When the phone rang in Craig Parry's hotel room on Monday, July
15, his heart jumped. David Graham had already left one message,
and when Parry picked up the receiver and recognized Graham's
voice, he knew he was about to experience the most uncomfortable
moment of his life.
Earlier that evening Parry had been part of a 2 1/2-hour meeting
in the conference room of the Grand Hotel in the English town of
St. Annes. In attendance were 10 players eligible for the
International team, which would play the U.S. in the Presidents
Cup. All were there to compete in that week's British Open at
Royal Lytham. Overseeing the meeting were three officials
representing the South African, Australasian and U.S. tours. In
a move many of them would come to regret, the players, with one
abstention, had unanimously voted to oust Graham as their
captain less than two months before the Presidents Cup was to be
played. At meeting's end the players had agreed to reconvene in
two days to give PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem, who was
arriving from the U.S. on Tuesday, a chance to talk them out of
what they were clearly determined to do. All parties had also
agreed to keep silent about what had transpired.
From his home in Dallas, Graham, who knew that the players'
meeting had been scheduled but had no idea that his fate would
top the agenda, was returning Parry's call from several days
earlier. "Hello, Craig," said Graham, his voice upbeat. "How did
the meeting go?"
Parry swallowed hard. "My first thought was, I've got to tell
him," Parry says. "I'm not going to lie about it or keep it from
September 15, 1996
"David," Parry heard himself say, "the players would like a new
With those words, any hope of gracefully salvaging what turned
into one of the most embarrassing and regrettable incidents in
the recent history of golf was gone. The following evening, when
he resigned during a phone conversation with Finchem, Graham
became the first captain of a national or international golf
team to be fired by a vote of the players.
Everyone came out looking bad. Graham was humiliated. The stated
reasons for his removal--that he had failed to communicate with
the players and was unable to bring them together as a
team--suggested that he had been a dysfunctional leader in 1994
when he captained the International team in the first Presidents
Cup. Graham's highly emotional response to his removal and his
subsequent threat to take legal action only reinforced that
Finchem, who created the Presidents Cup and directed the event
from Tour headquarters in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., saw his aura
as a masterly administrator diminished. Not only was he unaware
of Graham's problematic relationship with his players when he
approved Graham for a second term, but Finchem was also
powerless--because of a threat of a boycott--to overrule the
The Presidents Cup was damaged. Despite a successful debut in
'94, the fledgling biennial match, in which a 12-man side from
the PGA Tour takes on a team composed of players from all parts
of the world except Europe, is still seen as a knockoff of the
Ryder Cup. For an event seeking to establish instant tradition,
doing something that flies in the face of tradition is a step
Greg Norman was once again held responsible for a rash and
ill-conceived decision. Although Norman contends that he was not
the ringleader behind Graham's dismissal, he played an integral
role, displaying the same impetuousness that marked his actions
when he was promoting the failed World tour in 1994 and when he
accused Mark McCumber of cheating at the 1995 World Series of
The reputations of all the players who voted to dump
Graham--Robert Allenby, Steve Elkington, Ernie Els, David Frost,
Mark McNulty, Frank Nobilo, Norman, Parry and Nick Price--were
damaged. At worst, they lived down to the stereotype of the
selfish and stupid modern pro. At best, they behaved like sheep.
"We regret the way it happened," says Parry, who has not spoken
with Graham since their fateful conversation. "If we could get
in that room again and do it over, David would still be captain."
So distasteful was the entire affair that Peter Thomson, who
replaced Graham, ordered his players not to talk about it until
after the competition ends this Sunday.
When he was named captain of the first International team, in
early 1994, Graham appeared to be a good choice. As the only
Australian to win two different major championships (the 1979
PGA and the '81 U.S. Open), he had stature in the game, and
because he was 48, he had not yet turned his attention to
competing on the Senior tour. A resident of Dallas, Graham was
available for the many promotional functions in the U.S. that
the Tour had set up for the new event. Finally, Graham wanted to
be captain. "I believe the Presidents Cup will encourage the
expansion of golf worldwide," he says, "and I was proud to be
part of that."
Few champions had endured a harder road through the game than
Graham. A natural righthander, he began to play golf at 12 with
his mother's lefthanded clubs, becoming good enough to win
Australian junior tournaments. But at 14, on the advice of a
club professional, he switched to righthanded clubs, which
caused a maddening regression. That same year Graham quit school
to become an apprentice golf pro, a decision that caused his
father to stop speaking to him. The elder Graham finally broke
his silence in 1970 when he came to see his son play in the U.S.
Open. However, after a brief conversation during which Graham
rejected his father's attempts at reconciliation, the rift
widened, and the two have not seen each other since.
Graham describes himself as "a man of principle, very high
principle. I'm a loyal friend, very honest. And I don't do
things halfway. I do them right."
Graham performed his duties as captain of the first
International team with typical zeal. No detail was too small:
from picking the team uniforms to learning the protocol for the
several diplomatic functions around Washington, D.C., to which
the Presidents Cup participants were invited. Yet for all his
meticulousness, Graham's style was an odd mix of control and
detachment that left several players confused. While Graham had
worked tirelessly, he had not made personal contact with most
of the team. As a result, many arrived in Washington feeling
"One of the things we found out, too late, was that a lot of
players didn't think things were organized because they had
heard nothing from David," says Brent Chalmers, the executive
director of the South African tour, who attended the meeting at
the British Open at which Graham was voted out. "In fact David
had made sure everything was done. He just hadn't told them."
Graham does not disagree that his main focus was on the event
more than on his team. "I may have put too many energies into
making the Presidents Cup a successful tournament and maybe
didn't pay enough attention to the players," he says. "But if
the captain is doing his job right, there is nothing he really
needs to communicate to the players. Everything is taken care
of. My goal, which I believe I accomplished, was to protect them
from details so their minds were clear to play."
Graham's intensity was a source of discomfort during the first
Presidents Cup. When Norman came down with the flu on Monday of
tournament week, his replacement, Bradley Hughes, had to be
flown in from Japan and did not arrive in Washington until
Wednesday. "David was saying things like, 'How am I supposed to
have a chance to win when nobody shows up?'" says Parry. "Here
the captain is supposed to be getting us together, and instead
he's complaining. It was not a good start."
Graham's bluntness and inflexibility led to costly rifts with
important players. When Els decided not to play in the first
Presidents Cup because of a previous commitment, Graham said, "I
hope Ernie Els regrets not playing in the Presidents Cup for the
rest of his life." Graham then wrote Els to reconsider his
decision. At the fateful Monday meeting at the British Open, Els
coolly mentioned that he had not appreciated the quote or the
When Price, who came to the first Presidents Cup exhausted from
the demands of a stellar season in which he had won the British
Open and the PGA, asked to sit out an afternoon four-ball match
on Saturday, Graham, Price says, tried to persuade him to play.
When Price insisted that he was too tired, Graham relented, but
the exchange reduced his standing with Price. Graham denies that
he pressured Price.
Graham's most significant run-in came with Norman, who did not
play but flew up from Hobe Sound, Fla., on the last day of
competition to lend his support. When Norman asked Graham if he
could wear a microphone for the CBS telecast, Graham said no.
According to several sources, an angry Norman told his teammates
that Graham's exact words were, "This isn't going to be the
f------ Greg Norman show."
"David got off on the wrong foot with the wrong players," says
Parry. "The whole nuts and bolts of it is, he's not a good
people person. If something doesn't go his way, he attacks."
Still, by all accounts, the first Presidents Cup was a success,
and Graham came in for far more praise than criticism. And the
players didn't feel the need to complain because of what Graham
said at a dinner with Parry, Elkington and Allenby after the
final round. "David said, 'No way I'm doing this again. It was
too much work,'" says Parry. "To us, that ended any concerns we
had that David would be back." Graham denies that he said he
would not return. "I might have said it was a lot of work, which
it was," he says.
In March 1995, after consulting with Chalmers and with Finchem's
blessing, Brian Allan, the executive director of the
Australasian tour, asked Graham to captain the '96 team. Graham
said he accepted as soon as he learned that Arnold Palmer would
be the U.S. captain. "In retrospect we obviously should have
consulted with the players before asking David," Allan says.
Parry says he was not aware of the strong opposition to the
choice. "The problem of the International team is that because
so many of us play in different places, we don't always know
what the others are thinking," he says. "I doubt if the players
had really shared any problems they had had with David."
As in the first Presidents Cup, Graham seldom communicated with
the players. Norman felt a need for a team meeting and at the
Buick Classic in early June asked Parry if he would organize
one. That's when the Monday meeting at the British Open was
scheduled. Three weeks later at the Greater Hartford Open,
Norman launched the first public criticism of Graham by saying
that the International players had not heard from Graham and
were in the dark. Although Norman denies that he had an
important role in Graham's removal, his comments were the
beginning of the end. Not long after, Norman informed the
Presidents Cup office that because of prior commitments he would
arrive at the Presidents Cup on Wednesday. (Play begins on
Friday.) Graham's response: "That's unacceptable."
In the wake of his dismissal, Graham at first accepted Norman's
contention, made in a conciliatory phone call after the British
Open, that he did not lead the mutiny. Graham has since come to
believe that Norman played a key role. "I think Greg is the
instigator, but I can't prove it," Graham says. "If he is, then
his phone call makes him a liar. I know one thing, I'll never
sign another shirt or hat with a shark logo."
According to those in attendance, when the players met at St.
Annes, they had no idea that Graham's captaincy would be an
issue. Before the meeting was called to order, several players
asked why Graham was not present, and once it began, Graham
quickly became the main topic of discussion. "There was no
plot," says Chalmers, "but once the subject came up it was clear
all of them had been thinking the same thing. To that point,
they had all thought they were in the minority. It wasn't until
they got in that room and started talking that they realized
they thought the same thing."
The meeting was intense but controlled, free of raised voices or
confrontations. When Nobilo asked for a vote of confidence on
Graham, the three tour officials reminded the players of the
"We made all the arguments," says Allan. "That it would hurt the
event. That it would be a black eye for golf. That it would make
the players look like traitors. At one point Mike Bodney [the
PGA Tour's vice president of international affairs] asked, 'Has
anyone given any thought to how David Graham is going to react
to this?' When the response was silence, I said, 'I've known the
bloke for 25 years. He is not going to take this gracefully. I
can assure you he is going to s--- on you from a great height.'"
Bodney persuaded the players to delay a decision until Finchem,
who was not due to arrive until the next day, could have his
say. But Chalmers says that when one player, whom he would not
identify, said, "If you are going to push through with David, we
might not play," he felt compelled to honor Nobilo's request and
allow the vote.
"Bodney was fairly horrified at Chalmers, but I understood,"
says Allan. "I honestly don't think that at that point even Tim
could have saved it."
Each player put his yes or no vote on a piece of paper. Bodney
collected the slips and announced the result. One player,
Michael Campbell, who had not played in the first Presidents Cup
and subsequently decided not to play this week either, abstained
from voting. The nine others cast their ballots against Graham.
That night any chance that the decision could be reversed was
undone by Parry's revelation to Graham. "I about dropped the
phone," Graham says. "I honestly had no inkling that there was a
problem. I said, 'I'm dumbfounded. Do you have any idea how much
work I've done?'"
On Tuesday morning the word was out that Graham knew. "I was
horrified that Craig had leaked it to David," says Chalmers. "I
told him I thought it was extremely ill-advised. Craig said,
'Look, he's a mate of mine. I had to level with him.'"
Later that day Allan, Chalmers and Bodney called Graham. "It was
the worst conversation of my life," says Chalmers. "He basically
refused to accept it."
"I was not answerable to them," says Graham. "I told them I
would resign only when Tim Finchem asked me to."
When Finchem arrived, he spent part of the day talking to the
players one-on-one, only to come to the depressing realization
that the deal had been done. "I didn't try to change their
minds," says Finchem. "When I got to the British Open, this
decision had been made. It had been communicated to David.
Trying to force-feed something else was not in my province of
authority and probably was unworkable. I feel responsible in
many ways for what happened. We knew the eligible players on the
International side some time ago, and we probably should have
gotten them in a room somewhere and hashed out any problems."
That evening the commissioner called Graham and got his
resignation. "Tim was furious," says Graham, "but he said,
'David, I have no choice.' I understood. If it came down to
David Graham or the survival of the Presidents Cup, I was the
A subsequent meeting on Wednesday was attended by the same
players as Monday's as well as team members Vijay Singh and
Peter Senior. There was little discussion about Graham. The
issue now was getting a new captain. Thomson, who had been asked
by Allan to consider taking the job, came into the room. He told
the players how disappointed he was by their actions and
concluded by saying, "Each one of you will have to live with
your decision." But he said he was honored to have been asked to
be captain and would decide in a few days.
The final act was the official announcement of Graham's
resignation. According to Parry several players wanted to
release a statement that said Graham had decided that his
commitments to the Senior tour and golf course architecture had
made it impossible for him to continue. But the tour officials
were against such a strategy. The word was out, and Graham might
not play along. "If we had said David is resigning because of
the Senior tour and the real story had gotten out, it would have
been the worst possible nightmare," says Chalmers. "So we just
decided to bite the bullet. As a result it was probably the most
factual and honest press release in the history of the sport."
Graham, however, regrets that he was not given the opportunity
to go out more gracefully. "I wish I had been paid the courtesy
of saying it was my choice," he says. "If Tim could have talked
the players out of what they did, I would have considered
continuing, though I would have certainly canceled the captain's
"I can't understand where it all went wrong. If at any point the
entire team had gotten up and said, 'We hate David Graham,' I
would have said, 'O.K., guys, sorry. I'm out of here.' I mean,
David Graham didn't become an a------ eight weeks before the
Presidents Cup. These players had a year and 10 months to figure
out that David Graham is an a------."
"I think Greg is the instigator, but I can't prove it."
"It wasn't until they got in that room...that they realized they thought the same thing."