More than eight months have passed since the U.S. handed Europe a
bitter defeat at the Ryder Cup with a furious Sunday finish. No
one disputes that it was wrong for members of the U.S. team,
along with some of their wives and caddies, to run onto the 17th
green to celebrate Justin Leonard's dramatic putt before Jose
Maria Olazabal had a chance to halve the hole. Notes of apology
have been sent from captain to captain, player to player, wife to
wife, caddie to caddie and every combination thereof. Publicly
and privately, the Americans are sorry, sorry, SORRY!
But it still ain't over. Many Europeans remain indignant over the
events at Brookline. A respected British golf writer recently
told me that what he referred to as "the invasion" of the 17th
green was the most despicable thing he had ever seen in golf.
Enough is enough. I'm sick of all the post-Ryder Cup complaining.
In fact, it's time to bring the high-minded back down to earth.
Whatever happened to accepting a loss with dignity? That has
definitely become a foreign concept to Mark James, who was
Europe's captain in Boston. James's new book, Into the Bear Pit:
The Hard Hitting Inside Story of the Brookline Ryder Cup, is
petty, smug and whiny.
With apologies to Roy Firestone, I haven't read the book, just
the serialized excerpts featured last week in London's Daily
Mail. There, James tells why, after receiving Nick Faldo's
good-luck letter to the European team, he "binned" it (because
Faldo had publicly criticized team member Colin Montgomerie).
Then James rips open still-healing wounds by sniping at Tom
Lehman, a vocal leader on the U.S. team and a 17th-green invader.
"Calls himself a man of God?" writes James. "That was the most
disgraceful thing I've ever seen. I will never be able to look on
him in the same light again."
The blindsided Lehman, who had written James an apology (James
called it "a waste of ink"), is angry over the violation of pro
golf's custom of settling disputes man-to-man. "I hope he feels
good about making money off taking shots at other people's
character and integrity," says Lehman. "He's dragging the Ryder
Cup through the muck."
It doesn't take a genius to see that what happened at Brookline
had its seeds in earlier Ryder Cups, but James, despite having
participated in nine of them (and having himself been a bad boy
in 1979 by blowing off team meetings and refusing to wear the
team uniform), still doesn't get it. U.S. players remember
Olazabal doing a joyful rumba during the closing ceremony at the
1987 matches and European team members celebrating on the side of
the 18th green after a final-day comeback at Oak Hill in 1995.
Those two upsets and another in 1997 had put the U.S. team under
extreme pressure to win at Brookline. If the Americans lost, they
would be chokers, soft millionaires without guts. So when they
entered the last day trailing 10-6, desperation drove them to dig
as deep emotionally as they ever had. When Leonard's putt
dropped, some U.S. players may have had celebratory payback in
mind, but surely their overriding emotion was relief.
Conversely, the Europeans had blown it, and the finger pointed
right at James. It was he who passed over Ryder Cup icons Faldo
and Bernhard Langer as captain's picks, taking rookie Andrew
Coltart as one choice. It was James who kept the rookies idle the
first two days and then threw them out early in Sunday's singles,
during which their lopsided losses fueled the U.S. steamroller.
What rankles most about James is that he turned out to be so
two-faced. For almost the entire week at Brookline, he was the
coolest of the principals, his dry wit seeming to put him above
the fray. He went out of his way to praise the fans for their
appreciation of the Europeans' golf. Even when he had a chance to
add to Olazabal's balanced comment that "next time I think we can
all act a little bit better," James passed. But when he got to
the Boston airport and started to feel the heat from the roasting
he was about to take in Europe, James caved and played the Ugly
Americans card that has deflected focus from his mistakes.
Those actions and James's carping, shallow book have cheapened
the Ryder Cup and done nothing to alleviate bona fide concerns
about the future of the competition. The current European
captain, Sam Torrance--who says he made James a vice captain
before learning of the book's contents--should do the right
thing and bin his friend's appointment.
James says he wanted to give a history lesson, and he did. It's
the old one about how character is destiny: The guy who acted
badly in 1979 has done so again. The Ryder Cup will be better off
without him in 2001.
COLOR PHOTO: ROBERT BECK
When he felt the heat from the roasting he would take in Europe,
James played the Ugly Americans card.