The Captain's Blog - The Countdown Continues
The Captain’s Blog – Number Eight
Hello everyone and welcome to my latest blog as I continue to look forward to The Ryder Cup which is getting closer and closer. You may have noticed recently, as I did on March 15, that it was only 200 days to go to the first tee shot.
I’ve said all along that it’s been incredible how time has flown by in the countdown to Celtic Manor and that particular milestone proved that. When I was made Captain in Dubai last January there was something like 700 or so days to go and now we are down to 200....even less now of course. You can feel the excitement building as each week goes by and I have to say I’m delighted with how my potential Team is shaping up. I can’t wait for it all to begin in earnest.
Talking of the shape of my Team, I used the 200 day marker to study the players who currently occupy the nine automatic qualification places and I have to say, I was impressed by what I saw. I’ll just run the nine names past you if I may – Westwood, Poulter, McIlroy, Harrington, McGowan, Kaymer, Dyson, Casey and Wilson. I think that’s pretty impressive, don’t you, especially when you consider the guys who complete the top 12 are the vastly experienced Sergio Garcia and two young exciting talents in Alex Noren and Francesco Molinari? Of course, we haven’t even mentioned players like Stenson, Karlsson or Quiros or indeed Ross Fisher, the reigning World Match Play champion, who is at number 13. The reason for this surge of talent is simple; standards are rising due to increased competition among the players. All the guys mentioned above, and many more, are battling week after week to prove how much they want to play in The Ryder Cup. By their good play and wanting to outdo each other’s achievements, they are actually bringing out the best in each other and that is exactly what we want to see.
Before we look ahead to what is coming up, it would be remiss of me not to applaud once again the overall European performance in the first two World Golf Championship events of the season; the WGC – Accenture Match Play and the WGC-CA Championship.
I said before the start of the Accenture tournament that I was looking for a strong showing in the match play arena and, boy, did I get that. The European contingent in Arizona were superb all week and it was fantastic that, in the heart of the United States, we had three players in the last four battling for the main honour. Sergio played some great golf on his way to the semis and for Ian and Paul to move through to contest the final was wonderful to watch. I’ve always said winners in match play are the guys who are the strongest putters and Ian holed out extremely well all week. It was a wonderful win for Ian who looks very comfortable in that environment. Of course, Paul has now made the final two years in a row there which is a fantastic effort.
In the CA Championship despite not having a European winner – although all credit must go to Ernie Els for his stirring triumph – we did occupy half the places in the top ten. Padraig Harrington proved once again what a world player he is while Martin Kaymer showed that he is as good as anybody out there at the moment. It was also great to see Paul Casey and Alvaro Quiros feature once again alongside Graeme McDowell who showed glimpses of the grit and determination which got him two and half points from four outings in The 2008 Ryder Cup at Valhalla.
Congratulations and well done to all.
There are two things that signify to most club golfers that spring is here and it’s time to dust off the clubs from the back of the cupboard. Those are: (i) the clocks going forward as they will do this weekend, and (ii) the Masters on the television.
Along with every other golf fan, I will be glued to the coverage watching every shot from Augusta because I truly believe that our European players are now seriously eyeing victories in Major Championships and why not?
European success is overdue at Augusta, simple as that. We had great success there in the 1980s and 1990s but we haven’t had that domination in recent years and it would be great if another European player could experience the thrill of slipping the Green Jacket onto his shoulders come Sunday night. You need a bit of luck round there too because no-one has ever won the Masters being unlucky that’s for sure, but there is no reason to believe one of our players can’t do it.
A lot of people thought I’d gone mad last August at Hazeltine when, pre-tournament, I predicted that four or five Europeans would finish in the top ten of the US PGA Championship and I admit I was wrong – it was five in the top nine!
In all seriousness I cannot see why a similar situation cannot unfold at Augusta in a couple of weeks time and I will say here and now that I fully expect three out of the top five players come Sunday night to be Europeans. I wish them all the best.
Welcome Back Tiger......
While the majority of my interest will centre on the European players among the azaleas, there will be one person who will, of course, command the bulk of the world’s attention that week and that will be Tiger Woods.
I think he has been shrewd in the choice of Augusta to make his comeback and while, in his first television interview the other day I was interested to hear him say he was a little nervous about what kind of reception he might receive on the first tee, the patrons at Augusta – they don’t call them spectators or fans – are knowledgeable about the game and, in the most controlled Major arena on the circuit, I believe they will give him the best reception possible.
What I do feel is that he is not coming back thinking he is not going to win. Tiger has come back for a Major Championship and to put all the events of the past four months behind him. He has got something to prove and it has been a long time since Tiger went out to play in any tournament feeling like he had anything to prove. All of which will make him an even more daunting opponent than before. He will want to go out and prove he is still the best in our game and I really do feel, as has been the case in the past, that whoever beats Tiger at Augusta, will win the Masters.
There has been a lot of talk too about the fact he will not be ‘match-fit’ to use a football analogy. In all honesty, I just don’t think that will be the case. I realise this is to a lesser degree but I took four months off myself back in the winter of 1995 and came back to play in Dubai and won - the first tournament I teed up in since my break. I always remember that Miguel Angel Jiménez, who was second to me that week, said in his press conference, ‘Once a winner, always a winner’. That was said about me 14 years ago and the same applies to Tiger now. He is a born winner and now he has the bit between his teeth I think he’ll be a very dangerous opponent.
Once A Winner......
Talking of that win in Dubai in 1995 brings me neatly round to my own game. Without question my main focus these past 15 months has been on all the preparation required for The Ryder Cup but I never forget that I am still a golf professional and I still have a burning desire to play well and win tournaments. That is the reason I am currently in the United States with my coach, Paul Marchand, working on various aspects of my game before I play in this week’s Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill and next week’s Shell Houston Open.
Trust me, I haven’t come over here to spend money and time away from my family because I think I’ve had my last win. Paul truly believes that I can win again before I stand in front of my Team and speak to them at Celtic Manor and so do I. That’s why my playing schedule is busy between now and October, starting with these two weeks here in America and then on to the Volvo China Open in Suzhou before the big run of events begin in Europe.
The Links Effect.......
After the Volvo China Open I have one more very important engagement before I return home and that is the opening of The Montgomerie Links in Denang in Vietnam, a course I have been designing there and one that I am very proud of indeed.
The course is built on China Beach and is a fantastic site and to have a name such as The Montgomerie Links – Vietnam is a great honour. It is a fine piece of land, just off the beach so it is a sand sub-soil and of course it has that special links feel to it too. They’ve built a super clubhouse there too which will hopefully help attract golfers from all around that part of Asia to stay there and play a bit of golf on my course.
A Solid Foundation.....
On the topic of personal projects, I was delighted to report recently a hugely successful first year of The Elizabeth Montgomerie Foundation, the organisation I set up in memory of my late mother and whose aim is to help provide support to people affected by cancer because, as statistics shows, that is currently one in three of the population in some shape or form.
Our first project is raising funds to build a new Centre in conjunction with the Maggie’s Cancer Caring Centre in Lanarkshire in Scotland and I am delighted to say that we have now secured 75 per cent of the funding needed for that which is superb.
I am thrilled with such progress in these tough economic times and it is so encouraging, believe me, to have this support. A lot of it has come from my wife Gaynor’s associates within the Perthshire and Glasgow areas, as well as my own contacts and there have been donations from all over. The donations we had from people at our wedding started the whole thing off and it has just boomed from there. We have had all sorts of support from all quarters and all I can say is a huge thank you to everyone.
When I started this project it was a dream, now it is close to becoming a reality. We have a top architect in Neil Gillespie on board to design the Centre and we have the plans set to start the build early next year with the hope being that we can open the building in early 2012. My dad, who will be 80 in June, will be with me to cut the ribbon. For obvious reasons, that will be an emotional day for him as well as for me and the rest of our family.
Reading, Writing......and Ryder....
I have said all along I am genuinely thrilled by the impact The Ryder Cup has in all aspects of society, not just golf, and another fantastic example of that arrived earlier this week when The European Tour, in conjunction with Newport City Council, unveiled a Ryder Cup-themed curriculum for primary schools in the Newport area which will, hopefully, be expanded across Wales in the run up to October.
I think it is a brilliant initiative and one that will get the children involved in The Ryder Cup in their own community. They will find out what it will mean to Newport and how busy everything will get as well as what the millions of pounds generated for their local economy will mean.
Golf can offer many facets for education and I truly believe The Ryder Cup should be part of that. It is super that this initiative has been set up and hopefully we can see that moving forward to 2014 and the schools in the Perthshire area around Gleneagles where my own home is, to encourage them too.
Well Done Rhys.....
While we are making mention of Wales, I must say I was delighted for Rhys Davies who secured his maiden European Tour win with a fine victory in the Trophée Hassan II in Morocco at the weekend. As soon as I heard news of his win, I got out my lap-top and emailed my personal congratulations to him because your first win on Tour is the toughest one in many ways and there have been a lot of people who have taken years to achieve it.
He is a fantastic putter and to shoot 25 under par in your first victory shows there is obviously a lot of talent in his game too. I read Brian Huggett say that he thought his putting stroke reminded him of Ben Crenshaw and if he can putt like Crenshaw for the next 25 years or so, he’ll do all right in this game.
I fully understand the excitement in Wales about the prospect of this new young talent possibly pushing through to be a part of my Team at Celtic Manor but I also read Rhys’ own comments where he played that down and I think he is right to do that because there will be so much else for him to take in at this moment in time.
In a year when there is so much focus on Wales, it is super that we have had a Welsh winner on The European Tour and I will be watching Rhys’ progress with interest. I’m sure he will be a Ryder Cup player in the future if not this year.
Last month on my Blog I began a mini-series designed to look back on my eight Ryder Cup appearances as a player. I began with my debut at Kiawah Island in 1991 and now I’ll look at the first Ryder Cup I played on home soil, in 1993 at The Belfry.
1993....The Year of Plant Pots, Pavin and Perspective...
Obviously, in any Ryder Cup, the result – and whether you win or lose – is the main thing. I’d be foolish to try and suggest anything else. However I have to say that after some of the unsavoury aspects of The 1991 Ryder Cup at Kiawah Island we all felt, coming back home to The Belfry in 1993, that at least part of our job that week was to put The Ryder Cup ‘right’ for want of a better word. We needed to get The Ryder Cup back to the honourable spectacle it had been before and to show the sportsmanship that is the bedrock of our game. I think we achieved that.
Personally, I remember beating Lee Janzen on the final green of our singles encounter which was a big deal for me as he was the reigning US Open Champion at the time having won the tournament three months previously at Baltusrol, so to claim his scalp gave the team a big boost.
However it was not to be for Europe as, despite holding a one point lead going into the singles, we eventually lost 15-13. Of course, it was also the second Ryder Cup in succession that we only had 11 singles ties instead of 12. Steve Pate was withdrawn on the final day of 1991 meaning David Gilford had to sit out and this year Sam Torrance had to step down after bizarrely injuring himself on a plant pot while sleep walking in The Belfry Hotel the night before the singles meaning Lanny Wadkins sat out. To this day, I still wonder what might have happened if Sam had been fit and had played where he should have done in the singles order. Would the outcome still have been the same or if Sam had played and won, would it have shifted the momentum to our side? Of course, we’ll never know but it is fun to speculate.
Of course 1993 was also memorable for two other reasons: (i) My partnership with Nick Faldo was born and (ii) I faced Corey Pavin for the first time. I have to be honest and say that I learned an awful lot from Nick that week as he was World Number One at the time and we became a pretty formidable pairing with two and a half points out of four including, of course, a 3 and 2 foursomes victory over a certain Mr Pavin and his partner Lanny Wadkins on the Saturday morning. I’m sure I might remind Corey of that if I get a chance at Celtic Manor in October!
As I said, it was a shame that the overall result went against us for the second time but for me personally, even though I didn’t realise it at the time, there were much better days in terms of Ryder Cup success just around the corner.
Thanks for reading and, until the next time, I wish you all good health and good golf.
For more from Monty - visit www.colinmontgomerie.com