Without naming any names this time Paul Azinger has once again made gamesmanship a talking point ahead of this week’s Ryder Cup.
Asked if the “dirty tricks” side of golf was still going on at the matches America’s captain, who back in 1991 called Seve Ballesteros “the king of gamesmanship”, replied: “It’s alive and well. You don’t always see it. It can be a spoken word or early walking in the middle of a backswing.
“I could mention things, but I don’t want to start an international incident.”
Azinger’s remarks in an interview he gave to the American magazine “Golf World” will intrigue anyone who has followed recent matches.
Europe’s players were accused of a deliberate go-slow policy during the controversial 1999 clash in Boston, but perhaps gamesmanship – ploys designed to upset the opposition – has just become more sneaky since then.
Tiger Woods said after the 2004 match in Detroit that the Presidents Cup was a lot more enjoyable than the Ryder Cup “probably because at the Presidents we’re all good friends and you see more sportsmanship. That’s the way the Ryder Cup used to be, but it’s become sidetracked.”
When pressed on whether he had witnessed “bad sportsmanship” in any of his matches since his debut in 1997 Woods replied: “Let’s not say sportsmanship. How about gamesmanship?” Like Azinger, he refused to elaborate.
Chris DiMarco had earlier referred to “the hatred of the Ryder Cup”, which prompted Lee Westwood to say: “If Chris thought last time was bad in Detroit, he should have been in Boston.”
Prior to the last match on American soil Ian Poulter, who made his debut that week and is back now for a second cap, commented controversially: “I’m into more subtle things. I wouldn’t want to step over the line, but I definitely plan to get under their skin.”
His captain Bernhard Langer made it clear he did not agree with that, saying: “You should play in a competitive way, but in the spirit of the game too.
“It has been wonderful to see the Ryder Cup grow and develop into one of the biggest sports event in the world. That makes it even more important to uphold the strict etiquette and sportsmanship of the game of golf.”
Poulter said he had watched how Ballesteros behaved at the 2003 Seve Trophy.
“If you went to weigh up a putt, he would be standing on your line beyond the flag. He was always in your face, trying to distract you.
“Along with being able to get up and down from pretty much everywhere, that’s what made him the great player he was.”
While some see it as a serious issue others simply believe it spices up golf in a way that far from doing real harm actually adds to the spectacle.
Former cup player Larry Nelson joked: “When it doesn’t happen in the Ryder Cup matches you almost feel cheated.”
But Sam Torrance, Europe’s captain in 2002, said: “I don’t believe in it at all. I think it’s part of the sport that is certainly not necessary and I don’t see any need for it.
“Gamesmanship to me is cheating. Golf is such a fair, honest sport. The gamesmanship cannot come into it at all.”
Azinger’s attack on Ballesteros’ antics came in the notorious “War on the Shore” at Kiawah Island.
On the opening morning there Ballesteros and Jose Maria Olazabal spotted Azinger and his partner Chip Beck breaking the rules by changing the type of ball they were using in mid-match.
The Americans had to admit they were in the wrong, but after the match Azinger hit back with his “king of gamesmanship” remark.
Ballesteros was known for developing an annoying cough during matches and for annoying opponents by being in their vision as they putted.
Not that that was new. It was a tactic American Ken Still was labelled with at the 1969 match and it led to an exchange of words with Bernard Gallacher that ended with Still shouting: “You can have the hole and the goddamn Cup!”
Azinger has said in the past: “Always in match play there’s some gamesmanship, even if it’s just the club championship. There’s always some because it’s me against you.”
But in the magazine interview he also states: “I didn’t do it because I never wanted to give anybody more reason to beat me.”
Ballesteros was even suspected of being up to something when he was the non-playing captain of the 1997 team at Valderrama.
Lee Janzen and Jim Furyk got an unpleasant surprise on the 18th when Janzen’s first putt raced 12 feet past. Only afterwards did they discover that the green had just been double-cut and significantly quickened.
“It happened, it’s over with,” Furyk said. “I don’t look back at it bitterly, but it was something we were never made aware of. I didn’t find out about until Monday morning. I’ll accept it as human error.”
It does not have to be during the actual match that incidents arise either.
In practice for the 2002 match at The Belfry more alleged slow play by the Europeans was the reason Woods and his foursome, playing behind, were forced to wait. They eventually skipped some holes so they could continue at the pace they wanted.
“We have all day. We don’t need to hurry,” Sergio Garcia commented.