Thomas Bjørn continues long-standing quest of Ryder Cup success
Bjørn – A tale of Ryder Cup success
The name Thomas Bjørn is synonymous with European golf. A distinguished, passionate, and knowledgeable figure of the game, his presence as a Vice Captain to skipper and fellow Scandinavian Henrik Stenson at the 2023 Ryder Cup in Rome will be invaluable and continue his long-standing involvement in the contest.
As a player, the most successful golfer from Denmark with 15 DP World Tour titles, he was on the winning side in each of his three appearances for Team Europe - in 1997, 2002 and 2004 - while he would later serve as a Vice Captain to Bernhard Langer in 2004, Colin Montgomerie in 2010, José María Olazábal in 2012 and Darren Clarke in 2014 - the latter his only involvement in a losing cause against the United States.
However, it was in 2018 that Bjørn enjoyed one of his most memorable moments of his career when he led Europe to a resounding victory as Captain in the 2018 edition of golfs greatest team event at Le Golf National on the outskirts of Paris.
Bjørn makes Ryder Cup debut in 1997
In 1997, four years after turning professional, Bjørn became the first Dane to qualify for a Ryder Cup team.
A year earlier in his rookie season he had made history becoming the first player from his country to win an event on Tourwith victory at the Loch Lomond World Invitational, now known as the Scottish Open.
Bjørn, unused by captain Seve Ballesteros for the first day’s play at Real Club Valderrama, partnered Ian Woosnam to a fourballs win on the morning of day two as the hosts built a commanding 10.5-5.5 lead going into the final day singles.
However, USA mounted a determined fightback and Bjørn’s half point against then Open Championship winner Justin Leonard proved priceless as Ballesteros’ team celebrated a 14.5-13.5 victory in Spain – the first time the contest had been staged in continental Europe.
The 32nd Ryder Cup is also notable as it was the start of six consecutive victories at home for Europe – an ongoing record that Bjørn will hope to play his part in extending at Marco Simone Golf and Country Club in Rome from September 30 - October 1, 2023.
Europe regain the Ryder Cup at The Belfry
After missing out on qualification in 1999, Bjørn made his second appearance as a player under the captaincy of Sam Torrance at The Belfry in 2002.
Now a seven-time winner on the DP World Tour, having won twice earlier that season, Bjørn was picked to partner Clarke in Friday’s opening fourballs and the pair delivered a psychological blow to the Americans with a 1up victory over Tiger Woods and Paul Azinger.
In a predictably tense encounter, Bjørn won both the 12th and 16th as the hosts ensured a half point only for Woods to win the 17th and take the match the distance.
However, after Azinger had hit his approach to within ‘gimme’ distance at the 18th, the Dane showed great nerve to make a 20-foot birdie putt to secure a full point.
Bjørn suffered foursomes defeats alongside Clarke but, with scores level at 8-8 going into the final day singles, he impressed again to secure a 2&1 victory against Stewart Cink – a match he never trailed in – that contributed significantly to the 15.5-12.5 success for Torrance’s men.
Gleneagles marks Bjørn’s return to Ryder Cup as a player
After a 12-year absence from a playing involvement in the Ryder Cup, Bjørn made the team in 2014 at Gleneagles after securing victories at the European Masters and Nedbank Golf Challenge during the qualifying process.
“To come back to this team, and certainly with the state of European golf today, for me is one of the better achievements of my career, I have to say,” said a 42-year-old Bjørn ahead of the contest.
He had never been on the losing side in his five Ryder Cup involvements, both as a player and a Vice Captain – a feat only matched by captain Paul McGinley from the European ranks at Gleneagles.
On Scottish soil, Bjørn partnered Martin Kaymer, who had memorably holed the winning putt for Europe at Medinah in 2012, in Friday’s opening fourballs matches to a half point against Rickie Fowler and Jimmy Walker.
Defeats in Saturday’s fourballs and Sunday’s singles followed but as in his previous participations he continued his successful association with the winning side for a sixth occasion.
Bjørn leads Europe to dominant win in Paris
In December 2016, Bjørn was announced as the first Scandinavian Ryder Cup Captain for the 2018 edition at Le Golf National. He would be just the fourth captain from continental Europe since it joined forces with Great Britain & Ireland at the matches in 1979, following Ballesteros, Langer and Jose Maria Olazábal.
After his first taste of defeat in the Ryder Cup earlier that year serving as a Vice Captain at Hazeltine, Bjørn was tasked with reclaiming the Ryder Cup – a goal he would achieve emphatically.
Despite losing the opening fourballs session on Friday morning 3-1, a well-balanced European side fought back to build a 10-6 lead going into Sunday’s singles.
The partnership of Francesco Molinari with Tommy Fleetwood – one of five rookies in the hosts’ line-up – proved inspired as the duo won all four of their matches on the opening two days.
The experienced duo of Justin Rose and Henrik Stenson won both their foursomes matches, while Captain’s Pick Sergio Garcia embodied the European camaraderie as he won full points alongside Rory McIlroy and Alex Noren.
Despite a strong start from USA to Sunday’s singles as they won 3.5 points from the opening five matches, Europe reasserted their authority by winning six of the next seven as Molinari, who secured the winning point against Phil Mickelson, became the first European player to secure a maximum return of five points.
Furthermore, Garcia’s singles victory saw him surpass Sir Nick Faldo as Europe’s all-time Ryder Cup points leader. It all resulted in a memorable 17.5-10.5 victory, masterminded by Captain Bjørn.
The role of a Vice Captain at a Ryder Cup is wide-ranging.
In Bjørn, Stenson has picked an ally who brings a wealth of Ryder Cup experience as Europe aim to regain the trophy and maintain their dominance over America on European soil.