Innocents abroad—that's what Mark Twain called Americans touring Europe. The soot-covered castles, cavernous museums and baffling wine vintages made even a well-traveled Missourian feel like a rube. Put our best riverboat gambler up against your average French aristocrat, Twain implied, and the American would be lucky to crawl away in his skivvies.
Twain certainly wouldn't have altered his opinion of Europeans if he had been in the Swiss Alps last week to see Europe's Ryder Cup captain, Seve Ballesteros, cap a week of intrigue by announcing his two wild-card picks. I was there, and as a Missourian and a Ryder Cup enthusiast I must report: Twain was right on the money. I refer, of course, to the Martín Affair, which, as this is written, threatens to ensnare the biennial competition between Europe and the U.S. in a web of writs and injunctions. Miguel Angel Martín is the journeyman Spanish golfer who earned the right to represent Europe in two weeks at Valderrama, only to be shoved aside by Ballesteros and the European tour's Ryder Cup committee. According to the plotters, Martín, who has an injured wrist, declared himself "competitively unfit" by refusing to comply with their order to play a round of golf in Spain on Sept. 3. As European tour commissioner Ken Schofield put it, "Martín wouldn't demonstrate his fitness, so we had no choice but to remove him from the team."
While wiping away an imaginary tear, Schofield neglected to mention that Martín had more lances in his back than a bull has after a run-in with a picador. About the time the little Spaniard moved up the Ryder Cup points list by winning the Heineken Classic in Australia in February. Ballesteros floated a proposal that he should get three captain's picks instead of the agreed-upon two. That way he could select Nick Faldo and Jesper Parnevik—two European stars who were playing the U.S. Tour and thus not earning Ryder Cup points—and former Masters champion José María Olazábal, who is making a comeback from a career-threatening foot ailment. The American side, insisting that the rules not be changed midstream, responded with a polite no.
That's the background. Two weeks ago in Munich the Euros' points race ended with Martín in 10th place—the last automatic spot—and the more highly regarded Olazábal in 11th. Did Ballesteros give Martín a hearty hug of congratulations? Hardly. He stepped back and let his Ryder Cup committee try to bully Martín into withdrawing. But no one reckoned on the stubbornness of Martín, who hasn't played a tournament round since July, when he broke his left wrist trying to escape from a thorny lie in Scotland. Yes, Martín conceded, he was currently unfit to play, but his wrist might heal in time for the Ryder Cup—unless, that is, he was forced to do something stupid like play 18 holes a few days after having his cast removed. "Playing in a Ryder Cup has always been a dream of mine." Martín said from Madrid. "I will not just lie down and allow it to be taken away from me."
Martín's passionate words availed him not. On Sept. 2 the European committee booted him off the team and awarded the 10th automatic spot to Olazábal. That angered rank-and-file European players, but the only Ryder Cupper to stand up for Martín was his friend and countryman Ignacio Garrido. ("You don't even have to play golf to know what's right," Garrido said. "There's, no rule that you have to be fit three days after the team is announced.") Ballesteros, insisting that the Martín decision was the committee's and not his own, announced on Sept. 4 that Faldo and Parnevik were his picks. He also denounced Martín as a "square head" and "kamikaze" out to destroy the Ryder Cup. In Madrid, Martín called his lawyers, who were expected to file for an injunction in a Spanish court.
Watching the maneuvering from the ski resort of Crans-Montana, where the Swiss were trying, peaceably, to conduct the Canon European Masters tournament, this American innocent had to wonder what had become of goodwill and fair play. Two years ago, when Olazábal was limping badly in the run-up to Oak Hill, the Europeans left it to him to decide if he could play. A week before Ryder Cup '95, Olazábal withdrew and Ian Woosnam took his place.
Martín was shown no such respect. On the contrary, he was shunned by Ballesteros and then ordered to jeopardize his recovery as a pretext for his removal. This is a precedent that must be reversed before Ryder Cup '99. Otherwise, future captains will replace so-called weak players, citing runny noses or shaving cuts.
"Shameful" is how one British writer described the transparent ploy. "Désolé," echoed a French journalist. I, a mere tourist, quoted Twain: "Man is the only animal that blushes. Or needs to."
Against the majestic Alps, Ballesteros and his coconspirators looked very, very small.