Rafferty for Ryder role

By Brian Keogh

Ronan Rafferty has been touted as a possible Ryder Cup vice-captain to Nick Faldo at Valhalla next year.

And the Warrenpoint wizard and former European No 1 admits that it would be almost as good as playing again if he gets the call from his old sparring partner.

Faldo doesn't have a lot of friends on the European Tour but Rafferty, 43, has been closer to the six-time Major winner than most for many years.

Now an analyst for Setanta Golf, the former boy wonder plans to make a playing comeback over the next few seasons as the Seniors Tour looms large.

But he misses life on tour so much that he says he'd jump at the chance to help Europe take on the United States in Louisville, Kentucky in 2008.

He said: “I'd be flattered if anyone thought I could be involved in the next Ryder Cup but Nick is going to be a very good captain and he has his eye on the ball.

"After working with him in commentary at the Ryder Cup last year he has a very clear objective of what he wants to do and what he wants the team to do. And to be involved in some way would be very special for me.

"I worked with him at Sky at the K Club and I have played with Nick quite a bit. Our children used to go to the same school.

"He is going to be a very good captain. He is very conscientious of the work that is involved in it and he has always had a very scientific approach to his own game which I think will blend well with what he has to do.

"And because he has been a top ranked player for so long, he has all the players well-being in mind all the time. He wants the best for the team. Make them feel good and take them away from all the stuff that goes on around a Ryder Cup.

"In a way he wants to chaperone them around. Just the way he was. He stood on his own at the edge of the practice ground and did his own work."

Rafferty was a similar character on tour and won seven times in Europe and another six times around the world in a career cut short by injury.

He won three times in 1989 with his Volvo Masters victory at Valderrama clinching the Order of Merit title.

Thumb and wrist problems kept Rafferty out of the game for nearly two years in the late 90s and while he came back in 2000 he hasn't played a European Tour event since 2003.

Now a pundit with Setanta Golf, he plans to ease his way back before he is eligible for the Seniors Tour in January 2014.

But before that he'd love to get the chance to help Europe win a fourth Ryder Cup on the trot on American soil.

He said: "My prime objective is Setanta and I have just started with them but I would like to ease my way back into playing over the next couple of years because the run in to playing on the Seniors Tour is probably five years.

"So I want to ease my way in slowly and start exercising again and practising and try and find some tournament golf.

"You are still eligible for what you have won until you are 50 and I could probably find a fairly decent 18 to 20 tournament schedule.

"I have to see how I feel over the next 18 months. But I am pretty committed to Setanta and I am at the Players this week and then I have the four FedEx events and the Presidents Cup.

"So that takes up a bit of time and I have all the corporate stuff I do as well. So the golf has always been what I do and hopefully I will always continue to do golf."

A Ryder Cup winner at the Belfry in 1989, Rafferty knows that he has almost no chance of getting the captaincy himself.

But he yearns to pass on his knowledge to the game's top players and admits that he still thinks like a player when he stands on the practice ground or walks a course as part of of his new job.

He said: "I'd have very little chance of being captain myself with the Olazabals and Montgomeries that are being mentioned at the moment.

"I would be too long out of the game to have a chance of a captain's role. But in some way I would love to be part of it all in the background, yes.

"I am having a ball with Setanta and working with a great bunch of people and a different type of team.

"I know all these players out here and I can walk out on the practice ground and they seem like long lost friends.

"I still feel the twang on the nerve ends when I am at a tournament. I always do.

"When you go for your two or three re-con trips around the course, you are standing on the tee and making a few practice swings, thinking 'this is the shot to play here' and 'that's the line you want to hit it on.'

"It's the same on the fairway and around the greens, where you are rehearsing chip shots and how you would do it.

"And you are watching other players do it and thinking, 'No no, that's not how to do it. Do it this way.' Everyone has their own way of doing it and in the end my role is completely different to when I was playing and I equally enjoy it because I am still doing golf."

Rafferty has mixed memories of his one and only Ryder Cup appearance in 1989 where he lost in foursomes with Bernhard Langer and Christy O'Connor Jnr before seeing off Mark Calcavecchia in the singles to gain his solitary point.

He recalled: "I was disappointed because I was leading the Order of Merit and playing really well and the results didn't show how well I had been playing throughout the year up to that.

"Sunday was the great opportunity to show that I could actually play and when I got out there playing my own golf ball, I wouldn't say it was a relief but it was certainly easier to concentrate when you hadn't got a partner to work with.

"Tony Jacklin was out captain and on the Saturday night he put his arm around my shoulder and said 'Can you give me a point?'

"I said yes and he said, 'Right I am going to put you out near the top. I need some points.' I just said, I can do it.

"He just needed conformation that I could take on that role and I needed to show him I was good enough to take on that role."

Rafferty knows that Faldo will leave no stone unturned at Valhalla and believes that the European players have so much experience on the PGA Tour that the atmosphere in the US no longer bothers them.

He said: "Go back to as recently as Brookline, you had three guys who didn't get a game and were rookies and weren't used to playing in front of large galleries.

"I can only go from informed comment and I hear they were overwhelmed by it. Now at least three quarters of the team is well used to the PGA Tour and all the noise that goes on.

"I'd love to be a part of it. And you never know. Golf is a funny game."