Ryder Cup 2016: Sam Torrance - 'Let the USA be favourites, we don't care'

By Tom EnglishBBC Scotland
Sam Torrance pictured in October 2015
Torrance, victorious captain in 2002, will be a vice-captain for a third time this year
Ryder Cup
Venue: Hazeltine National, Minnesota Dates: 30 September-2 October
Coverage: Live commentary on BBC Radio 5 live, highlights on BBC Two plus live text commentary on the BBC Sport website. Details.

We're sitting with Sam Torrance in the clubhouse at Woburn and the great man is chuckling.

He's leaning back in the couch and giving it the old 'Come on, what do they know?' when asked about the bookmakers making Davis Love's United States odds-on favourites to beat Darren Clarke's Europe at the Ryder Cup at Hazeltine this week.

What do they know? Probably a whole lot less than Torrance knows, that's for sure. Eight Ryder Cups as a player, one as a (victorious) captain and this week a vice-captain for the third time, his span in the matches stretches back 35 years to his rookie year of 1981 and an 18½-9½ shellacking at the hands of the American Dream Team at Walton Heath.

Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson, Lee Trevino, Johnny Miller, Ray Floyd. "They weren't bad, to be fair."

Eight of the Ryder Cup team that will do battle in Minnesota weren't born when Torrance, 63, hit his first shot in the matches. Six of them weren't around when he holed the winning putt in 1985.

When he played in his last Ryder Cup, in 1995, Rory McIlroy was six, Thomas Pieters was three and Matt Fitzpatrick had just celebrated his first birthday.

Ryder Cup 1985 - Torrance seals first win for 28 years

The old dog has travelled a long road and his Ryder Cup experience is off the scale. This business of favouritism?

"Doesn't matter a damn who's favourite," he said. "Let them be favourites, we don't care. It's great that they're favourites.

"It takes a lot of pressure off us. It's very close, it's always very close. Papers make the favourites. The bookies make them favourites, but what do the bookies know?"

Where do you start cataloguing Torrance's Ryder Cup years? You go back to the beginning; Walton Heath, third week in September 1981.

"He said he'd beat the moustache off me"

Torrance was 28 when he made his debut, a winner of three tournaments on the European Tour. He was in good form, but good very rarely beats great. He came up against the invincibles that year.

The only majors that Europe had won in the 11 years leading up to the 1981 Ryder Cup were both claimed by Seve Ballesteros. By contrast, America had won three that year alone and had nine different major champions - and 35 majors - in their ranks.

Trevino had won five of them.

"I met Lee very early on in my career and he's been a dear, dear friend my whole life," said Torrance. "So he sees me on the Saturday night and the singles draw is out. (Europe were losing by five points). And he says, 'Sammy, I'm gonna beat the moustache off you'. 'OK, Lee'.

Lee Trevino shakes hands with Sam Torrance after beating him in the 1981 Ryder Cup singles
Lee Trevino shakes hands with Sam Torrance after beating him in the 1981 singles

"I get up the next morning, I've come out of the hotel and he's waiting for his courtesy car. I've got my own car. I said, 'Come on Lee, I'll give you a lift'. 'Sure, Sammy, let's go'.

"You come out of the hotel and go right to go to the golf club - and he knew this. So I come out and turn left. 'Sammy, where you going? I said, 'To hell with you Lee, we're going to London, half a point each!' And he laughed.

"He beat me 4&3 (actually, it was 5&3). What a player. A dream player. Was he beatable? If I had a gun. And, yes, I shaved my moustache off that night."

"Come on Woosie, let's kill 'em"

The first rookie that Torrance played with at the Ryder Cup was his mate, Ian Woosnam, at West Palm Beach, Florida, in 1983.

"We were on the putting green and we were playing Ben Crenshaw and Calvin Peete. Woosie was nervous. I said, 'Come on, for God's sake, I'll hit off the first, we'll kill 'em, come on, let's go'.

"We bounced up on the tee. I teed it up, hit the opening shot - lost ball. Gone. He hits an iron down the fairway, 6-iron to 3 feet, birdie. Nice one, Woosie."

Europe's 1983 Ryder Cup team
The European team including Torrance (second left, top) and Woosnam (third left, bottom) were beaten 14½-13½ in 1983 but prevailed at the Belfry in 1985

Some conquer the nerves, some don't, but nobody understands what that first tee is like until they experience it, says Torrance.

"My favourite analogy is one I told (David) Feherty when he made it in Kiawah Island in 1991. He's my best mate. He says, 'Right, come on, tell me what it's really like...' I said, 'I can't'. It's like explaining to somebody who is not a father what's it like to be a father.

"You can't explain that bond that you have between you and your child. It's exactly the same with the Ryder Cup. You just can't explain it."

"Floyd? He looked like a gangster"

Torrance's best individual performance was his last, he says - his 2&1 win over Loren Roberts in the singles in 1995 at Oak Hill, only the second victory on American soil. "That boy could putt the eyes off the ball."

His most wounding loss? A 3&1 defeat by Tom Watson in the singles in 1989 at the Belfry. "I played great and I couldn't hole a damn thing. I'm wielding this big long putter and he's got the short twitchy one and he said to me afterwards - and I think it might have been a little bit of a dig - 'The only difference was our putting, Sam'.

"That loss hurt because I felt I could beat him and to get an opportunity to play a man as great as that, that's a scalp you want and I didn't achieve it."

USA captain Raymond Floyd and Europe captain Tony Jacklin poses with the Ryder Cup in 1989
Ray Floyd captained the USA team in 1989, when Tony Jacklin's European side retained the trophy after a 14-14 tie

There's not pause for thought about his most fearsome opponent. "Raymond Floyd - he just terrified me. He looked like a big gangster. He really did look like something out of The Godfather. 'You can't beat him. You'll be in trouble if you beat him'.

He faced Floyd in a fourballs match in 1985. Floyd won.

"Seve - he was like Elvis"

"He was the best. You can't say enough about him. His enthusiasm, his love for the game, his love for you, he would do anything for you (in a Ryder Cup week).

"You could say, 'Seve, I can't get this chip right from thick rough' and he'd spend 40 minutes with you showing you how to play it and you'd go to the French Open the next week and say, 'Seve, I still haven't...' And he'd say, 'Go away, I see you in two years, huh? Go away, go away'. Brilliant.

Seve Ballesteros, Sam Torrance, captain Bernard Gallacher, Nick Faldo and Bernhard Langer celebrate Europe's victory in 1995
Ballesteros, Torrance, captain Bernard Gallacher, Nick Faldo and Bernhard Langer celebrate Europe's victory in 1995

"We know how great Seve was and we all know how bad he was at the end and I think that was his greatest moment, at Oak Hill in 1995, when he played Tom Lehman. He could have been 10-down after nine he was that bad. He was one-down.

"We were all on the range, because he was first match out and we knew he was going to get beat and he knew he was going to get beat, but he had so much heart. He fought this man tooth and nail right to the end. When Seve walked into the room, he was like Elvis. Just magnificent."

"Kiawah was not a war"

Nick Faldo said of the 1991 Ryder Cup at Kiawah Island that it "surrendered its dignity" that year. The original Gulf War had just ended and the feeling of patriotism swept around the event.

Some of the American team wore Operation Desert Storm baseball caps and the home crowd spent the three days in a frenzy. "It almost turned into a riot," said Woosnam.

Archive - Langer v Irwin - Kiawah Island 1991

Torrance disagrees. "It wasn't a 'War on the Shore'. That was the press. The crowd were vociferous, of course they were. That's what it's like. That inspires us.

"Now, you can't really call it respectful when you get these idiots shouting 'get in the hole!' on a par five. What do they think we are, supermen?

"I don't even blame them. American sport is very noisy. You go to a baseball match or a football match, it's noisy.

"I don't care what noise they make. As long as they don't make noise when you're hitting. If that happens, there's going to be a problem, but it's not going to happen.

Amercians Corey Pavin and Steve Pate wear 'Desert Storm' caps during the 1991 Ryder Cup
Americans Corey Pavin and Steve Pate wore 'Desert Storm' caps in 1991

"Kiawah Island was not a war. Every time somebody says that to me, I correct them.

"It became the 'War on the Shore'external-link because of the hat that Corey (Pavin) wore. He's wearing a hat for God's sake. A camouflage hat, he's supporting the Americans fighting in Iraq, or whatever the hell they're doing. He wasn't out there wearing a combat hat against the Europeans.

"It might have been an error of judgment him wearing it, but he wasn't wearing it for the reasons people thought he was wearing it. Brookline (in 1999) was the only one (when the Ryder Cup got out of hand) and it was one incident, one green. Actually, there were a lot more incidents that week, but we'll not go into that."

"The putt in '85 - everything was shaking'

The 1985 Ryder Cup was held at The Belfry. The USA hadn't lost since 1957. Europe were 9-7 ahead going into the Sunday singles and history was in the air.

Torrance was drawn against Andy North, who had won his second US Open only a few months earlier. "I think I was out in 41," says Torrance. He was two-down at the turn and then double-bogeyed the 10th to fall three-down.

He pegged North back. Standing on the 17th tee, the American's lead had been cut to one. "On 17, I have a putt to go all-square and everything was shaking. You asked me when was I most nervous. That was it, right there. Somehow I kept it together, hit a good putt and it went straight in the hole.

"I hit a drive on 18 that was beyond belief and, as soon as Andy connected with his drive, I knew it was in the water, I knew he was dead. I just started crying. Sobbing. Coming off the tee and all the American wives were there and I so tried to stop this stupid crying. The tears were flooding down my face. 'Come on, show a bit of strength here'.

Sam Torrance celebrates holing the winning putt for Europe in the 1985 Ryder Cup
Torrance's winning putt in 1985 ended 28 years of American dominance

"I hit a lovely nine-iron to 25ft and I've gone like this with the club in my hands and Woosie appears for a cuddle and I give him such a clatter on the back of the head with my iron.

"The clunk was unbelievable. I thought he was going to go down, but the way we were feeling we weren't feeling any pain.

"Did it change my life? Absolutely - and so much for the better. To this day, I have people saying, 'I was there Sam, I saw that putt'. So was I. It was brilliant."

Such cool under pressure. How many Europeans this time are made of that kind of stuff? "12 of them," he says. Then he chuckles again, like a man who cannot wait for it all to get started.

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