The Captain's Blog: 100 Days to Ryder Cup
In the fourth installment of his Ryder Cup Captain's Blog, José María Olazábal reflects on events both on and off the course as the countdown clock to golf's greatest show at Medinah in September reaches 100 days.
By José María Olazábal
European Ryder Cup Captain
So, here we are, just 100 days to go! It's hard to believe it was last January that I accepted the invitation to be Europe's Ryder Cup Captain and now this great match seems little more than a drive and a wedge away. I'll be honest with you, I think about The Ryder Cup every day. It has been very special in my career and my life for so many reasons and it's a huge honour to be the Captain but I know that with that comes a huge responsibility so I am leaving nothing to chance. I want it to be right for me, for my players, for my vice captains, and indeed for all the team involved because I have never felt anything like the feeling you get at a Ryder Cup - and that's regardless of the outcome. I've felt joy in that locker room and I've cried too, but the team spirit that exists in there is something you cannot describe, but is something that will last me a lifetime.
Glitz and glamour...
What a week we had at Wentworth recently for the BMW PGA Championship and I'm not just talking about the glorious sunshine - I think it might have been hotter than Spain at one point - or the great golf where Luke's successful title defence of the title against a world-class field was fantastic.
It was exciting for me because behind the scenes we continued the build-up to Medinah with all potential team members being measured for their clothing, and we also started the week off with the Players' Awards Dinner at the Sofitel Hotel at London's Heathrow Airport. It's very important to have glitz and glamour black-tie nights such as this and it's great to celebrate all our accomplishments around the world. We were there not only to celebrate the 40th Anniversary of The European Tour this year, but also another astonishing year for our members in 2011 with Charl Schwartzel, Rory McIlroy and Darren Clarke winning Majors. George O'Grady welcomed guests from around the world and, of course, The Ryder Cup made an appearance on stage as did yours truly. As I said, a wonderful night and a fantastic start to a truly memorable week for the Tour.
High Noon approaches...
As well as keeping a close eye on how my own team is shaping up, I also keep a watching brief on Davis' men too and they are undoubtedly playing well. The younger element such as Rickie Fowler and Jason Dufner have joined the more established players such as Matt Kuchar, Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods in the winners' circle in the States this year so Davis has every right to be confident, but so am I. I've been keeping an eye on everyone; how they are playing, how they are swinging the club and I like what I see.
I've touched on Luke's great win at Wentworth which saw him go back to World Number One again, a position that has been shared with Lee Westwood, Rory McIlroy and Martin Kaymer since October 2010. But these guys know, and all the guys who will be on my team know, that what really counts is being sharp for the week in Medinah. Through the years we've seen teams that were considered better than the other actually not being able to deliver when it came down to the week itself. We have been underdogs a few times and won, but on the other hand we were favourites at Valhalla in 2008 and lost.
In terms of who will be in the team we have a stretch of tournaments starting now, on the back of the US Open, which is going to be very important. It will be interesting to see who can handle the pressure down the stretch to secure those automatic spots before we get to 'High Noon' on Monday August 27, following the Johnnie Walker Championship at Gleneagles, when I make my two picks.
Thank you Wales...
After Wentworth, it was good to return to Celtic Manor and rekindle the wonderful memories of our Ryder Cup triumph two years ago and my thanks, as always, go to Sir Terry Matthews and all the team there.
My original role at Celtic Manor in 2010 was as an ambassador for Nespresso coffee but when the change in format was announced, Monty asked if I would be prepared to join his team of Vice Captains and then famously told the world: "We felt that it was a misuse of his talent, expertise and experience to be here and not contributing to the team." I was delighted to help out but even after we'd won I felt that I didn't want to go to the Closing Ceremony - it's the way I am that I genuinely feel the players are the stars that week. However, history will show that Monty and the guys kind of press-ganged me into going... and I'm delighted I did in the end as it was a great moment celebrating on stage in front of those thousands of people.
Once again The Ryder Cup came with me to Wales and it was on stage with us when Miguel Angel Jiménez and I were the focus of "Question Time" with host Gethin Jones at the Gala Dinner on the Tuesday night. Miguel was very relaxed and enjoyed himself immensely and I think all the crowd in the room that night saw exactly why he is such a great character to have in the team room at The Ryder Cup. Miguel is obviously playing hard to be on the team again, and as well as his infectious nature, he is also a guy you can really rely on inside the ropes too because he's so straight off the tee and hits great iron shots. If he does make the team then I will have one other thing to figure out - just how much Rioja we'll need for the team room for the week!
After playing quite nicely at Wentworth I failed to go the distance in Wales which was a little disappointing. I must admit that my driving was my Achilles heel once again and after I'd hit what I knew would be my final drive of the tournament on the 18th on Friday, I handed my driver to a young fan after I signed the head cover and said to him: "I hope you find it works better for you than it did for me!"
By the way a word for The Principality Junior Wales Open which aims to build on Celtic Manor Resort's Ryder Cup legacy and produce the next generation of Ryder and Solheim Cup stars - because you have to say it looks like it's working already. Amy Boulden, winner of the girls' competition last year, made the Great Britain and Ireland team for the Curtis Cup at Nairn and, not only that, won her singles match on a thrilling final afternoon that saw GB&I beat the United States for the first time 1996. Hopefully the message that I sent to captain Tegwen Matthews in the run-up helped inspire the team and is great to now see The Ryder Cup, Solheim Cup, Walker Cup and Curtis Cup reside on this side of the Atlantic. Of course, it's up to us to retain that status quo come September.
Play your own game....
I keep being asked what kind of Captain I'll be - quite simply, I'll try to be the best I can and try to make things as easy as possible for the players during the week. One thing is for sure, I'm not going to be as hands on as Seve was at Valderrama in 1997 - I don't think anybody could repeat that! Every player has his own game, knows himself well and even though I might see a shot a different way - they are the ones over the ball and therefore it is up to them to make the decision. If they ask me for advice I will be there for them but I will let them play their own games. Apart from that I will try to be as close to them as possible; try to give them as much confidence as I can and make them believe we can win. What I can say for certain is that The Ryder Cup creates a bond between the players that lasts a lifetime - and that will never change.
What I can say with confidence about my team is that they will be well dressed, but I will not be able to claim any real credit for that. I have never really been involved in fashion and I'm certainly not an Ian Poulter! I'm pretty sure that Ian would have been delighted to be with me in Paris visiting Canali's showroom and then in Milan where we did the selection for the final wardrobe. Canali are providing the trousers in which the guys will play and their "off-course" wear for travelling and official functions like the Opening and Closing Ceremonies and the Gala Dinner. We've also had many other meetings including with the teams from Glenmuir, who provide on-course wear comprising among other garments such as polo shirts, slipovers and sweaters, and ProQuip for their waterproofs. Having done all that, it is now just the finishing touches required.
While I didn't really involve myself in any of the designs - I left that to the experts - I did have an input into the golf bag which I think is pretty special although we will keep that as a surprise for the week. What I can say is that it has been produced by Level 4 and that it is custom-made to my specifications regarding construction and design. I know from past experience that the players are very proud of their Ryder Cup bags and this year will be no exception.
My kinda town...
Now all we need to do is get there and find out if Chicago will be our kind of town! It's obviously easier when you play at home, with a strong balance of the crowd rooting for you, and we know the people of Chicago can be loud so we need to be prepared for that. We also know that the course will most probably be set-up to the US team's liking which is no different to when we are the home team. But we all play globally nowadays so I have no doubt that the twelve men that I eventually take to Medinah will all be ready for the challenge.
By the way if you read somewhere that I would be selecting only two Vice Captains - that is most definitely wrong! It will be four. I don't know where that came from because I have stressed time and time again that you need a lot of support that week. You need as many eyes as possible to follow the players in practice as well as in the matches themselves to provide me with information. I would say it's borderline that you could captain a Ryder Cup team nowadays with less than four Vice Captains. When will I name them? Most probably after The Open Championship next month. We do have a lot of players who have the experience, who have been there and who have done it before but I must first wait to see if they are going to be on the team. A lot can still change and remember that last time Edoardo Molinari put himself in the team in the very last qualifying event, so patience is the key right now for everyone involved.
Until the next time, thanks for reading and I wish you all good golf.
José María Olazábal