Paul Way was born to play in the Ryder Cup. He looks back on his debut alongside Seve Ballesteros before helping Europe to their first win since 1957 that included a tense encounter with Ray Floyd
No European who has played in more than one Ryder Cup has got a better record than Paul Way.
The Kent youngster, who had won the Brabazon Trophy as an 18-year-old in 1981, made his debut two years later in Florida. His partner for the first two days would be Seve Ballesteros.
Tony Jacklin, who was captaining the Europeans for the first time, tells a good story of how Ballesteros came into the locker room after an opening defeat by Tom Kite and Calvin Peete, dripping with sweat from the humidity, and waving his arms around to his captain. He was demanding to know why he was being paired with someone so inexperienced.
Jacklin put his arm round the Spaniard and told him: “To him you’re like a father. He idolises you. You have to play with him.”
With that Ballesteros puffed out his chest, the pair took down Curtis Strange and Ray Floyd, and added another one and half points the following day.
“Tony was incredible and great for me personally,” Way explains. “We were made to feel special, flying by Concorde and having cashmere sweaters.
“We only had one shirt for the day so Tony had to get some new ones from the pro shop in the afternoon so it was all very different to today.
“Seve and I lost the first match so I thought I won’t play again. I have no idea why he put us together. I suppose I was the youngest and he was our most experienced in terms of majors.
“There was only one other Spaniard in the team, Jose Maria Canizares, and maybe Tony felt like he was too old to play with him. Seve was fantastic, he talked to me a lot and I wouldn’t really take too much notice as I was so young but he was so inspirational.
“He took them on and I was just there to help him out. There was pressure because you were playing with Seve but he would also get you up and down from everywhere.
“On the first tee he asked if I wanted to tee off first. I told him I was a bit nervous so he replied, ’Well you go first then.’ I thought, ‘Thanks for that!’ He then added, ’Don’t worry where you hit it, I will get you on the green.’ I hit it straight in the fairway bunker and he hit a five-iron to 10 feet.”
Can you imagine being just 20 years old, having Ballesteros by your side, no shortage of self-confidence, and you were quickly rattling up the points at a Ryder Cup?
“I saw Seve at the 2006 Ryder Cup in Ireland and he reminded me of a story when he sent me up to the green when we were playing Tom Watson and Bob Gilder.
“They had hit their eight-iron into the right-hand bunker and he asked me to go up and have a look how their ball was lying and tell him if they could get up and down. The ball was plugged and they had no shot so I turned around and slit my throat with my hands and mouthed ’they’re dead’ so he hit the middle of the green.
“When he got to the green he was laughing his head off as the Americans were going bananas at me slitting my throat. He said, ‘That’s fantastic, Paul. That’s exactly what I want you to do.’ We were five up after six and Watson was my hero so that was fantastic.”
On the Sunday Way ended the week that would kick-start the Ryder Cup into what it has become today with a 2&1 win over Strange to end the week with three and a half points.
By the time the ’85 matches came around Way was the PGA champion having beaten Sandy Lyle in a play-off. I was one of hundreds of teenagers at Wentworth on that Sunday who had the same wedge-like haircut as Way and who dreamed of growing up to be like him. He had the lot – the game, the looks, the swagger, and the easy-going sense of humour.
But things then began to catch up with the Golden Balls of his generation. He got tonsillitis at The Open at Sandwich and delayed the op to play in the Ryder Cup two months later.
He had a different partner in Ian Woosnam – Seve had now teamed up with his countryman Manuel Pinero – but Way’s success in the competition continued at the same pace.
“I think I was more nervous in ’85,” he says. “I didn’t realise the enormity of it all the first time.
“There were 50,000 people behind you and I remember getting a police escort to the first tee and thinking ’Christ, what’s this all about?’
“We had a stronger team with more Spaniards and he kept them together. I was more than happy playing with Woosie and we won two of our three matches.”
Come the singles Way was out in the third match, sandwiched between Woosnam and Ballesteros, and up against Ray Floyd. The American, then 43, was generally thought of as being the toughest, gnarliest opponent you could come up against.
“I didn’t pay him a lot of respect,” Way recalls. “I was 22 and a bit cocky and I got four up after eight, which helped a lot.
“He didn’t talk too much. We had a bit of a row on the first when he putted out of turn. He was 18 inches away and tapped it in so I pointed it out – I was winding him up. He muttered something and walked off.
“At the eighth we both hit it in the hazard. There was my girlfriend, his wife, a PGA official, and the caddies. I dropped mine and it stopped on the bank and he dropped his and it started trickling back down the slope and more or less into the hazard but stopped about two inches in play. So his feet are in the shingle and all he could do was chip out. He looked at the official and asked if he could get a re-drop to which he obviously said he couldn’t. His wife says, ’Raymond, don’t you know the rules of golf?’
“Ray replied, ’Maria, you better get the f*** off this golf course!’
“So they’ve had a domestic, I made a par and Maria is halfway up the 19th. I was one up playing the last and he topped it in the water and he just shook my hand. There weren’t a lot of pleasantries.”
It would prove to be Way’s final Ryder Cup appearance as his game went downhill but the stats will always show he won six and a half points from nine matches.
After a wait of 28 years America had finally lost a Ryder Cup. Concorde made a low-flying appearance and the drinks flowed as celebrations went long into the night.
“When we won we went into the leisure part of the hotel and threw Nick Faldo in the pool. He had played twice and hadn’t won a point so we threw him in with his suit.”
Paul Way in the Ryder Cup