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

Hi everyone and welcome to the second of my monthly Blogs leading up to the Ryder Cup in September. Only 177 days to go now until the first tee shot is struck on the Friday morning at Whistling Straits – exciting times indeed!

Bravo Victor...

I want to start this month with a shout-out to Victor Perez after the Frenchman’s excellent showing in last week’s WGC – Dell Technologies Match Play in Texas. To reach the last four on his debut in the tournament was no mean feat, before he went down 3 and 2 in the semi-finals to the eventual champion Billy Horschel. It was a performance which not only strengthened Victor’s match play credentials but also his position in the automatic qualifying places for Whistling Straits. To check out the current standings of Team Europe, click here. Obviously it would have been nice to have celebrated a European winner in Austin but the showing across the week was nevertheless encouraging with European players taking up half of the eight quarter-final berths (Tommy Fleetwood, Sergio Garcia, Jon Rahm and Victor) in addition to Ian Poulter and Robert MacIntyre making the round of 16 after topping their respective groups; Ian being only one of two players to win all three of his group matches while Robert progressed from a group which featured world number one Dustin Johnson.

Health update...

In last month’s Blog I wrote about my quarantine in Pebble Beach having contracted COVID-19. Thankfully that episode is now behind me and I have felt no ill effects from it which is a relief. Understandably I was a little short of match fitness on my return to competitive golf after those ten days in a hotel room and therefore perhaps missing the cut in the Genesis Invitational wasn’t a great surprise. I’ve continued to feel stronger on the course, which I’ll reflect on below, but my health took an odd turn during the Puerto Rico Open three weeks ago when I developed stomach pains resulting in a trip to a local hospital at the start of the Arnold Palmer Invitational week which showed I had a kidney stone! Thankfully the pain subsided and I was able to play the tournament while the stone, shall we say, took its own natural course later in the week thank goodness! They say things like this tend to come in threes – here’s hoping I buck that trend as I’d be perfectly happy to remain completely healthy between now and September thank you very much!

Ryder Cup European Captain Padraig Harrington

Form update...

After finishing inside the top 60 in the Puerto Rico Open, I then tied for 31st at Bay Hill. To be honest it could, and should, have been better had it not been for a triple bogey seven on the 72nd hole. If I’d made par I would have been inside the top 20 which would have been a fairer representation of how I played across the week. That triple bogey didn’t feel too good that’s for sure, but I enjoyed the week overall. It was a tough golf course which felt a bit like a US Open on the Sunday with the wind and the greens being so fast. I then had a week off before I played the Honda Classic at PGA National. Again, it is a tough golf course but one I enjoy, illustrated by the fact I won the event on that course in 2015. There was to be no win this time and I must admit it was a tough week for me. My short iron play was pretty poor and I put a couple in the water on the second day which left me too much to do to make the cut. That was a pity but one of the many great things about golf is the fact that there is always next week!

Padraig Harrington playing on the PGA TOUR

Keeping an eye...

Although I’m out here in the US at the moment and keeping an eye on Europeans on this side of the Atlantic, I’m also watching the action back home closely. Although I might not be physically present at European Tour events right now, I am very much in touch with them, and myself and my vice captains have a role in suggesting some pairing options to the Tournament Directors every week, all the while looking at building up potential partnerships during the year. However, I want to set one thing straight here, I'm not here to judge the players. Players play golf their own way and they deliver their own scores. I don't like the perception that I'm out there looking at them and analysing every single thing they are doing. Their score determines how good a player they are – it doesn't matter what I think about how they get it done. I will also look at the stats especially when it comes to the picks, because it helps if you're wondering if a player is suited for foursomes or fourball. But as I said above, it’s mainly about looking at relationships and building familiarity so that if they do make the team, they’re comfortable being there.

Wonderful golf...

In addition to the Match Play in Texas, there is no question there has been some wonderful golf played by European golfers over the past four weeks on both sides of the Atlantic. On the European Tour for example, I can’t recall a more impressive putt holed on the final green to win a tournament than the monster effort drained by Frenchman Antoine Rozner to win the Commercial Bank Qatar Masters a couple of weeks’ back. Meanwhile, in the US, I have been encouraged by a plethora of top ten finishes from players such as Victor Hovland, Rory McIlroy, Matt Fitzpatrick, Paul Casey, Tommy Fleetwood, Shane Lowry, Victor Perez, Sergio Garcia and Jon Rahm. But it would be remiss of me not to make special mention of the recent achievements of Lee Westwood. To produce the golf he did in tough conditions to finish second in both the Arnold Palmer Invitational and The Players Championship was hugely impressive, not just to show that us more mature guys can still play the game and compete at the highest level, but also, of course, from a Ryder Cup perspective too. Obviously there is still a long way to go in the qualification process, but any Captain will tell you he loves to see experienced guys playing well – long may it continue.

Lee Westwood

Wild cards...

As I alluded to in last month’s Blog, being Ryder Cup Captain comes with a regular diet of requests for media interviews. I try and accommodate as many as I can as it’s important to continue to get my, and Team Europe’s message and story out there. While you are thrown the occasional curveball by an interviewer, on the whole a lot of similar questions crop up, with one featuring in most interviews being about wild cards. Being out here in the US, a normal route into that question is reminding me that my opposite number Steve Stricker has six wild card picks while I only have three and would I like to be in Steve’s position? The answer to that is definitely no! I remember during the many discussions last year about what was going to happen with the Ryder Cup if it was played and our qualification process was impacted by COVID, one of the options on the table was that I might have up to eight picks. I was not in favour of that for one simple reason; when you have a lot of options, the more players there are who think they can make it. Say for example you have eight picks and there are 24 guys in contention for those spots; that's literally tens of thousands of team permutations which could come up! Can you imagine the headaches that would cause?! Whereas if you have three picks like I do and maybe five people in contention for them, I think that's maybe 20 different outcomes you can come up with; right away meaning there is not as much doubt or room for second-guessing.

Junior Ryder Cup...

All of the above greatly increases my admiration for our Junior Ryder Cup Captain Paul Lawrie. We both made our Ryder Cup debuts at Brookline in 1999 and so I know first-hand how passionate he is for the contest and why it was no surprise to me that he took on the role of Junior Ryder Cup Captain, an appointment which will greatly raise the profile of the entire event too. The reason for my admiration is the fact that, as was announced earlier this month, Paul and his selection committee will choose all 12 players for the team following the disruption caused to the juniors’ qualifying process by the pandemic. Paul will be joined on that committee by Anna Roscio, Team Manager of the Italian Ladies’ Golf Team; Stuart Wilson, the 2021 Walker Cup Captain and former Junior Ryder Cup Captain; Edward Kitson from Ryder Cup Europe and Spencer Henderson, the former Scottish Boys’ National Coach, who will also be Paul’s Vice Captain. The match will take place at Blue Mound Golf & Country Club, not far from Whistling Straits, on the Monday and Tuesday of The Ryder Cup week itself and, naturally, we wish the 12 boys and girls representing Europe the very best of luck.

Georgia on my mind...

I started this month’s Blog with a review of the WGC-Dell Technologies Matchplay and, because the way the calendar falls, I will end with a look ahead to next week and the first Major Championship of 2021, the Masters at Augusta. It’s strange of course, considering that last year’s Masters was played only four months ago, but I think everyone is happy that the trip down Magnolia Lane is back in its usual Spring slot for this year. Like all of you, I will be keenly observing all the action from Georgia and here’s hoping I will be able to start April’s Blog with congratulations to a European in a Green Jacket.

Speak to you all next month.........

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