Captain's Blog: February
Hi everyone and welcome to the latest of my monthly Blogs along my captaincy journey to France. Since I last wrote, I have become a year older, and have also become a lot wiser about the detail that will consume The Ryder Cup week itself at Le Golf National in September.
It wasn’t one of golf’s greatest surprises, but we now know that Steve Stricker and Tiger Woods will join Davis Love III as part of Jim Furyk’s Vice Captain line-up in Paris. The Americans have a group of people around their core team that they seem to use these days and Steve and Tiger are very much part of that group. Of course, with this announcement, people are understandably asking about the plans for my Vice Captains to add to the Robert Karlsson appointment I made last summer. I can tell you this topic is very much at the forefront of my thinking, but I am waiting a little bit for the moment. It will not surprise you to learn that I have people in mind, but I am not in a position to announce them just yet. Watch this space…..!
As I said in the intro, I celebrated my 47th birthday recently. When you get to my age, there is not many things you do for the first time, but that did happen this year when I celebrated the day in Oman! It was the perfect end to a lovely week and one made all the sweeter by having my son Oliver with me. He even presented me with a beautiful cake after my final round had finished which was much appreciated – I don’t think he actually baked it though!
In the Swing….
The last two weeks in February showcased everything that is good about the European Tour in the Middle East. The Desert Swing is the backbone of our Tour at this time of the year, while the tournaments in Oman and Qatar did so much good for our membership in terms of being full-field events. They also illustrated perfectly the old and new in terms of golf in this part of the world. I genuinely couldn’t believe that this year was the 20th anniversary of the Qatar Masters, while the Oman Open was played on as good a new golf course to come on Tour in many years. I thought it was amazing and it has great potential that’s for sure. As for my own game, it remains a bit up and down. In the four tournaments in Dubai, Malaysia, Oman and Qatar, I finished in the top 40 in two and missed the cut in two, but the encouraging stat is that I finished under par all four weeks.
I have spoken before about the amount of work that goes on behind the scenes for the Captain and I had another example of that recently when I met with a number of the key backroom staff at Stockley Park, the IMG / ETP studios near Heathrow. We covered an enormous amount of detail about The Ryder Cup week itself and it is only once you sit down and actually go through that amount of detail that you realise the extent of the demands placed on everyone that week. It is extremely important to get all the detail nailed down so that the players feel that as relaxed as possible – and you can only do that through precise planning. It is good fun, but it also makes you realise you must be on top of everything. Talking of that, our meeting took place next to the Video Assistant Referee (VAR) room that is starting to be used in English football. The door was locked but I slipped a note under it asking the referees to look kindly on Liverpool the next time they feature!
I was excited to be part of the recent announcement about this year’s GolfSixes event on the European Tour in May where I will make history by partnering Solheim Cup Captain Catriona Matthew in the ‘Captains Team’. GolfSixes was a big success last year, not least because Denmark won (!), but also because it continued the European Tour’s position as leaders in innovation both on and off the course. It’s not your normal golf tournament where everyone is very serious and has their heads down. It is completely different, it’s more about having fun and portraying the game in a good way. I also think it’s hugely important to try and break down the barriers that have existed in golf between the men’s and women’s games too. When this opportunity arose to play, I thought it was only right to speak to Catriona about forming a team, and we’re both really looking forward to it. We will also be showcasing the format at The Ryder Cup when the Junior Ryder Cup teams from Europe and the US play GolfSixes as part of their Friendship Match on the Wednesday afternoon – another important step in getting youngsters involved in the fun of our great sport.
Their team. Their time……
As you can imagine, the talk about the qualification race for The Ryder Cup is hotting up – you only need to see the increasing mentions in the media to understand that. I was asked about it the other week and while, obviously, it is vitally important, something that players often forget is that it is not the road from now until the end of August when the team is finalised that is crucial to success in The Ryder Cup, it is the road from then until the end of September that is important. And that’s what my job is. I need to make those 12 players ready to play because it is their team. It’s not my team. It is their time to shine. I’ve had my time – I’ve played in Ryder Cups. I will be there, with my Vice Captains, to create an environment to enable those players to play their very best golf and, hopefully, if that is good enough to win, they can take away memories that will last them all a lifetime.
Until next time……….