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

Hi everyone and welcome to the last of my regular monthly Blogs in the build-up to The Ryder Cup at Whistling Straits, the start of which is now just over three weeks away….

Excitement building………

You can definitely sense the excitement and the anticipation for the Ryder Cup really growing now. There is momentum everywhere about the match and you feel it in every tournament you watch on television or read about in the media – each one is linked to the Ryder Cup and qualification for the respective teams in some way. Obviously I share in that excitement as the end of the journey to Wisconsin, that has been far longer than any of us expected, gets closer. From when we restarted our qualification process in January, the last eight months have been very positive. Everybody has been able to play and we have a good system in place that has allowed us to look at everyone and see how they’re doing. There is no question that we are in good shape and everyone associated with Team Europe cannot wait to get to Whistling Straits and get going. Especially me!

Twists and turns……

Part of that excitement comes with the end of the qualification process being in sight both in the United States and here in Europe. Across the Atlantic there is only one event left on the PGA TOUR for players to make their mark – the Tour Championship at East Lake. It is a restricted field of only 30 players and I am delighted that four Europeans will be there – Jon Rahm, Viktor Hovland, Rory McIlroy and Sergio Garcia. Naturally, we wish that particular quartet all the very best. In Europe, there are two events left on the qualification calendar; this week’s Italian Open at Marco Simone, the venue for the 2023 Ryder Cup, and the following week’s BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth, our final counting event. I am looking forward to teeing it up myself on the West Course in what is a very strong field. With double points being on offer, there are sure to be some final twists and turns before the final nine automatic qualifiers are known at the end of play.

Busy time…….

Once those nine players are in place, the final piece of the team jigsaw is naming my three Captain’s Picks which I am going to do on the Sunday night of the BMW PGA Championship, a couple of hours after the final putt has dropped. That will be a busy time for myself and my four current Vice Captains who are also in the field for Wentworth – Luke Donald, Robert Karlsson, Martin Kaymer and Graeme McDowell – but we have been discussing this element for some time now and we are all very much looking forward to finalising the team once and for all. Talking of Vice Captains, there is obviously one spot left to fill in that particular team too, and I aim to do that at the same time as my Captain’s Picks are unveiled. There is no question that it will be an interesting Sunday!

Good luck Catriona and team……!

Of course, before we head to Whistling Straits, another European Team will be tackling the United States in their own back yard in the shape of our Solheim Cup team, who will defend the trophy they won so memorably at Gleneagles in 2019 at the Inverness Club in Toledo, Ohio this coming weekend. Losing with the very last putt in the very last match two years ago was a sore one to take for the US and they will definitely be out for revenge, but Captain Catriona Matthew – who carries on the role she performed so admirably in Scotland – has a very strong and capable side at her disposal who will be more than up to the task. Obviously all of Europe will be right behind Catriona and the team and hopefully they can give us some winning momentum that we can carry into Wisconsin a couple of weeks’ later.

Happy memories……

As the Ryder Cup gets closer, so do the number of requests for interview which I don’t mind as I understand and appreciate they come with the responsibility of being Captain. One question I get asked a lot is for my favourite Ryder Cup memory. It is difficult to pick one out because I’ve been fortunate to have had so many in this great contest, having played six times and been on the winning side on four of those occasions. One week which particularly stands out, however, was our resounding nine-point triumph at Oakland Hills in 2004 where, in the very first fourball match on Friday morning, I partnered Colin Montgomerie to a 2&1 victory over Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods. That gave the whole team a lift and we never really looked back from there. I also ended the team component of that match with a comprehensive 4&3 victory alongside Paul McGinley over Tiger and Davis Love III in the final Saturday afternoon foursomes, before beating Jay Haas 1 up in the singles on the Sunday. Everybody in the European Team gelled brilliantly that week and every player ended up with at least one point next to their name. A repeat of that in three weeks’ time would do very nicely!

Bravo Bernhard…..

European Captain that week in Oakland Hills was the indomitable Bernhard Langer and I cannot let this final edition of my Blog pass without making mention of the latest remarkable achievement accomplished by the German legend on the Champions Tour, where he is already a 41-time winner. Bernard turned 64 last Friday, but instead of celebrating the occasion with family and friends at home, he was playing in The Ally Challenge in Michigan and not only that, incredibly, he equalled his age at the Warwick Hills Golf and Country Club with an eight under par 64. Shooting your age is one thing for someone in their 80s, or even their 70s, but shooting your age before you turn 65 is an accomplishment on another level. Bernhard went on to finish second in the event but surely his 42nd win on the over 50’s circuit in the US will not be far away. When asked his secret, he said: “Well, it’s a lot of fun. I’m still reasonably healthy. I have lots of aches and pains, but I can still do this fairly well and be competitive. I know Father Time is ticking and it won’t last forever, so I’m trying to enjoy every day I’m out here.” Sage advice from one of the true greats of the game.

Half a century…..

Bernhard’s achievement has particular resonance for me, as it is my 50th birthday today. I have said before that I will be aiming to play on the Champions Tour in the US and indeed I am looking at competing in a couple of events later this year once the Ryder Cup is over. I’ve been pleased with how competitive I’ve been this year, both on the PGA TOUR and the European Tour, so it will be interesting to see how I do on the over-50s circuit. Obviously, if I can do even half as well as Bernhard, I will be delighted. As far as birthday presents go, for me it’s simple. I’m not really that worried about getting any gifts today – the only one I really want comes in the shape of a little gold trophy, handed to me on the evening of Sunday September 26. That would do very nicely!

Thank you……

Finally, I hope you’ve enjoyed this journey with me over the past seven months – I know I have enjoyed sharing my thoughts on various topics with you. We will face a difficult task in Wisconsin next month but I guarantee one thing; myself, the players, the caddies and the Vice Captains will give everything we have to produce a performance that will hopefully bring the cup back home. Thank you for your support.

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