Sept. 21-26, 2021 Whistling Straits, Kohler, WI

Hi everyone and welcome to the third of my monthly Blogs in the build-up to the Ryder Cup in September.

Congratulations Hideki...

I want to start this month by offering my congratulations to Hideki Matsuyama for his wonderful victory in the Masters at Augusta. Of course, I hoped I would be welcoming the first Major champion of the year into my team for Whistling Straits (just as Steve would have been for his team too) but Hideki’s performance over the four days put paid to that. There is no doubt he is a worthy champion and I can only imagine the hero’s welcome afforded to him on his return to Tokyo the week afterwards, even though it all had to be done with deference to COVID guidelines. Hisako Higuchi and Hinako Shibuno have won Majors in the women’s game in the past – now Japan has a man to add to that list. I have a feeling he won’t be the last.

Different pressure...

Although we didn’t crown a winner, there were still notable European performances in Georgia; new dad, Jon Rahm, tieing for fifth after an excellent final day 66, Justin Rose taking seventh spot and Robert MacIntyre doing incredibly well on his debut to finish tied for 12th. To date I have played 15 times in the Masters, had a couple of runs at it and to be honest with you, I always found it quite a challenging tournament. The real pressure at the Masters is that you have to take on some shots and make some birdies, especially on the back nine, whereas you can hit one bad shot and make double bogey. The difference between good and bad is extreme at Augusta and that puts a lot of pressure on you. Normally for a leader going into the back nine on the Sunday of a Major, if he makes nine pars, he knows he has a pretty good chance of winning. At the Masters, if the leader has a one or two shot lead, he might have to play the back nine in two or three under par to feel comfortable – he just can’t play safe. That’s a different type of pressure. It’s much easier to lead on a tough grind of a golf course.

Building excitement...

As of today, there are only 149 days remaining until the first tee shot is struck at Whistling Straits and there is no question that the intensity is building. Almost every European or American player interviewed these days seems to be asked a Ryder Cup question. Naturally, I’m no different to that and, like everyone else, I can feel the excitement building too. The Ryder Cup is a big deal these days and not just for me and the players. It is a big deal for Europe and the European Tour as a whole and, as a result, you want to do the very best job you possibly can and not leave any stone unturned in every aspect of your preparation. There is no question, however, that certain elements of the match week itself will be affected by the pandemic. For example, I think we are all hopeful that there will be as big a crowd as possible, but I’m not sure how easy it will be for fans to travel from Europe. Obviously, we will hope to have some US-based European fans in attendance but it might possibly be a more lopsided crowd than has been the case in previous years when we have played away from home.

Qualification update...

Talking of the European Team, you can view the current state of our qualification race by clicking here. Aside from a couple of positional changes within the top nine on both lists, the personnel in the automatic qualifying spots haven’t changed this past month. Although the core of the team seems set and the top nine are in a very strong position, it will be interesting to see whether there will be any changes as we move into the summer months, with significant events on both sides of the Atlantic in addition to three further Major Championships to be contested. Furthermore, as I agreed previously with the European Tour’s Tournament Committee, the points available on both lists will be doubled – they are currently multiplied by 1.5 – from next month’s Betfred British Masters at The Belfry and the AT&T Byron Nelson in the States until the end of the qualification period at the BMW PGA Championship in September. Just a reminder that the European Team for Whistling Straits will comprise the first four players from the European Points List, followed by the leading five players from the World Points List and three wild cards picks I’ll make the day after the tournament at Wentworth.

Fantastic event...

While we are gearing up to face the US in September, by the time I write my next Blog at the end of next month, another golfing team will have taken on the Americans in their own back yard. I am talking about the Great Britain and Ireland Walker Cup team who will face the US at Seminole Golf Club in Florida on May 8 and 9. The Walker Cup is a fantastic event and I was lucky enough to play in three; in my native Ireland at Portmarnock in 1991 (pictured below), at Interlachen Country Club in Minnesota in 1993 and at Royal Porthcawl in 1995. We lost the first two but I ended my association with the match on a high by being part of a 14-10 triumph in Wales where I won three of my four matches against a US team which included a certain young man by the name of Tiger Woods. As I said, I think it is a fantastic event and, even now, some 30 years since I made my first appearance, I can’t tell you how often I meet former GB&I team-mates as well as golfers who played in other Walker Cups. What is special is that we all have the distinction of being part of that great Walker Cup family. I will update everyone on the outcome next month but, until then, I wish Captain Stuart Wilson and his team the very best of luck.

RIP Jock...

Being a professional sportsman, you often hear of strained relationships between the press and the athlete in many sports. However, this isn’t the case in golf as there is a close relationship between many of the media and the golfers, who both have the game at heart. Maybe this is more with the ‘old guard’ who used to travel and become familiar to the players. It is the reason I was particularly saddened to hear of the passing of one of the great Scottish golf writers last month – Jock MacVicar of the Scottish Daily Express, who represented that ‘old guard’. I know his nickname amongst the guys was ‘The Doyen’ and I can understand why, not just for the longevity of his career, but for the fair and honest way he went about his business and in the many pieces he wrote over the years. RIP Jock.

On the road again...

Finally, as you read this, I will be preparing to head back to the US for another run of tournaments including my first Major Championship appearance of the season – the US PGA Championship on The Ocean Course at Kiawah Island in South Carolina – another venue which will always be intrinsically linked with the history of the Ryder Cup of course. After 80 days on the road in the US from January through March (the longest I’ve been away from home in my entire career), for this past month I’ve been back in Ireland which I’ve really enjoyed, practicing and relaxing at home with Caroline and the boys and, of course, Wilson the dog. He was definitely happy to see me but I think he would sell his soul for a rub or a snack for anyone to be honest, so maybe I missed him more than he missed me! Hopefully he’ll be as delighted to see me when I’m back home again later in the year.

Speak to you all again next month...

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