Monday 23 October 2017

The dark side of Ryder Cup glory

Philip Walton tells Liam Kelly how 1995's momentous high sent his game into freefall

Walton is embraced by European team captain Bernard Gallacher on the final green at Oak Hill. Photo: AP
Walton is embraced by European team captain Bernard Gallacher on the final green at Oak Hill. Photo: AP

PHILIP Walton has revealed the dark side of Ryder Cup glory.

The 48-year-old from Malahide in north Dublin, who competes this week in the Irish PGA Championship at Seapoint, has often reflected on Oak Hill 1995 and wondered: "Was that the worst thing that happened to me in my career?"

It might seem a strange thought, particularly as Walton wrote himself into Ryder Cup history by winning the crucial point that gave Europe only their second victory on American soil.

Team captain Bernard Gallacher, the rest of the European players, and the wives and girlfriends, charged across the 18th green en masse to celebrate after Walton clinched the result in his match with Jay Haas.

"Everyone went mental. (Nick) Faldo was in tears, Seve (Ballesteros) was in tears," says Walton.

"I can't remember if I was crying but I'll tell you one thing: you had to be strong to deal with the pressure. People have no idea what it's like."

None indeed. Many players have written about their legs turning to jelly, their nerves jangling, the strain of playing for a team instead of their individual pockets and pride; but unless you've been there, you'll never comprehend what a Ryder Cup is like.

aftermath

But what of the aftermath? For one crazy week it's Team Europe v Team USA and hugely partisan crowds creating a frenzied atmosphere, followed by celebrations, interviews and joyful journeys home on airplanes for the winners.

The big question is: what happens when the music stops?

Walton doesn't exactly know how or why, but somehow the 1995 Ryder Cup caused the inner rhythm of his golf game to stutter and fade; slowly, incrementally, but the demise was unstoppable.

"In some ways Oak Hill 1995 probably wasn't the best thing that ever happened me. I played okay in 1996, but the real effect began to show in 1997. Something went from me. I felt it, but it's very hard to explain. Definitely that Ryder Cup did take something from me," he says.

"Maybe it's that I'm not one for the limelight and I couldn't easily go for all that stuff. In 1997 I said to myself, 'I'd love to take a year out', but I couldn't do that, so I went on.

"The following year, 1998, I made 13 cuts, all of them in the big-money tournaments, and I made only €25,000. That was the turning point, and once you start slipping in this game, it's very hard to stop it."

Walton played on a handful of sponsors' invitations in 1999 but didn't make enough to regain his playing rights on the European Tour.

The early to mid-2000s were spent going to Tour school and in 2005, finally, he won his card back.

"In 2006 I got 15 starts, went to South Africa, China, Malaysia, but didn't make enough money. I went back to Tour School a couple of times but that's not for me at this stage.

"I'm playing the Irish Region. Mainly it's Pro-Ams, and when I'm 50 in a year and a half, I'll look at the Seniors Tour. It's something to aim at," adds Walton.

The Dubliner has four Irish PGA titles on his CV, the last of them in 1995, but he did take the runner-up spot behind Padraig Harrington in 2004 at St Margarets and at the European Club two years ago.

His last taste of Tour golf was at Killarney in the '3' Irish Open but rounds of 80 and 79 left him 17 over par and he missed the cut. "Didn't hit it too badly, just racked up too many bogeys," was his verdict.

The last 10 days have seen Walton submerged in national controversy after the Taoiseach, Brian Cowen, mimicked him at a Fianna Fail 'think-in' in Galway.

Yesterday, Walton said that as far as he is concerned, the matter is over, and any talking to be done between him and Cowen is a private matter. He does feel he was being used by the Taoiseach's enemies to damage the leader, and while he's not impressed by Cowen's stewardship of the country, the golfer says: "It's over. Let the man get on with his life."

The latest staging of the Ryder Cup takes place at Celtic Manor next week, and Walton can empathise with the situation of Paul Casey.

The Englishman had strong credentials for a captain's pick but wasn't given the nod by Colin Montgomerie. Walton had the same experience in 1989 when Tony Jacklin was European captain.

"I was robbed in '89 of getting a place on the team. I played some of the best golf of my career that year," says Walton.

"At the start of it, I told some friends I would win two tournaments that year, and I did. I reckon if I had said I'd win four, I could have won four, but two was my goal and I achieved that.

"It was all looking good for me. I had played with Jacklin coming up to it and shot 71, 65 at Fulford.

"They put me playing with Howard Clark every second week to try me out, and Seve played with me the last week in Germany.

"Unfortunately I missed the cut that week and went from ninth to 11th in the rankings. After Germany finished, I travelled to Switzerland and I had three Swiss Francs on me specially for the phone, because there were no mobile phones then.

"I rang my brother Alan from Switzerland. He said, 'Are you sitting down? I said, 'No'. He said, 'Well, it's bad news. He didn't pick you. He went for Junior.'

"So Christy (O'Connor) Jnr got in and from that came the famous two-iron shot at the Belfry. I was delighted for Junior but from my point of view I blamed Jacklin and Seve for me not getting on that team.

"I asked Seve two or three weeks after the match, 'why was I not picked?' He said that they didn't like my grip. I was gobsmacked."

Gallacher was captain in 1995 when Walton made the team for Oak Hill but Walton didn't get much sign of confidence from the skipper, who left the Irish player out of the first day's play.

"He did put me out with Woosie (Ian Woosnam) on the Saturday morning and Woosie played crap. We were beaten by Loren Roberts and Peter Jacobsen by one hole," says Walton. "We then walked off the 18th green, and Gallacher told Woosie: 'You are out at 2.30 in the afternoon with (Constantino) Rocca.

"I know he had to mix it up a bit but he couldn't have been watching the form in our match. So I sat watching the golf on TV. Faldo said to me later: 'You were missed out there'."

The next day, Walton was pitched against Jay Haas well down the order. Strategic thinking? Not in Walton's eyes.

"I think he (Gallacher) anticipated the match would have been over by the time it came down to the last few matches; that 's my personal view," Walton reveals.

"I think his feeling was that myself and (Per-Ulrik) Johansson were weak links and that's why he put us at the end.

"I don't think he would ever admit that. But it seemed a case of shove those lads down there and get on with it."

The rest is history. Three up with three to play against Haas, Walton was only one-up playing 18, but he held his nerve to gain the half on the hole that won him the match and the Ryder Cup for Europe.

The stakes are not as high at Seapoint, and Walton admits his confidence is not high either, but he will give the Irish championship his best shot.

Irish Independent

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