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

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

Just reward...

Following a month at home in April, I am now in the middle of my second stint in the US this year with this past month having featured my first Major appearance of 2021 in the US PGA Championship at Kiawah Island. Naturally, I was delighted with my performance in South Carolina and my tie for fourth place was not only my best finish in a Major since the 2012 US Open at the Olympic Club in San Francisco, it also was just reward for the amount of work I have been putting into my game in recent months. I felt I competed on a level with everyone else during the week. I maybe didn’t run my putts as much at the hole as I would have liked to and perhaps left a couple of shots out there as a result, but physically, tee to green, I played very well. That was particularly the case in the final round where I shot 69 in the company of my good friend and compatriot Shane Lowry. I have to say I don’t think I’ve enjoyed a round of golf as much for a while as I did playing with Shane and it was amazing how relaxed I was as a result. It’s a cliché but it’s amazing that if you get your head in the right place it’s much easier to play good golf. I can get stressed on the golf course, perhaps overthinking things at times, but my final day showing was down in a large part to the nice pairing, and it was great to see Shane match my final round score and join me in a tie for fourth. Because of my finish, I am now also in the field the Masters at Augusta next April, which is a nice bonus.

Congratulations Phil...

Another player I got a close-up look at during the US PGA Championship was the eventual champion, Phil Mickelson. I played with him over the first two rounds and I was at the back of the 18th green on Sunday to shake his hand and congratulate him as there is no question that what he achieved, becoming the oldest player in history to win a Major Championship just one month short of his 51st birthday, was truly remarkable. I’ve been asked a couple of times my thoughts on Phil’s achievement and I have two observations. First and foremost, I was delighted he did it because when you see someone being that competitive at that age, you think ‘I want to do that.’ Secondly, I’m not sure it comes across properly on television but Phil never backs down on a shot. At his age I am sure he has plenty of scar tissue from the game but regardless of that, he still insists on hitting each shot as it’s supposed to be hit and really goes for it, which is to be commended. To be able to stand there and watch is great, and he truly got his just rewards for that approach at Kiawah. I played a little bit with Tom Watson in the latter stages of his career and he was the same. At that time of his life, he would have been struggling to compete with it most players in terms of distance but he stood up and took every shot on regardless. It was great to see then with Tom, and it’s great to see it now with Phil.

Dedicated to the captaincy...

Almost inevitably, because of my finish in South Carolina, the questions came thick and fast about me possibly thinking of playing the Ryder Cup in September instead of being Captain. They came not only because of my own form but also due to the fact that there is a bit of similarity between Kiawah Island and Whistling Straits in terms of set up and conditions, albeit they have different grasses. I will admit, put me on a windy golf course which both of these venues are, then I believe that I’m going to be as competitive as anyone. But as I said in the aftermath of the US PGA Championship and I take the opportunity to reiterate again here once and for all, I'm well past playing in the Ryder Cup. I'm very much dedicated to being the Captain of the European team and part of that is letting other people have their time inside the ropes – I have had my time as a player. It's a full-time job being the Ryder Cup Captain - there's no doubt about that. Finally, while we’re on this topic and before anyone else asks, no, you can’t be a player and a Captain at the same time either. There is far too much that goes on at a modern-day Ryder Cup for the Captain to even consider that possibility.

Foursomes and fourballs...

One of the traditions of the US PGA Championship in a Ryder Cup year is the fact that both Captains – as well as being competitors – are brought in for pre-tournament press conferences. I did mine on Tuesday afternoon, while Steve did his on Wednesday morning during which he revealed the order of play for the Friday and the Saturday of this year’s contest at Whistling Straits. To be honest, it was no surprise he announced we will be going with foursomes in the morning and fourballs in the afternoon on both days – the way the Americans have had it for their last three home matches in 2008, 2012 and 2016. [NB: When the match has been in Europe it has tended to be the other way round]. I was also interested to hear Kerry Haigh from the PGA of America say during the week that they were hopeful of a full house in terms of fans come September. I have said all along that I hope the US fans do get behind their team and really create the atmosphere that the Ryder Cup has become synonymous with. In the best possible world, they will get behind their team but also be respectful to our team and let us get on with our game when it is our turn to play.

Seve spirit...

A sombre milestone was reached earlier this month with the tenth anniversary – on May 7 – of the passing of the legendary Seve Ballesteros. I was fortunate to know Seve and although when I played with him when he was not in his prime, you could still see flashes of genius which reminded everyone of the legendary figure he was in our game. Quite simply he was to the European Tour what Arnold Palmer was to the PGA TOUR. He loved promoting European golf in the US which is why he had such a special passion and affinity for the Ryder Cup, both as a player and in his memorable captaincy at Valderrama in 1997. The players who were on that team will tell you, at times, they thought there must be ten Seves on the go because everywhere they turned, he seemed to be there! I will never forget the 2010 Ryder Cup at Celtic Manor where Captain Colin Montgomerie arranged for Seve – who was pretty ill by then – to speak to the team from his home on the eve of the contest. You could hear a pin drop when he was speaking and although you could tell from his voice that he wasn’t well, his passion and spirit for the match still shone through. As you know, we went on to win that Ryder Cup in Wales – and that was no coincidence. Every European team since then has sought to summon the Seve spirit during the match, and ours at Whistling Straits will be no different.

Runaway winner...

One of the many things that the European Tour did to mark the May 7 anniversary was to arrange for Lee Westwood to receive the Seve Ballesteros Award for Players’ Player of the Year for 2020. Lee was the runaway winner of the players’ vote and little wonder due to the phenomenal season he had last year which culminated in him winning the Race to Dubai, some 20 years after he was crowned European Number One for the first time in 2000. Lee is the only active player to have won in four decades (1990s, 2000s, 2010s and 2020s) and the good news for me and the European Ryder Cup team is that, like a fine wine, he seems to be getting better with age. He is comfortably in the nine automatic qualifying spots as things stand right now and it would take something extraordinary to happen for him not to be in the team come September. That is important for me because you need leaders in your team and Lee is certainly that. What he says in the locker room will command respect.

Congratulations Rory...

It was fantastic to see Rory McIlroy back in the winner’s circle earlier this month at the Wells Fargo Championship. It was Rory’s 19th PGA TOUR victory and the third time he has won at Quail Hollow. It also put an end to a lengthy spell for him without a win, all of which hopefully augurs well for a period of momentum in his form that will carry from today right through until the end of September! While Rory’s win was the highlight, there have been a number of other encouraging performances and top ten finishes from European players on the PGA Tour this month including: Valspar Championship (Victor Hovland T3); Wells Fargo Championship (Victor Hovland T3, Matt Wallace T6); AT&T Byron Nelson (Seamus Power T9); US PGA Championship (Shane Lowry T4, Paul Casey T4, Justin Rose T8, Jon Rahm T8); Charles Schwab Challenge (Ian Poulter T3).

Valiant effort...

In last month’s Blog I sent my best wishes to Captain Stuart Wilson and the Great Britain and Ireland Walker Cup team in their quest to regain the trophy from the United States in the biennial contest at Seminole Golf Club in Florida. Despite a valiant effort and some fantastic golf from Stuart’s side, the Americans proved just that little bit too strong in the end, running out 14-12 winners. But the GB&I lads should be rightly proud of the terrific showing they put up. As is always the case after a Walker Cup, a number of the players will now be turning their attention to the professional ranks. I was asked recently if I had any advice for young players in this situation and I think the key to success in going from amateur to the pro ranks is ensuring that you feel comfortable in your environment. It is all about believing and trusting yourself. It can be a difficult world out there and suddenly a couple of missed cuts sees you start to doubt yourself. But at that level, there is a fine margin between missing the cut and finishing top ten. It’s all about self-confidence, doing your thing and giving yourself time. So, I’d say to all of them, whatever you’re doing now, do the exact same thing for about two years and don’t change anything. At the end of two years, you will have a better idea of whether or not you need to tweak things or make a bigger change, but you are never going to know that at the start. So just stick to what you are doing.

Getting close...

Finally, one thing I did hint at during the US PGA Championship was the fact that I am close to naming one, if not two more Vice Captains who will be part of our backroom team at Whistling Straits in September. I had a Zoom meeting with Robert Karlsson and Luke Donald – the two guys I have in place right now – last week and we were all sitting there thinking, it’s time to get some other guys on board here as there is an increasing amount to do and to plan for as the match gets ever closer. Therefore, look out for next month’s Blog when I will be delving a bit deeper into the reason behind the choice – or indeed choices – that I made!

Speak to you all again next month………….

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