Colin Montgomerie gives his latest blog (Getty Images)
The Captain's Blog: Seventh Heaven
European Ryder Cup Captain Colin Montgomerie gives us his seventh blog in which he looks back at the Gulf Swing and ahead to the Match Play; plus begins a special series of his own reminiscences from his eight Ryder Cup appearances.
Roddy Williams, European Tour Editorial Staff
Welcome to my latest blog and I hope the start of 2010 has been a successful one for you. I must admit, in terms of The Ryder Cup, it has been fantastic.
We have just finished our traditional Gulf Swing on The European Tour and, to be honest, I don’t think it could have gone any better. We had three European winners in Martin Kaymer, Robert Karlsson and Miguel Angel Jiménez, in addition to three largely European chasing packs challenging near the top of the leaderboards on the Sundays.
I was particularly delighted for the three champions. For Martin and Robert, it was great to see them back in the winners’ circle after spells out in 2009 with injury. Martin had shown a bit of form towards the end of last season with a couple of top tens but I know Robert was a little worried, not having been near a top 30 since he came back from his eye problem. Therefore, it was not surprising he was more pleased than anything in Qatar with the fact he once again played at the level which saw him win The Harry Vardon Trophy in 2008. To shoot 65 in the final round at Doha Golf Club, which I think everyone appreciates is the most demanding of the three courses we play in the Gulf, was some feat. And what can I say about Miguel? Some players just seem energised in a Ryder Cup year and he is definitely one of them. I already have an espresso coffee maker on standby for the team room at Celtic Manor because I have a feeling I might just need it!
Well done to all……
It was not all about the winners in these three weeks though. As I said, there was strong European representation at the top of each of the final standings. The current number one in The Ryder Cup rankings – Lee Westwood – was in fine form in Dubai and Qatar, Rory McIlroy was in contention once again as was Ian Poulter – and how great was it to see Martin, Rory and Ian battle it out together in the final day three ball in Abu Dhabi? Also prominent were players such as Edoardo Molinari, Henrik Stenson, Ross Fisher, Oliver Wilson, Søren Hansen and Sergio Garcia. Finally, let’s not forget Paul Casey – another player who, thankfully, looks to have put his injury woes of 2009 behind him. Paul finished 11th in Dubai and fifth in Qatar, the latter being excellent as he’d never made the cut there in the past. Funnily enough, his new caddie – Christian Donald – told him before the week that he’d never missed a cut in his life in Qatar and didn’t intend to start now – that’s motivation I suppose! Great too to see Christian’s brother, Luke, finish second behind Steve Stricker at Riviera on the US PGA Tour. See, it is not just in Europe that I’m watching!
My final reflection on the Gulf Swing centres around one player – Alvaro Quiros. He didn’t win but he was a common denominator on the leaderboards of all three tournaments. He is someone I want to see mature into a Ryder Cup player and I have to say that every time I see him play, he is doing just that. I’m delighted with his progress and his form in the Gulf is exactly the sort of consistency I’m looking for. Because of having to go ‘in the envelope’ at last season’s Vivendi Trophy after the injury to Anthony Wall, he was bitterly disappointed not to be able to play in the singles because I know he wanted to show me his potential in that realm and he wasn’t allowed to do that. However, trust me, he is someone that everybody should watch.
A Gee Up from GMac….
I was interested to hear an interview with Graeme McDowell recently and in particular, two things he said. Firstly, when asked what his main goal for the year was, his reply was “to make Monty’s team for Wales.” I have to admit, I hear that a lot from players in interviews and, from a Captain’s perspective, it’s music to my ears. Every player wants to be part of this European ‘family’ I am trying to create and which will come to fruition at Celtic Manor. From the players to the caddies to all the staff at the Tour, everyone wants to be part of this European Ryder Cup experience. They all believe it will be a successful experience and I believe that too.
Secondly I heard GMac say that, from his current position of World Number 46, in the past, that would have made him a certainty for a European Ryder Cup Team but not any more – and he’s right. I remember, in the past, going down much further than that in teams I played in, but now with European players occupying half the world’s top 20, it just goes to show the huge wealth of exciting talent I now have at my disposal.
Ever since I was appointed Captain, I have overseen many developments off the course relating to The Ryder Cup and I was delighted to be part of yet another special occasion in Dubai a couple of weeks ago when Emirates Airlines were announced as the Official Airline of The 2010 Ryder Cup as well as Official Partner to The European Team in 2012.
Emirates Airlines have supported our Tour since the Desert Classic tournament began in Dubai in the late 1980s and the standards involved in the airline have always been first class. As one of the great Blue Chip companies of the world, I think it is a fabulous association we now have with them in an official Ryder Cup sense and one that can only be beneficial to us.
Personally speaking, of course, Dubai will always have a special place in my heart in terms of The Ryder Cup because it was there over a year ago now that my announcement as Captain was made official.
Take it to the Bridge……
Another off-course development was unveiled recently when the new bridge over the River Usk – which will help transport players and spectators to and from the new practice ground at Celtic Manor – was officially opened.
The £2 million twin-suspension bridge completes a £16 million investment by Sir Terry Matthews and The Celtic Manor Resort in building a new course clubhouse and internal infrastructure, all geared to making this Ryder Cup the best ever.
Right from the word go, Sir Terry and his staff got one hundred percent behind everything to do with The Ryder Cup and I think the opening of the bridge – in the company of the new First Minister of Wales, Carwyn Jones, and our own Ryder Cup Director Richard Hills – showed that once again.
They built an entirely new practice ground and when it became apparent that the existing transport layout wasn’t quite right to get players from the practice ground to the course and the clubhouse, they immediately said, “Well, let’s get two million together and build a bridge!” In these difficult economic times we have a lot to thank Sir Terry, Celtic Manor and the Welsh Assembly for in terms of their continued backing and support. We now must have the most expensive walkway from the practice ground to the first tee ever assembled on any golf course in the world and we all look forward to making big strides over it come October.
A Match for Anyone…..
With the Gulf Swing now behind us, it is time to look forward to the next part of the season and one which contains the first two World Golf Championship events of the year; the WGC – Accenture Match Play in Arizona and the WGC – CA Championship in Florida.
It is great as both events will see European players contend at the very top level of the game but, for obvious reasons, I am intrigued to see how the match play unfolds.
We had a finalist last year in Paul Casey while Ross Fisher made the semi-finals and Rory McIlroy the quarters, so let’s hope this year we can again have a good representation into the latter stages. This is a great opportunity for all European players to show me, in a match play format, just exactly what they can do and I will be watching every shot hit. I’ll be looking out for the results of all of the European players but also, and perhaps even more importantly, how they achieve those results.
I want to see guys who show guts and determination, guys who are maybe two or three down with four or five holes to play but who battle back to win. It doesn’t matter if that’s in the first round or the final, trust me, I’ll be taking note of it. Don’t get me wrong, the 8 and 7, 7 and 6 wins are great and show a player is playing well, but it is the matches which are tight and where a player comes out the other side that are crucial, and the ones which could be key in shaping my Team.
Colleagues for Corey……
As I’m sure you are aware, my opposite number Corey Pavin recently announced the four men who will be his assistant captains in Wales: Tom Lehman, Davis Love III, Jeff Sluman and Paul Goydos.
I have been around the game long enough to understand why the media wanted me to comment on each and every one; ‘Why did Corey pick so and so?’ ‘What will so and so bring to the American team room?’ ‘Why did he pick so and so who hasn’t played in a Ryder Cup’ etc, etc – you get the drift.
However I said then, and I’ll reiterate here, I’m not going to do that out of respect for Corey and his team – who he has in his backroom staff is his business, not mine.
All I will say is that, as good friends of Corey’s, all four were natural choices because you want people around you that you are comfortable in the company of. I wish them all well.
Patience is a virtue…….
Of course, that leads me neatly into the subject of my own assistant captains, a topic I am continually quizzed on whenever a microphone is placed in front of my face and The Ryder Cup questions begin.
Therefore, I would like to take this opportunity here in my own blog to make it crystal clear, exactly what my position is.
First and foremost, I do not feel there is any rush at all to name my assistants. I have said publicly that I am hoping to select a younger generation of assistant captain and, because of that, I am going to leave the decision for a few months yet as the range of players I have in mind will all be trying to qualify for the team first and foremost. Therefore, I will be making NO decision on that, or naming ANY names, until at least after the conclusion of the Open Championship at St Andrews in July. At that time, there will be just over a month to go until the end of the official qualifying period and I feel that is a more realistic time to take stock of the overall qualification situation to see where we all stand. So let’s all have a little patience on this issue – I’ll name the names when the time is right.
An Eight-some Reel…..
Those of you who know me will know the number eight has played a central role in my professional golfing career. Not only does it represent the number of Harry Vardon Trophies I won as European Number One, it is also the number of Ryder Cups I have contested as a player.
Now, as we sit here in the middle of February, there are also eight months to go until The Ryder Cup kicks off at Celtic Manor and I wanted to use that countdown to look back over my eight Ryder Cup appearances, all of which were memorable and all of which I could write volumes about.
Therefore, to kick off the series, I am going to start with the year of my debut, 1991, at Kiawah Island.
1991: The Year I Made My ‘Mark’
As everyone knows, The 1991 Ryder Cup boiled down to Bernhard Langer’s putt against Hale Irwin. But the reason he had that opportunity was because of what happened prior to their game with the players out on the course beforehand. Of course, one of those matches was my own against Mark Calcavecchia.
Understandably, on the verge of making my Ryder Cup singles debut, I was a little nervous and I’ll never forget, before I went out, our captain Bernard Gallacher saying to me; ‘Colin, the one thing you don’t want to do against Mark Calcavecchia is let him get ahead. He’s a gritty player and a great front runner so, whatever you do, try to stay with him.’ Of course, I immediately forgot all that and was five down by the turn!
What was going through my mind? In all honesty, when I lost the eighth and ninth to go five down, I was thinking that if I lost the next three holes, I would lose 8 and 7 to equal the heaviest defeat that anyone had ever had in Ryder Cup singles – I really wanted to avoid that so I knew then that I had to do something about it!
However I was lucky in a way that the walk from the ninth green to the tenth tee at Kiawah Island was about half a mile so, during that time, I managed to get my head together and I managed to birdie the tenth and 11th to get back to three down which was pretty good. Unfortunately though, I made a mess of the 14th to hand Mark that hole which saw me four down with four to play.
It is then written in history what happened, but it’s fair to say that into a left to right wind over those closing holes, Mark struggled and I managed to win all four of the holes to square the match in the end. I must admit it really helped me feel part of the team having won half a point for Europe while at the same time taking a half point from the Americans – all of which helped Bernhard have the opportunity to come within inches of holing the putt that would have seen us retain the trophy.
Thinking back on it, I was playing those holes down the stretch, not for me, but for the half point gained for Europe. That is exactly what I will be saying to my Team at Celtic Manor. On that Sunday, wherever you play, that point counts incredibly towards the end of the day to give the opportunity to the guys coming behind you to win The Ryder Cup. No-one must ever forget that.
For more from Colin Montgomerie, visit his official website www.colinmontgomerie.com