With just over four weeks to go until the biennial clash between Europe and the USA in the 2006 Ryder Cup, US captain Tom Lehman (pictured) has initiated the now traditional war of words between the two camps by criticising the tactics of the defeated 1999 European captain Mark James.
Lehman, who hardly covered himself in glory that year at Brookline when he led the premature US celebrations that spilled over onto the 17th green of the singles match between Justin Leonard and Jose Maria Olazabal, claims that he will not repeat the tactics employed by James that he believes contributed heavily to the US victory.
In 1999 James elected not to play Andrew Coltart, Jarmo Sandelin and Jean Van de Velde until the singles on the final day, and Lehman believes it was a mistake that cost the Europeans in two ways. Instead James asked some of his experienced star players to play in every session on the Friday and Saturday and in Lehman’s opinion it left them tired and unable to show their best form in the singles. In addition to this, Lehman, who was a player in 1999, has hinted that it added to the nerves clearly shown by the three debutants – who all lost their singles matches on the crucial final day.
“I’m not sure that was totally smart, quite frankly,” Lehman said in reference to James’ decision.
“It was quite obvious that several of the European players were tired on the Saturday afternoon and the Sunday. To me the Saturday was the perfect opportunity to play one of the teams that hadn’t played simply because they were fresh. Even if they didn’t play that well they probably would have played better than Lee Westwood and Darren Clarke, who looked whacked.”
Europe’s main men helped them to establish a four-point lead going into the final day in 1999, but the Americans came roaring back in the singles to clinch an unlikely victory that became shrouded in controversy following their unsporting premature celebrations. The three European rookies all lost their matches, in addition to Clarke, Westwood, Sergio Garcia and Jesper Parnevik – all of whom had featured twice on the Friday and Saturday.
“We all want to win – there’s no question about that,” Lehman continued.
“However, I can’t imagine anybody sitting out until the singles. We’re going to play hard to win because life is too short to do it any other way.”
The match, one of the most eagerly awaited events in the sporting calendar, runs from September 22-24 at the K Club. It is the first time that it has been staged in Ireland and www.golf-monthly.co.uk will provide detailed updates and analysis throughout.