Martin Davis is among the world’s foremost experts on the history of golf and his latest effort – The Ryder Cup: Golf’s Grandest Event — is filled with a treasure drove of interesting facts and stories tied to the ultimate team match in professional golf. Martin took time during this year’s Ryder Cup Matches at Hazeltine National Golf Club to answer a few questions.
MATT WARD: The first Ryder Cup Matches has been historically stated as happening with the 1927 event. You have reviewed the information and state the first event actual took place a year earlier. Why has the 1927 remained in place as the official beginning for the competition?
MARTIN DAVIS: The evidence we uncovered clearly shows 1926 as the first Ryder Cup Match which was played at Wentworth and was won by the team from Great Britain & Ireland. The major media of the day – both from the UK and USA both acknowledge as much. Unbelievably,there are clear articles in nine of the major print media outlets of the day stating as such. Calling the event played at Wentworth in early June of 1926 — The Ryder Cup.
In fact, the announcement of the Cup by Ryder was covered in The Guardian newspaper, The Times(London) and The Sunday Times as well in the early spring. We reprinted many of the actual newspaper articles in the book. Although the Cup was not officially presented in the 1926 matches because half of the American squad could not make it into England because of a coal workers strike that spread to all sectors of the UK and thereby prevented five members of the USA squad from making it in time for the event. Captain Walter Hagen filled in with five ex-patriots living in the United States who had already arrived in the UK for the Open Championship. So half of the American team consisted of two Englishmen, two Scots and an Australian trick shot artist.
As a result, Samuel Ryder opted not to present the Cup because of a depleted American squad and decided to withhold the Cup until a proper American team could be fielded. This came the next year — in 1927 — when the first “official” matches took place in Worcester, MA when the Cup — which was ready in 1926 — would be presented for the very first time.
MW: Given your depth of understanding of the event – can you highlight a reason why Larry Nelson — a three-time major champion and a player with a sterling Ryder Cup record was never chosen American Captain when others — with far less overall records were picked?
MD: It’s truly a shame. Larry Nelson was a top tier Ryder Cup player and his personal storyline — as well as his overall playing career was exemplary in all ways. Sadly, the way the nature of selecting Captains is now done — it’s highly unlikely he will be ever selected. But practically, since he hasn’t had any contact with the Tour in a long time — it just wouldn’t work. Like I said — a real shame.
MW: How much of a factor do you believe the respective Captain’s play for each side?
MD: Huge — more important than ever. With the nature of the golfers on both sides being so close to one another in terms of skill parity — it’s critical to understand the balancing act of matching players — the overall chemistries essential in order to maximize player performance given the sheer amount of pressure players are under. One recent Captain who understood this better than any other was Paul McGinley. He was able to handle the myriad of details needed so that players could free themselves to focus simply on what they needed to do on the course. Knowing who to sit and who to play is a fine art that goes far beyond what it was years ago.
MW: There’s been discussion concerning the role of Captain picks for both teams. Do you believe that should continue and if so — should both sides have the same number — they don’t now — and should they be announced at the same time — right now each is announced at different times.
MD: I am OK with what’s being done now. Each squad can decide for themselves the number of Captain picks and when they are selected.
MW: Best individual player all-time for both Team Europe and Team USA?
MD: For Europe – Seve Ballesteros with Tony Jacklin a close second. On the USA side — Lanny Wadkins just the ultimate competitor. Along with Lanny I’d put Bill Casper and Arnold Palmer.
MW: Best individual teams all-time for both Team Europe and Team USA?
MD: For Europe — no question Ballesteros and Jose Maria Olazabal. On the USA side — Wadkins and Larry Nelson. Jack Nicklaus and Arnie teamed well together as did Jack and Tom Watson.
MW: Curious to get your opinion — how does one comprehend the poor Ryder Cup record Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson have demonstrated over the years?
MD: What’s overlooked is personal chemistry. The European team has had a longer history of being with one another and all that it entails — traveling with one another — partying with one another and therefore understanding one another much more so. The American side is more like individual silos forged together just at the time of the matches. Often that’s resulted in people who really don’t click as well. That’s beginning to change as the USA is trying to emulate what Team Europe has been doing for many more years.
MW: What potential site — that has never held the matches - would you like to see serve as host of the event – in Europe and in the USA? If you could change one thing about the Ryder Cup what would it be?
MD: In Europe — I would select The Old Course at St. Andrews which has never hosted the matches or Royal County Down in Northern Ireland. On the USA side for clubs with the facilities to host — either Oakmont or Shinnecock Hills. If I could name sites that should host but don’t have the facilities to do so — I’d select Pine Valley and National Golf Links of America.
MW: If you could change one thing about the Ryder Cup what would it be?
MD: I’d leave things just as they are — it’s the grandest even in the game — and that’s the title of my book!
MW: Your pick to win the matches this year was?
MD: I liked the USA — but I didn’t want to jinx them by saying so.
Martin Davis is the editor and publisher of The American Golfer, best known for lavishly produced coffee table books on the greats of the game – Ben Hogan, Bobby Jones, Byron Nelson and Jack Nicklaus. This book is the 30th golf book he’s either written, edited or published. His first book, The Hogan Mystique, became a national best-seller in 1995.
A member of the Golf Collector’s Society of America, Davis also provides historical commentary for Golf Channel and occasionally contributes to The New York Times. He has appeared on the Masters broadcast onCBS, NBC, CNN and Comcast networks. He is currently the golf historian for SiriusXM radio where he has a regular one hour special before the major golf events. An avid golfer, Davis lives in Greenwich, Conn.