Faldo knows importance of Ryder Cup in Europe

LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- The Ryder Cup became a big deal when the Americans started losing it. Suddenly an event the Yanks dominated became an every-other-year grudge match built into an epic happening that transcends the support. For many, it is the biggest event in golf.

But even consecutive blowout losses do not consume the American public the way the Europeans chew on everything that is the Ryder Cup. A few days or weeks of consternation follow a U.S. Ryder Cup defeat and it will undoubtedly become a big topic as the event draws closer in 2008.

Across the pond, it is another matter. The Ryder Cup is ripe for discussion anytime, anywhere, no matter how far away the matches may be in terms of days, weeks or months.

"It's been like this since 1979,'' said Richard Hills, European Ryder Cup director, noting the date when continental Europe joined Great Britain & Ireland to form what become a formidable opponent. "It became the one sporting event where Europe plays under that European flag. You really want to qualify to play in the match. It's one of the biggest stages in sport. In its year of play, it becomes week in week out. Our qualification has been running now since September, and discussion is frequent.''

Nick Faldo knows this quite well. Nobody has played in as many Ryder Cups as Faldo's 11, nobody has played in as many matches (46) or won as many points (25). The Englishman, who won six major championships to distinguish his individual career, goes back 30 years with the Ryder Cup. He played on the first team to win on American soil and played a big role in the resurgence of the event.

Not that Faldo needed any reminder, but he got a big dose of just how much it means last month when he captained the Great Britain & Ireland team against continental Europe in the Seve Cup, a Ryder Cup-style competition played the same weekend as the Presidents Cup was staged in Montreal.

It was supposed to be a low-key affair and a chance for Faldo to get his feet wet as a captain. Instead, he stepped into some controversy.

First, he snubbed Irishman Paul McGinley by not awarding him a captain's pick in his home country. McGinley, who had already been named one of Faldo's assistant captains for the Ryder Cup, resigned his position in a huff, offering that he wanted to concentrate on making the team as a player while everyone knew it had more to do with Faldo's snub.

Then Faldo called out one of Europe's all-time best in the Ryder Cup, Colin Montgomerie, for being less than a team player at the Seve Trophy.

Past captains Bernard Gallacher and Sam Torrance quickly came to the defense of their Scottish countryman Monty and criticized Faldo's handling of matters. Torrance claimed that Faldo erred horribly by anointing an assistant captain so early; Gallacher said that Faldo should hold remarks about Montgomerie for his memoirs.

And this is the team that spanks the Americans every year?

Faldo, quite the quipster now as an American television analyst, went mostly mum on the subject Monday at a Valhalla Golf Club, where Ryder Cup officials gathered to showcase the course and the captains. Faldo said he had no regrets, and that there was no fallout ... which didn't escape U.S. captain Paul Azinger.

"He thought he made a mistake once ... but he was mistaken,'' Azinger said.

Faldo, however, was not surprised that any move he made or comments related to the Ryder Cup -- even 12 months prior -- would be big news back home.

"Ryder Cup is the biggest event we have,'' Faldo said. "If I called a press conference to talk about Nick Faldo Enterprises, I'd get X number [of media members]. If I called a press conference for [the] Ryder Cup, you get this. So it just shows you the interest that we have. It always has been, especially at least these last 20 years. It's on the media's mind just about every week.''

Faldo's Ryder Cup experience dates to 1977, when it was just Great Britain & Ireland, and he posted a 3-0-0 record at Royal Lytham & St. Anne's, including a singles victory over Tom Watson. He had a 3-1-1 record in 1987 when the Europeans won for the first time in the United States. He defeated Curtis Strange, coming back from 2-down with three to play, to win a crucial singles match in 1995.

He may have been singular in his pursuit of greatness, but Faldo understood just how big the Ryder Cup was to his career, his country and his continent.

"I've seen men lying on the floor of the locker room either laughing or crying,'' he said. "It's quite amazing what we will put ourselves through for one point, the value of winning a point. There's no prize money in the Ryder Cup. It's quite something, quite electric. And you will sense that form the emotion and the passion and the commitment, everybody takes everything to the max that week. It's quite amazing.''

So is the attention it receives -- as Faldo is keenly aware.

Bob Harig is a frequent contributor to ESPN.com. He can be reached at BobHarig@gmail.com.