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A different kind of Ryder Cup…

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Tony spoke to former Reuters golf correspondent Tony Jimenez about the time he had to argue against a group of unknown players being picked ahead of Europe’s elite in the Ryder Cup:

“It seems scarcely believable now but ahead of the 1987 Ryder Cup there was a move to replace superstars like Seve Ballesteros, Nick Faldo and Bernhard Langer in my European team with a group of club professionals.

Long before the European Tour was conceived in the 1970s, the British PGA were the trustees of the prize donated by Samuel Ryder and one of their most famous members, Abe Mitchell, is the figure depicted on the top of the trophy.

Everything seemed to change after we won for the first time in 28 years, at The Belfry in 1985, and the PGA wanted more of the proceeds generated by the competition.

It got to the point where they threatened to send a team of club professionals to defend the trophy at Muirfield Village in 1987. It was that ridiculous. The PGA wanted a 50-50 split of the proceeds.

I argued for a 60-40 split between the European Tour and the PGA. That was when PGA president Lord Derby turned round and said, ‘You’ve upset me’. I said I was sorry about that but there’s no way the PGA should get 50 percent. In fact, I thought they should get less than 40 percent.

The players never got involved in the arguments but when I think of the Ryder Cup, that discussion always comes to mind. Our players were out there at The Belfry in 1985 giving their all and putting their careers on the line.

In the end we settled on a reasonable 60-40 split but I’m not sure Lord Derby ever forgave me. I’d never been a club professional, I was an assistant. I was really the first player to make a full-time living on the tour and I was fully reliant on the prize money I won.

Players like Dave Thomas, Dai Rees and Max Faulkner all had club jobs in the winter. From 1964, I went to South Africa in the winter and played in GB and Ireland in the summer.

I was always on the side of my players and the European Tour, and as captain I felt it was right to speak up on their behalf. I was thrilled that we resolved the matter in our favour. It became very clear at the time that it was all about money for the PGA because they could see how the Ryder Cup had suddenly taken off.

There were so many European players that came on stream in those days. It wouldn’t have been fair for the likes of Seve, Langer and in future years, Henrik Stenson, didn’t benefit from the competition.

It was quite a shocking thing for me at the time because I was euphoric that we had won on him soil in 1985 after having gone so long without picking up the trophy. Winning against the Americans was all my players and I were concerned with.

The tour gave me carte blanche to do what I wanted as captain. They gave me the power, I insisted on a 60-40 split and the tour backed me. But it also meant I got the blame from Lord Derby and the club pros.

I played in seven Ryder Cups as a player and money never entered our heads. It was the same when I was captain. I can’t recall talking about money to any of my players during my time in charge.

I think we got about £2,000 pounds in expenses in those days and for the players and I it was all about the competition. Christy O’Connor junior didn’t speak to me for four years after I left him out in 1985.

When I picked him four years later, he was all over me, because he finally got the chance to play.

Look at the Ryder Cup nowadays, it’s probably worth £100 million. It’s a massive event. It has grown to be so unbelievably successful and everyone is so passionate about it.

They say it’s currently worth $1m in spin-offs for the captain. Director Guy Kinnings recently told me that the Ryder Cup brand is bigger than that of the European Tour. That’s what it has become. It’s that huge now.”