Spats out of order

MIND GAMES or exasperation? Who knows why South Africa’s Retief Goosen chose the Madrid Open to label his Irish rival for the Order of Merit, Padraig Harrington “the slowest player on the European Tour.”

Whatever, the insult blew up in his face the following day when Goosen was handed a slow-play warning during his opening round by a tournament official. Goosen stormed from the Club de Campo threatening to quit the European Tour after his bad time was confirmed at the recording tent. Acting with immense self-restraint, Harrington refused to be drawn into the conflict, and when asked about his rival's misfortune replied: "Do I care? No."

It wasn't the first, and it certainly won't be the last, falling out between two exponents of a sport renowned for its fair play, etiquette and and mild manners. Here, we look back at some of golf's more intriguing spats.

Seve Ballesteros v Sergio Garcia

BALLESTEROS once heralded a glittering career for fellow Spaniard Garcia but earlier this year he became involved in a bitter feud with his young compatriot over his decision to give the Seve Trophy a miss. Ballesteros, so often wayward with his driver these days, hit the target dead centre in May when he accused Garcia of demanding appearance money to play in the Seve Trophy at Druids Glen. Garcia denied asking for money, saying he was scheduled to play that week on the US Tour. El Nino also said it was his former mentor's responsibility to take the first step toward settling their differences, adding: "Seve will have to talk to me because he has said things that were not correct. If anything has to change, he maybe has to come and talk to me ... about what happened and maybe we can get everything straightened out."

Ballesteros was exasperated by this perceived act of young whipper-snappery and when asked whether he would seek out Garcia, he snapped: "You think I need to give an explanation? Everything I said was 100 per cent correct. If he wants to talk to me, I am very open. But I am the captain. He qualified for the tournament and he refused to play, so he is the one who is supposed to give an explanation, not the other way around."

Paul Azinger v Greg Norman

BOTH players were at the height of their powers in the late 1980s and early 1990s when this little feud simmered. Azinger, with three US Tour wins to his name in 1987, skipped that year's Memorial Tournament to be close to his hospitalised father. The American was shocked to his patriotic core, however, when he watched the Australian give an interview on television to CBS commentator Gary McCord. Norman told McCord he thought European Tour players were better ball strikers than the Americans. Azinger hit back with an interview with the Orlando Sentinel, responding to the claim of his fellow resident of Florida by saying, "If that is true, why has Greg only won five tournaments?" The headline that accompanied the piece screamed NORMAN WHIPS AZINGER INTO FRENZY! As the Great White Shark picked up the paper the next morning and three weeks later, the two went to head to head at the 1987 US PGA. "I understand you have a problem with me," is how Azinger recalled Norman's opening gambit in his autobiography having "planted himself right in front of me." "I read you want a piece of me," Norman continued as Azinger denied the accusation. "Where did you hear that?" "I have an article from the Orlando Sentinel. I'll put it in your locker." And so he did. Azinger read back his own words and was forced to apologise. Six years later, though, the American had the last laugh, shedding the title of "best player never to have won a major" by pulling off a stunning victory at the 1993 PGA Championship at the Inverness Club in Ohio. He won it in a play- off against Norman.

Europe v USA, 1989-1991

FORGET Brookline in 1999, that was just American bad manners. Ten years earlier it had been the real deal and it reached it a nasty low at Kiawah Island in 1991. Nick Faldo says the seeds of bad feeling between the two Ryder Cup teams started in 1989 at The Belfry when that year's American captain Ray Floyd had stood up at the pre-match gala dinner and introduced his team as "the 12 best golfers in the world." Floyd had borrowed the remark from his 1967 predecessor Walter Hagen and though it may have been the case then it definitely was not in 1989. "We all told (European captain) Tony Jacklin to introduce Seve Ballesteros as the 13th best player in the world," Faldo said, before adding: "We knew what Raymond was trying to do but considering we had beaten them pretty soundly the previous two matches, it just wasn't appropriate." Europe retained the Ryder Cup that year by halving the match 14-14 but two years later the bad blood continued when the teams rejoined battle on Kiawah Island for the now infamous War on the Shore. The worst possible beginning to the event happened when the US PGA slighted the visiting team at the pre-match dinner by showing a film of the history of the Ryder Cup that barely featured a mention of any European contribution to the event. On the course, Paul Azinger and Seve Ballesteros engaged in heated exchanges and the decision of some of the Americans, in the same year as the Gulf War, to wear camouflage shirts did little to defuse the situation. The surly ugliness of the American galleries had shamed an onlooking Tom Watson into seeking to heal some of the wounds for Kiawah. The American was his team's next captain and in 1993, following a series of conversations with Faldo, Watson set about rebuilding the bridges across the Atlantic. It was to be an uneasy and fragile peace that was to break down once again at Brookline.

Greg Norman v Tim Finchem

AFTER settling his row with Azinger, the Great White Shark turned his sights higher up golfing's food chain in the mid-nineties when sank his teeth into PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem. The feud began in 1994 when Norman backed a proposed World Tour, challenging Finchem's power. The proposed tour failed when it received virtually no support from other players. The relationship between the two further deteriorated in September 1996 at the Presidents Cup match between the USA and the Rest of the World when Norman and Finchem engaged in a shouting match in a hotel lobby. Norman was angry that Finchem had announced the creation of three world events the World Golf Championships in 1999 without consulting the Australian. Norman hit back at Finchem by showing up late for the Tour Championship the following month, missing the pro-am, and then being the only player to leave early and skip the rain-delayed final round on the Monday. He followed that in January 1997 when he was the only PGA Tour winner from 1996 to skip the season-opening Mercedes Championships. Always there was an excuse from Norman why he was absent and always Finchem seemed to accept the excuse publicly at least. There were further barbs that March when Norman suffered the embarrassment of US President Clinton falling down some steps at his Florida home before a round of golf, prompting Finchem to declare: "I've asked him (Norman) not to invite me to anything." Norman's response was to reply to a question on whether he wanted Finchem removed as commissioner by saying: "If I wanted to get rid of him, I'd take him diving."

Ben Crenshaw

ANOTHER Ryder Cup rumble this one with the 1999 US captain Ben Crenshaw having a pop at Westwood and Clarke in his autobiography for deliberate slow play during one of their games at Brookline. Crenshaw wrote: "The pace was excruciatingly slow, to the point that we nearly didn't get finished the first night.

"Ask Davis (Love), ask Tom (Lehman). Many times the Europeans were the last ones to get to the next tee and they seemed to deliberate more than usual.

"Saturday afternoon Phil (Mickelson) was so frustrated at the 11th tee that he hit his drive before the Europeans (Lee Westwood and Darren Clarke) arrived.

"Davis and Justin were equally upset Friday when Davis told Colin (Montgomerie) and (Paul) Lawrie 'Look, we have to get on with these matches. You can't slow play us forever.' "I have a feeling the slow play was designed to throw us off our pace. Whatever the reason, it's safe to say that there was a concerted effort to slow things down."

THE veteran Texan defended his comments by saying: "My autobiography is simply some of my experiences and reminiscences of a lifetime in golf. I hope people enjoy the book for what it is and will realise that there is no intent to create controversy or bring attention to any particular incident. Westwood and Clarke, backed up by Colin Montgomerie and Padraig Harrington, all clearly saw it differently and moved quickly to dismiss the notion that Europe were instructed by their captain Mark James to play slowly against the Americans.

"It's unbelievable," Monty said. "I was at every one of our team meetings and it was never discussed.

"I don't know how to play slowly. Paul (Lawrie) and I had a couple of ideas about how to react to situations, but slow play was not one of them."

Mark James v Nick Faldo.

THE Ryder Cup has not just been a battleground for the rival teams, the competition has also fuelled some bitter internal feuds. One such spat involved 1999 European captain Mark James and former world number one Nick Faldo.

James threw the first metaphorical punch by declaring that six-times major winner Faldo would not be considered for a wild card spot in the European team for Brookline, despite having carded his lowest round of the year in the final qualifying event.

In doing so, James brought to an end Faldo's record-breaking 11-match run stretching back to 1977, adding: "The fact is that there's a limit to how far down the list you can go, and if you pick someone when their form is not good enough then I don't think you're doing them any favours." Faldo said he was "gutted" after asking James whether he had a chance of a wild card and being told it was unlikely even if he won the final qualifying event, the BMW International Open in Germany. He retorted: "I hope he has got some more motivating lines for the rest of the team. One line that he (James) threw at me was the killer. It was the one saying that even if I won I was unlikely to be picked. That's good for the deflation. That one line knocked me over."

But that was not the end of it. James revisited the argument in his autobiography, which was published the following year, when he described how at Brookline he threw a good luck message from Faldo into a waste paper bin. It prompted Faldo to accuse James of breaching the European Tour's code of conduct, a charge rejected unanimously by the tour's players' committee, chaired by James.

Seve v the Press

IN 1971, the European Tour was involved in a mighty row with sponsors and players over the vexed subject of appearance money. Seve Ballesteros resigned from the tour and was thrown out of the Ryder Cup team and Nick Faldo was another who came in for some merciless criticism. Accordingly, he decided to play the US Tour the following year to avoid all the fuss but when he was asked if this had been a difficult call for him to make, all the annoyance and frustration burst to the surface.

"Difficult? Difficult?" he raged at a stunned pressman who had asked the question. "Easiest one in the world after all the shit that was thrown at me last week." He raised an accusing finger. "You lot," he said contemptuously. "I came in with the attention of saying something and you took the wrong end of the stick. You got another player involved. The Alliss incident at the PGA was the last straw."

It just so happened that Peter Alliss had written an article for a golf magazine in which he described Faldo as "a would-be comedian and the classic only child. The thing about Faldo is that you don't want to give him a cuddle unlike, say, Sandy Lyle. Faldo struggles to get people to like him and he doesn't create excitement. He's a hero but he doesn't fully understand he's a hero."

To which the bould Nick responded: "What does Alliss know? He climbs fourteen steps into the commentary box and suddenly he's an expert."

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