of some of the players were, and he was very nervous when he
told me," says Martin. "He couldn't look me in the eye." A few
hours later Martin was on a plane to Madrid.
Ballesteros and Schofield seemed to be searching for a way to
dump Martin almost from the moment he became a good bet to make
the team last February, after his win in Australia, and his
injury was a perfect excuse. As a Spanish captain for the first
Ryder Cup in Spain, Ballesteros was determined to field the
strongest possible lineup, and the only way to get Faldo,
Olazabal and Jesper Parnevik all on the team was to eliminate
one of the 10 automatic qualifiers. Ballesteros said that he had
been operating under the assumption that Martin had given up his
spot on the team after undergoing surgery on Aug. 5. Martin says
he hadn't, but on the day of his surgery he was quoted as saying
that "it hurts me not to be able to play in the Ryder Cup." He
also said, "If everything went well and I had a very rapid
recovery, even if I maintained the 10th place [on the European
money list, which determines Ryder Cup standings], I probably
would have to renounce my position." Martin says that the
operative word in the above sentence is probably, and that he
never gave up his spot.
During the final week of August, when it appeared that Martin
would not be overtaken in the standings (Olazabal finished less
than $5,000 behind him in 11th), Ballesteros called--for the
first time since Martin withdrew from the British Open because
of his injury--and asked his intentions. When Martin said that
he wanted to try to play, he could tell that Ballesteros was
taken aback. Ballesteros called twice more to discuss the
matter. "Seve and I had always been friends," Martin says, "but
he was talking to me now as a captain, not a friend. Something
didn't smell right."
Schofield applied more pressure. His reasons for wanting Martin
to step down were even stronger than Ballesteros's. With players
like Faldo and Parnevik, and next year Darren Clarke and Lee
Westwood, and perhaps even Montgomerie, bolting the European
tour to play in the U.S., Schofield needed a European victory in
the Ryder Cup to restore luster to his sagging enterprise.
Martin, however, refused to go away after he was officially
declared off the team on Sept. 2. He threatened a lawsuit, which
ultimately caused Ballesteros to blow his cool. Asked if Martin
and his attorneys had a strong enough case to stop the Ryder
Cup, Ballesteros launched into a diatribe in which he referred
to Martin as "that little man," a "square head," a "kamikaze
aiming for the ship" and a "machine gunner spraying everywhere."
Worst of all, he said that Martin "was not wanted before. What
makes you think he's wanted now?"
The situation couldn't have been more plain, and despite the
Ryder Cup committee's last-minute gesture to make Martin part of
the team, Ballesteros's decision to heed his players' objections
to Martin's presence in the team room kept Martin from being
accorded the respect he craved.
Martin won't say if money was a part of his settlement, but he
reportedly received some cash--probably somewhere in the
mid-five figures from the only company he represents, Oki, a
computer maker that sponsors a tournament on the European tour
and feels Martin was done an injustice, and perhaps some blood
money from the Ryder Cup committee. "There is no amount of money
to make up for what they have put me through," says Martin.
Worst of all, from Martin's point of view, he wasn't missed at
Valderrama, and everything turned out better than his
adversaries expected. Europe won the Cup, and Faldo, Olazabal
and Parnevik performed brilliantly. Ballesteros and Schofield
wound up covered in glory. Whereas the Martin affair had at one
point looked as if it might turn Ballesteros's captaincy in his
native land into an embarrassment and further weaken Schofield's
position as executive director of the tour, winning the Cup
negated any adverse effects. Martin's banishment will not go
down, as his friend and Ryder Cup team member Ignacio Garrido
described it, as "the worst decision in the history of golf."
Winning changes everything.
"The big fish always eats the little fish," says Martin, who, as
the son of an Andalusian laborer, got his start in golf at nine,
caddying for the equivalent of 50 cents a loop. Martin has
always been a little fish. He's bitter because by playing his
way onto the Ryder Cup team, he felt he had earned the respect
of the big fish.
To stay positive Martin has relied on family and friends like
Pedro Alonso, who accompanied him last Thursday at Lomas Bosque.
Martin also works with a personal trainer, Miguel Angel Garcia
Machado, who ends their daily sessions by having Martin meditate
to help reduce stress. "Miguel Angel must place the mess that
has been made in these months behind a door and close it," says
Machado. "Slowly he can go back and clean it up.''
Martin is due to make his return to competitive golf in two
weeks in the Dunhill Cup, where one of his teammates will be
Olazabal, the man who replaced him at the Ryder Cup. "It might
be awkward," Martin says. "It's up to him. I don't know how it
will be. For me, getting rid of the anger will come from playing
well. I'm more motivated than ever. The only way to get back now
is to beat them."
Martin probably went through his most difficult passage while
watching the telecast of the European team's victory on Sunday.
He admitted before the Ryder Cup that part of him wanted the
U.S. to win, and win big. "But that's wasted energy," he said.
"I fight those feelings."
They would surely have risen to the surface had he been present
for the winning team's press conference. Ballesteros asked each
player to talk about his experiences that week, and they all
mentioned the bond they had formed with their teammates. Not one
player mentioned Martin.
Even in the event that most celebrates camaraderie, golf remains
a selfish game.
COLOR PHOTO: MICHELE CUREL Martin felt unwelcome at Valderrama and watched the Cup at home with son Miguel. [Miguel Angel Martin and Miguel Martin watching television]
COLOR PHOTO: ROBERT BECK Martin spurned a handshake with Schofield (left) after the tour chief announced their settlement. [Ken Schofield and Miguel Angel Martin]
COLOR PHOTO: ROBERT BECK In the end Ballesteros got what he wanted, even if it cost him the friendship of a countryman. [Seve Ballesteros holding Ryder Cup]