Sept. 21-26, 2021 Whistling Straits, Kohler, WI
Photo Credit: Getty Images

Hi everyone and welcome to the first of what will be a monthly Blog from me leading up to the Ryder Cup. It’s a tremendous honour to be Europe’s Ryder Cup Captain and I hope you will enjoy coming along on the journey with me between now and September.

Correct Assessment......

I mentioned the word ‘journey’ above and, obviously, mine has been a bit longer than most Captains with the postponement of the event last year. There was a lot of chatter at the time but, let’s be honest, postponing the Ryder Cup was never going to be an easy decision given the many factors to take into consideration on both sides of the Atlantic. But I believe now, as I did last June, that the correct assessment was made given the unprecedented circumstances the world was facing at that time. Obviously we are all still being challenged by the pandemic but we all genuinely hope that the match will be played in front of a packed and fervent crowd in Wisconsin, generating the distinctive atmosphere that makes the Ryder Cup such a special event not just in golf, but in the world of sport. Just think, seven months exactly from today – September 26 – we will all be waking up to the morning of the Sunday Singles! Don’t know about you, but I can’t wait!

Player Focus......

One of the positives about last year’s postponement was that it gave me the opportunity to deal with a lot of the planning and preparation that goes on in advance of the Ryder Cup. I have heard it from every Captain in the past but now I’m in that particular club I can reveal they are spot on – you really don’t realise just how much goes on behind the scenes until you are the Captain. But with a lot of that now in hand, it has given me the chance to focus even more on the players and the qualifying process which resumed at the start of this year. It was great to see winning performances from both Tyrrell Hatton and Paul Casey during the European Tour’s Desert Swing as well as a number of other good performances from European players across the three weeks. Keeping an eye on proceedings in the US and the World Points List, Paul’s decent form has included two top tens in the first few weeks of the year. Other players to notch top tens Stateside were Jon Rahm, Russell Knox, Francesco Molinari, Viktor Hovland and Matt Fitzpatrick. You can view the current qualification standings by clicking here.

Paul Casey

Qualification update......

Talking of the qualification process, it’s a good chance to remind you all of the changes for 2021 that I agreed with the European Tour’s Tournament Committee at the end of last year. Essentially, all Race to Dubai and Official World Golf Ranking points earned between January 1 and May 9 will be multiplied by 1.5, while all Race to Dubai and Official World Golf Ranking points earned from the Betfred British Masters hosted by Danny Willett, which concludes on May 15, through to the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth, ending on September 12, will be multiplied by 2. My team will then 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 BMW PGA Championship. For the full qualification story, click here. Any process brings with it comment and opinion, but I believe the way it is now set up will further reward our in-form players. Essentially, if you play well the next seven months, you’ll make the team. But by also freezing the points gained before the Tour’s shutdown last year and still counting them in the overall reckoning, it also recognises what players did in the latter part of 2019 and the early part of 2020. It’s all about trying to be fair to all the players and giving everybody a decent chance of making the team.

On the course...

Until recent events (which I’ll come to in a moment), I had enjoyed being back out on the course myself and had two decent weeks in the Middle East, playing all four rounds in Abu Dhabi and then playing all four rounds under par in Dubai to finish in a tie for sixth place on nine under par 279. With my opposite number Steve Stricker having tied fourth in the Waste Management Phoenix Open earlier this month, I heard some people jokingly say that we should both be on our respective teams. I can reassure you that that isn’t going to happen! As most people know, I turn 50 later this year and as a result I'll have to make a decision post September where I’m going to play moving forwards. It’s part of the reason I've been trying to be serious about my own golf this year to figure out just where my game is at, to help inform that decision. But also, obviously, it gives me a great chance to keep a close eye on the guys trying to make the team. There is no better barometer than seeing them first hand under competitive pressure.

Padraig Harrington and Robert MacIntyre
Photo Credit: Getty Images

Coping with COVID......

The topic I referred to above is, obviously, COVID-19. I couldn’t believe it when the test I did ahead of the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am came back positive. Obviously, I withdrew immediately from the tournament and entered a period of self-isolation in The Lodge at Pebble Beach for ten days. I basically had what I would call a mild flu and because of that I know I was very lucky. One thing is for sure, COVID-19 is definitely not to be messed with. I did everything I was supposed to do to get through it and the PGA TOUR were on top of things. I had Zoom meetings with my team and the TOUR’s team all the way through and I received two calls a day from them and another daily from The Lodge to see how I was doing – that felt very reassuring. Obviously the Ryder Cup wasn’t far from my mind and I texted and called a lot of people about several aspects that suddenly came to my mind. As the week went on, I also started thinking about my golf swing. Physically, you can work on drills, but you can never recreate the speed of a golf swing without hitting a ball, which I was unable to do, although I did do some putting on the carpet. In all honesty, I took it fairly easy as I didn’t want to stress my body. I also caught up on a lot of boxsets during the ten days including getting through the whole two seasons of Mindhunter in 18 hours which was a pretty decent effort. I would highly recommend both series to anyone, although maybe not in one day!

Vice Captains......

As you can imagine, as Ryder Cup Captain I get asked a lot of questions. One I receive a lot from the media is about my Vice Captains and when I’m going to announce the remainder of my backroom team to add to Robert Karlsson and Luke Donald, who have already been named in the role. The definitive answer to that, is that there is no definitive answer! The only thing I will say is that, of the three to come, they will all be selected from players who are playing and who don't make the team. There will be nothing coming out of left field. There’s also no real cut-off point to be honest. I've talked to a few of the guys in contention and they know I would love to have them at Whistling Straits in one capacity or another. The good thing is that I still have options.

Get well soon TW......

Finally, along with the rest of the world, I was shocked to see the reports of Tiger Woods’ car crash earlier this week. The good news is that he got out of the wreckage alive and underwent immediate surgery in hospital. At this moment, golf is irrelevant. The only thing which matters right now is that Tiger recovers from this accident for himself and his children Charlie and Sam. However, having seen his powers of recuperation at first hand over many years, I would echo the words of former US President Barack Obama who tweeted: ‘If we’ve learned anything over the years, it’s never to count Tiger out.’ Those of us within golf will remember the remarkable recovery made by Ben Hogan following the horrific accident he suffered in 1949 when the car he was travelling in with his wife Valerie was crushed by a bus. Hogan was told he would never walk again yet went on to win a further six Majors. If Tiger needs any inspiration, then surely that is it. Get well soon TW.

Speak to you next month.........!

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