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An Interview With: European Ryder Cup Captain Bernhard Langer


September 01, 2004

SCOTT CROCKETT: I'm delighted to welcome you today to one of most exciting days in the season of European golf, the naming of our European Ryder Cup Team. I'm sure you will agree it's been a tremendous day of golf for all of the players concerned, not only in the Ryder Cup, but also in the tournament itself, and congratulations to Miguel Angel Jimenez for his wonderful victory.

Before we go on with proceedings, I think it's fair that we should say a few thank-yous. First and foremost to BMW, Mr. Klaus in the front row there for a wonderful tournament, and a wonderful facility for us to hold this press conference in, thank you very much.

Also thanks to Golfclub M�nchen Nord-Eichenried for use of their wonderful course this week.

Before we get on to the proceedings. I'd like to introduce the top table sitting in front of you, starting at the far end: Heinz Fehring from PGA of Europe. Next to Heinz is Sandy Jones of the PGA of Great Britain and Ireland. Next to sandy, Richard Hills, Ryder Cup director. Nearest to me, Mr. George O'Grady, Executive Director Designate of the European Tour. And on George's right, Ken Schofield, Executive Director of the European Tour.

That leaves of course, one man, probably needs no introduction, the man in the middle, probably the man of the moment, Bernhard Langer, the European Team Captain. I'd like to hand over to Bernhard Langer who will take you through the team and his selections. Bernhard?

CAPTAIN BERNHARD LANGER: Thank you very much, Scott. I'd like to start off with just a few remarks. I'm very glad that we are finally here at this moment. It's been a long time coming and these last couple of weeks have been especially tough as we, or I, followed the progress of a number of players, and it didn't end till the very last putt that was dropped here on the 18th green. The guys did exceptionally well and I think I'm put in a much harder position than most captains in the past because I have so many great guys to choose from, which in a way is a wonderful situation, because no matter who I choose, they are going to perform well and be a great asset to the team. On the other hand it's going to leave a few disappointed guys after this press conference.

Before we go any further, I would like to that can Mark McDermott and Richard Hills as well as Mitchell Platts for the wonderful support that they have given me over the last 12 months. Thank you, gentlemen.

Also, I'd like to thank assistant captains, Anders Forsbrand, assistant captain Joakim Haeggman, as well as one other assistant captain that I might as well announce right now, it's going to be Thomas Bjorn who is going to support me over in Detroit, as well. So I think we have an outstanding team of guys to lead the team. We have an outstanding team as players and we look forward to The Matches.

So far, the opening remarks, I'd like to announce the team in alphabetical order, the ten players who automatically qualified. We have Paul Casey from England; Darren Clarke, Northern Ireland; Sergio Garcia from Spain; Padraig Harrington from Ireland; David Howell, England; Miguel Angel Jimenez from Spain; Thomas Levet from France; Paul McGinley from Ireland; Ian Poulter from England; and Lee Westwood from England.

And my two picks are -- actually, let me call Hal Sutton real quick and see if I can have four picks and he can choose two other guys as well, makes it a little bit easier -- can you hang on a minute? (Laughter.) I didn't bring my phone, so I guess not.

Okay, well, my two picks are Colin Montgomerie from England -- no? Scotland, I'm sorry. He's lived in England long enough. (Laughter.) My second pick is Luke Donald.

Before we go into any questions, I'd like to talk just a couple of minutes about the guys who I didn't pick, because I think they deserve a few minutes of our time, and once I have finished with that, I would like for all of you in this room to focus on the 12 guys that are on the team and focus our attention on them.

So let's start with Joakim Haeggman, my assistant captain. I think he's given us a fantastic performance the whole year. He's played awesome all year long and he tried very, very hard to make it outright into the team and he came so close. He shot, what is it, 65 today, I think it was, what a great round of golf and came that close to making his second Ryder Cup Team. So I know he's disappointed.

I move on to Alex Cejka. We all know Alex, and especially how great he has played these last few weeks. He's probably at the best performance the last three or four weeks if we don't think of that missed cut at the PGA Championship. He came very, very close to being picked by me. Just because of that, he obviously didn't play his best golf the first few months of the season, otherwise he would have been on the team outright. But he certainly played great lately. So, I know he is not going to be too pleased with the news.

And then I think lastly and probably the one that might be most disappointed is going to be Fredrik Jacobson from Sweden. Again, he's had an outstanding year. He's played extremely well all year long. They had their first child in the summertime and he had some time off, played a couple of bad weeks in there afterwards, so that hurt his case a little bit. If he had been probably two or three shots better today, maybe even one shot better, he would have been on the team outright and knocked somebody else off. That's how close he came. He was very close from making it on the Money List. He was very close to making it on the world points list. You can't get my closer than him.

But yet, you know, when I looked at the golf course we were going to be facing at Oakland Hills and I looked at those five guys, I had to come to a decision who would serve the team best from a playing standpoint, as well as just hitting from the tee. I came up with, as you know, Colin and Luke. I just think they are going to be able to perform better, if not -- or at least as well, if not better than the others that I have just mentioned.

Again, these guys should have been mentioned. They deserve to actually be on the team, but I'm only given two wild-cards and maybe I should lobby in the future, future captains to get three or four, because I now know what it feels like to be put into this situation.

Again, I'm open for questions and I'd like for you to focus on the guys that made the team. They deserve all of the attention for this evening and for the coming weeks.

Q. What went into selecting Thomas Bjorn as your assistant

CAPTAIN BERNHARD LANGER: I think Thomas Bjorn is very respected as a player and as a person. He's been on the team playing on the playing side several times. He knows what it's like. He has been in the team room, he knows exactly what I expect from him out on the golf course when he's going to watch the players and report back to me. He will be there just to support anything that I need, and I think I'm very thrilled and excited that he accepted the job and we look forward to working with him.

Q. You've got a fantastic team, everybody is playing well, would you talk through your thought process on why you picked the players that you picked?

CAPTAIN BERNHARD LANGER: Obviously, I looked at many, many different things. Just to mention a few: The number of tournaments they played; the performances in the last six to eight weeks; experience in the Ryder Cup; the Ryder Cup record they have if they have any; Oakland Hills Country Club setup, the course we are going to play on; leadership role. Also, the performance under pressure, when the heat is on.

Today the heat was on, too, but it's going to be more heat on the Ryder Cup than here, because I've been there ten times and I know what it's like. And also the personalities and how they fit on to the team, but I don't think we would have a problem. I just mentioned it because it was one of the things I wanted to look at.

If we start with Colin, Colin has given us a great performance this week. To play that well knowing he still had to show me something, I gave nobody the nod and I did that for a reason. I wanted the guys to try as hard as they could till the very last putt was over with and show me what they are made of. And I'm very proud of him the way he played, especially this week, but also during the season. We know he's had some very difficult private times, which probably hurt his golf game for a period of several months, but I think and I know he's kind of over it a little bit. He's coming out at the other end of it. He's refocused and I think most importantly, I think he will rise to the occasion. We know there's players who crumble under pressure, and there's others who will thrive on it and I think he's one that thrives on it. I think his record proves that. So being No. 16, I think on the list, he was my first pick for those reasons.

Second pick was Luke Donald. It was a little bit harder, because of the other guys that I mentioned beforehand, how well they all played. They all had a right to be there, too. Again, Luke has had a tremendous last year, year and a half. He's performed extremely well in America. He's won a half million dollars on the U.S. tour and he comes over here and wins the Scandinavian Masters and had very good performances the last few weeks when he knew the pressure was on. He came here knowing that he couldn't play his way onto the team, which shows me how much he wanted to be on the team. It would have been easy for him like some others to say, well, I don't have a chance, I should just stay home and take a week off. He didn't do that.

And last, but certainly not least, he's got a tremendous Walker Cup record. I know Walker Cup is not quite on the same level as Ryder Cup, but it is match-play. There is a lot of pride on the line and a lot of pressure, and he's performed extremely well there.

I'm confident that the two guys I picked are the best two guys for the job.

Q. What made you change your mind about the two at the top -- inaudible?

CAPTAIN BERNHARD LANGER: Well, they were amongst the three or four that I had hoped for or in mind for now a few weeks. I try to keep my mind open. You know, I wasn't going to commit myself to somebody three or four weeks ago. I wanted to see how it all turned out. You know, we saw today what could have happened. I think after six holes, Freddie Jacobson would have been in and Ian Poulter would have been out. Then, you know, I have a situation, do I consider Ian Poulter or not? So I could not make up my mind, not even yesterday. I had to wait till the tournament was over, just for that kind of scenario. What if Joakim Haeggman finished in the Top 3 this week and knocked Paul McGinley out or something else? Then I would have to consider Paul McGinley and maybe Ian Poulter if Jacobson and Haeggman played their way in.

As you can tell, it was a really difficult situation and a lot of the guys played a part in it and came into the picture. So I had to wait pretty much till the last minute.

Q. We all know about Monty's ability, but what does he bring to the team?

CAPTAIN BERNHARD LANGER: As I mentioned earlier, I think Colin brings some leadership. I don't think anybody has a problem me picking Colin, and if they do, then I feel sorry for them, but that's how I look at it.

I played with Colin many times in Ryder Cups. I know what he's like and I know that he can rise to the occasion and I'm convinced that he will. He can handle the pressure. He can hit the shots down the fairway and on to the green when necessary to put pressure on the other team.

You know, I know he's had a difficult time this year with his divorce and the personal breakup, but as I said earlier, I think he's coming out of that. He's showing that he's enjoying the game of golf again and that's important. I think he will gain a lot of confidence from the way he played this week and in general the way he performed.

Q. At what stage -- inaudible?

CAPTAIN BERNHARD LANGER: Okay, I don't know who you're talking about and I don't need to know. I had not made up my mind until this week until I was here, until I saw the final result because anything else wouldn't have been right.

I had several conversations with Colin and I told him, that's the way it needs to be. Many of you asked me weeks ago, "Well, what about Colin, what about Colin?" You know, yeah, what about Colin? He's obviously one of the favorites to be picked but he still had to perform and I still had to wait for what's going to happen till this tournament was over. There were lots of rumors going around, so I don't know if it was a rumor or where he got it from or what his source was, and I don't really care to tell you the truth. I've heard about lots of rumors lately and most of them are wrong. So he'll just have to go on with his life.

Q. Where were you this afternoon and were you on your own; was your wife with you?

CAPTAIN BERNHARD LANGER: Well, that's a very personal question. (Laughter.) No, my wife wasn't there. I was here all day yesterday, all afternoon yesterday and I was here all afternoon today. I was out in the tent, up in the clubhouse. I was mainly watching it on TV because I can see more on TV that can I actually see out on the golf course. If I walk out on the golf course, I can see one or two guys hit one or two shots, and by the time I run to the next hole and get there, I might miss something and I didn't want to miss anything.

So I was pretty much spending all afternoon watching TV, had lunch with some of the gentlemen here at the table. I was together with the people I mentioned earlier, Richard Hills, Mark McDermott and Mitchell Platts. Then I was alone or a little bit and had to make up my mind.

Q. Was there any input from Joakim and Thomas and Anders or is this absolutely your team?

CAPTAIN BERNHARD LANGER: I had obviously, it was hard for me to talk to Joakim about it, because he was himself in the mix and very much in the mix. So, you know, why would I go to Joakim and say, "Hey, who should I pick?" That wouldn't be fair. He doesn't want to put himself forward, and it's hard for him to putt others forward when he really wants to be on the team and has a right to be on the team.

Yes, I did talk to Anders about five or six days ago. But, you know, that's pretty much it. I talked with a few other players but not necessarily who they would pick. Just wanted to spend time with them.

Q. Do you have a partner or partners in mind for Colin and Luke, and did their compatibility influence your decision?

CAPTAIN BERNHARD LANGER: It was obviously part of my thinking process. But again, I think pretty much anybody on the team could play with Colin and Luke and look forward to playing with them. I think it would have been a similar situation picked Freddie or Alex or anybody else. I think we don't have an issue with any of the guys on our team and that's the great news.

Q. Have you had a chance to speak to the five guys you mentioned on your short list and what was their reaction?

CAPTAIN BERNHARD LANGER: Yes, I did. The only one I convenient spoken to yet is Alex because he's on a plane to Switzerland. Couldn't reach him. But I told Alex and Luke that I would give them a call this evening, most likely either just before or right after this announcement here. I left a message for Luke and I haven't reached Alex yesterday.

I did talk to Freddie because he was still here a few minutes ago. Spent a few private minutes with him and explained to him the situation, and he was very disappointed and he has every reason to be. I know what he's going through, I was in the same shoes five years ago right here in the same place. It was very tough for me to hear the bad news. But again, I didn't make up the rules, I had to only pick two. And it's going to be just as tough for Alex to receive the news, and I'm sure it wasn't easy for Joakim, either, or anybody else.

I called a number of guys, a called a few of them because they were either not here, missed the cut or had no chance to get there so I took the opportunity to call them and let them know that they are not going to be on the team.

Q. Had you mentioned to Freddie that he is actually the first reserve now on stand by for any injury?

CAPTAIN BERNHARD LANGER: Actually, I have not. I was so overwhelmed with whatever was the occasion and the task which is to give the bad news, so I have not. That's a good point. I suppose we should let him know.

Thanks for doing that, for reminding me.

Q. (Question in German).

CAPTAIN BERNHARD LANGER: I was asked, the gentleman heard that I had a private conversation with Alex like I did with guys that were on the team or close to it about a week ago Sunday at the World Series in Akron, Ohio. He wanted to know the details of our conversation.

And I don't remember every word that was talked about and some of it is probably not for you all to know because it was just between him and me as a friend, but because we are friends, we practice together, we play together and he lives about two miles down the road at Boca Raton where I live. So, we do spend a bit of time together. I did tell him that he has helped his cause a great deal by finishing ninth at the World Series and he has impressed me with the way he played lately. I wish he had played that way, a similar way, earlier in the year.

I said he was certainly amongst the mix of four or five guys that I'm looking at very closely. That's how I left it. I just told him, play hard in Munich and try to impress me.

Q. What happens if Luke Donald doesn't play 11 events; is he really a member?

CAPTAIN BERNHARD LANGER: I believe he is a member. He joined the Tour. He has made a commitment to play 11, he's played seven so far and he will play Switzerland next week. He has told me personally that he is planning to play the World Golf Championships in Ireland and Dunhill tournament and the Volvo Masters as far as I know.

And I know Luke, he sticks to his word. He doesn't say one thing and do another. So I am convinced he will play 11 unless he gets hurt, and if he gets hurt he might get a medical extension and might have to play one or two more next year. But I'm not the man to ask that because I don't know all of the precise regulations of our tour and our membership.

Q. Were you aware that you were all-present for the players?

CAPTAIN BERNHARD LANGER: I don't think I'm God. I was not all-present. I was only one place at a time. I was either here in the tent or in the clubhouse.

But I think what he meant was the guys were thinking about me constantly when they were making putts and chips. And Alex must have said that sometimes when he putted, he had in mind what was going to happen tonight and what I was going to do and decide; and therefore, I think it just shows to me how important the Ryder Cup is to these guys. They all, you know, played as hard as they. They tried to make the team outright so they didn't depend on a wild-card pick from me. And it's not easy to play tournament golf in general, but with the extra stress of knowing that every one putt or one shot can make the difference of being on the team or not, that's a very difficult situation.

But I still believe the pressure in Oakland Hills in a few weeks will be greater than qualifying for the team today.

Q. Monty has been a bit peeved at you the last few weeks for not calling. When you saw him today, how did he react?

CAPTAIN BERNHARD LANGER: He was obviously thrilled with the news. He was very excited and thanked me for including him and considering him. He said he will do everything in his power to bring that trophy back in a few weeks time.

Q. Did you consult with him on the second pick or had you already made your mind up at that stage?

CAPTAIN BERNHARD LANGER: No, I did not consult. Again, I talked to a few players, but I think it was fairly obvious who the guys were going to be. There was going to be three or four, five in the mix at the end of the day, and they were all so close that it was difficult to recommend the one or the other or this or that. I cannot go by, you know, personal preferences of one player or someone just because they might be friends with one another. I need to pick the guy who I think will do the best job for the team.

Q. Ten Ryder Cups, I might be wrong, but I would have thought maybe Muirfield Village might be the strongest team of those, but how does this team match up to the teams in which you've played and how do you think The Matches will go?

CAPTAIN BERNHARD LANGER: I think the team is very strong in depth. I think that just proves what we talked about this last 20 minutes, we have far more depth on the European team now than we ever had before.

20 years ago, I don't think any captain was put in the situation I was put in today where he could have picked any two from eight guys and it might not have made a huge difference; let's put it that way. So that's the very positive news.

I think at the same time, saying that, we have more depth, we might not have quite the -- what do you say, I have to be careful there, quality or leadership or whatever that we had when the big five played on the team, you know who I'm talking about I think. I think those were exceptional times. We had years in the 80s and early 90s when those five were just playing awesome golf and they won a lot of majors. That's something I have not seen lately amongst the European players. They have not won many majors playing against the best in the world.

About every five or ten years you have players come around like we had in the 80s and 90s. We need to be patient. We need to give our young guys a chance to get better and make their way up there and win those majors and those World Golf Championships and big titles.

Q. In a press conference a few weeks ago, Hal Sutton said about organizing his partnerships, if guys were left out on Sunday, so be it. What's your policy since you have five rookies going into the match?

CAPTAIN BERNHARD LANGER: I believe I'm going to play everybody before Sunday. I would like to. So if I have any opportunity at all, they will get a chance to go out and experience the atmosphere, just being out there, get rid of their nerves and jitters and get some experience under their belt; I have give them this opportunity.

I do not like for any of my rookies to be sent out the first time on Sunday. I think that's almost like wasting a point, giving a point to the other team. I will hopefully not be put in that situation. I will have to work my pairings in a way that everybody will have a chance to play in the first four rounds.

Q. Have you thought about and do you know what those pairings will be?

CAPTAIN BERNHARD LANGER: I have thought about it, but not seriously. I will do that the next three weeks or two and a half weeks. I will have plenty of time to do that. I had too much on my hands to just take care of other things.

Q. You are German and Anders is Scandinavian, how is it no Englishman is involved in the leadership of the team?

CAPTAIN BERNHARD LANGER: It has nothing to do with English or Scottish or whatever, or Welsh or Irish. We have a lot of Irish players on the team, a lot of English players on the team. It just so happened that that's how it came about. I picked Anders as my vice captain for the reasons I have explained many times.

I thought Joakim did a fantastic job two years ago. I was there and he was assistant captain then. He did an awesome job, and I could not see any better person to be there for that job. So I'm thrilled that he's going to be my right or left hand or whatever you want to call it.

And I think again, with Thomas Bjorn, another very respected guy, he has won many championships, been on the Ryder Cup several times and you need guys that other players look up to, respect and guys that fit in. They need to fit in with everyone. We will gel extremely well with the other players.

SCOTT CROCKETT: Bernhard, gentlemen, I think we all join in wishing you every success in Detroit. Very good luck and thank you.

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