Captain's Blog: March
Hi everyone and welcome to the latest of my monthly Blogs along the journey to Le Golf National in September. Since I last wrote, I have enjoyed watching European success in the US while taking the opportunity to enjoy a bit more of the wonderful host country of The 2018 Ryder Cup.
Well done Paul, Rory and Ian…….
As you can imagine, I particularly enjoyed watching Paul Casey and Rory McIlroy win in back-to-back weeks on the PGA Tour recently, before being joined in the winners’ circle by Ian Poulter on Sunday night. It was great to see them all achieve the victories they have been craving for a while; Rory after having come back from injury, Paul after having made the decision to rejoin the European Tour and Ian after the disappointment of narrowly missing out on the world’s top 50, and the Masters, the previous week…....now he can pack his bags for Augusta! It really was fantastic for all three of them.
Paul’s win in the Valspar Championship underlined once again the fact that when you put plans in place and stick to them, eventually they will bear fruit. Paul and his caddie John McLaren work very well together, they set out goals, are positive about them, and they are clearly working out.
As far as Rory is concerned, there was a free-flowing feeling about him at Bay Hill that has been missing for a little while. Watching him that week it felt like he’d said; ‘I’m just going to go and play golf and enjoy myself,’ and when he’s like that, we all recognise him for the player he is. The way he finished the tournament with five birdies in the last six holes was incredible and when he is like that, I think everyone accepts there are not many players out there that can match him.
As for Ian, it really was an unbelievable performance on Sunday night in Houston, He knew he had to triumph to make the Masters and I was glued to every single moment. Winning any golf tournament is tough enough but to do it when you have to, is doubly impressive. I am sure, like me, memories of Medinah came flooding back when he holed that 20-foot birdie putt on the 72nd to get into the play-off and then to go on and win was truly remarkable and showed great character.
Strength and resolve……….
The Match Play event in Texas was interesting, not least for the fact that people get so excited about it in Ryder Cup years due to the match play format. But in truth, it is actually pretty far away from the reality and the intensity of The Ryder Cup. Nevertheless, I thought Alex Noren’s performance was extremely strong across the week, but it didn’t surprise me. I saw the same thing in his singles match in the EurAsia Cup in January when I put him out at the top of the order. That day his strength and resolve shone through and he showed he wanted to go out and get the job done which, of course, he did. That said a lot about his desire for responsibility and his maturity as a player. There were other notable performances from a European perspective in Texas too, not least from Poults. Little did we know then, it was only a taster for what he would go on and achieve the following week……!
Vibrant Val d’Isère ……
It has not been all work for me this past month as I also took the opportunity to sample the delights of the BMW Winter Golf Cup in Val d’Isère as guests of BMW and Pascal Grizot, President of Ryder Cup France 2018 – a trip which involved a bit of golf and a bit of skiing. I have been fortunate in many ways with this captaincy, but one of the main benefits is that my tenure is in France. As a country it offers so much. It is one of the few countries in Europe that covers almost everything from winter sports to summer sports with so much culture in between.
The five days I spent in Val d’Isère were remarkable not least for the fact they said it was possibly the best snow they had had there for about 40 years! It was also the most unbelievable weather and as well as playing golf in the snow during the BMW Winter Cup, I also hit some shots off the top of the mountain – I must admit, that almost rivalled hitting the shots off the Eiffel Tower that we did during the Year to Go! I skied a bit when I was younger and though I might have gone there thinking of myself as, perhaps, a 15 handicapper in skiing terms, when you are trying to ski down the Bellevarde alongside Jean-Luc Crétier, you quickly realise you are more like a 54 handicapper! At least I emerged with all my limbs intact!
On either side of the Val d’Isère trip, myself and my partner Grace spent some time in Paris itself, enjoying the city and doing all the things that people visiting this wonderful capital on holiday do. We enjoyed everything we did there including spending time walking around the Latin Quarter, going to The Louvre to see the Mona Lisa and going back up the Eiffel Tower – although I didn’t hit any shots off it this time! I’ve been to Paris a lot in my life, especially over these past couple of years, but sometime when you visit somewhere, you simply do what you have to do and you forget to actually take time to enjoy the city. So, it was nice to do those things and take in everything that Paris has to offer. Which is a lot.
Of course, being in Paris, I also took the opportunity to meet with the core Ryder Cup Europe team to progress plans for September at both the golf course and back at the hotel where we will be staying for the week. We are all now getting a feel of what the venue is actually going to look like. In the past few months, everything was in your head or on a lap-top screen, but now it is starting to become reality. I also know these next six months are going to be fast paced. There is a lot of golf to be played in addition to a lot of activity in Paris, Versailles and at the golf course, so I can imagine I will be back and forwards to the French capital a few times between now and September just to keep an eye on how things are going.
Georgia on my mind……
Not sure the golfing world has ever gone to Augusta with as much excitement as there is right now. You have the usual suspects and they are all playing well. Rory has just won. Phil has just won. Paul Casey has just won. You have Tiger coming back to play some great golf and you also have Dustin, Justin Thomas, Jordan and Bubba from a US perspective. From a European perspective you have Sergio going back to defend and you have Justin Rose who loves the place alongside talents like Jon, Tommy, Alex and Henrik, all currently in the world’s top 15. I am really looking forward to watching it unfold as there must be about a dozen people who could win.
Tournaments like the Masters are ones that can change people’s lives and all these guys I mentioned above are setting out to try and achieve that right now. But that has been my consistent message since I took on this role – namely it is all about individual achievement for the players. If they do that, The Ryder Cup will take care of itself. Come July and August, we will have a group of players who will be shaping up to be the 2018 European Ryder Cup team and to sit on the sidelines and watch that unfold over the next five months will be very interesting. But what I close by saying is that European golf is in very safe hands with the players we have around at the moment.
Until next time……….