Valhalla memories, with Ray FloydOctober, 2011
The tough guy of American golf reflects on his role as a player, captain and vice-captain in the Ryder Cup
How did 2008 compare to playing on eight teams and being captain in 1989?
That was special because it had been so far between them. To be the captain was most special obviously, and then to come back as a player in 1991 and score the winning point to beat Olazabal in the singles.
But to be asked to be an assistant captain so many years later was a really, really great experience.
What was your role for the week?
I was the captain of my little pod, so I passed on my feelings and my thoughts. I told my younger players what they needed to expect and how it would be one of the most difficult experiences they ever faced in the game, no matter what they had done before – now it’s country and team and fans. Be prepared.
Of course I had Phil Mickelson and Justin Leonard, who had been there before, then I had Anthony Kim and Hunter Mahan, who were first timers, so I had a good balance of the young and the old, or the experienced and the inexperienced.
Did you have any part in coming up with the idea of the pods?
That was totally Paul Azinger’s idea from the start, in fact when he asked me to be assistant captain he told me of his plan and what I thought of it. And I thought it was genius.
Yes, I would say absolutely the 2008 win was the most significant win in the last 20 years. Did Paul choose his assistants based on the players he expected to qualify for the team?
I think he looked at the broad spectrum and thought about how he could formulate his plan and get the players to buy into it and the assistant captains who would command respect from those players.
He felt it was important to bring in a person with my experience and my record. The fact I was so well received by these guys was phenomenal. I mean they were happy to have me there and they made me feel terrific and I think we all moulded together. But it was all Paul’s doing, believe me. I was just glad to be a part of it.
Why do you think everything he tried came off?
Everybody bought into it. That’s a team, that’s what I tried to explain to my pod and you can’t play each and every match, you’ve got to make the best of the group. Nobody was dejected because they didn’t get to play or player B was not upset because he didn’t get to play with player A. Everybody was together, it was all about the winning and all about the team, that’s how he put it together. And I think that freed them up.
Would you say that 2008 was one of the most satisying American victories?
Yes, certainly of the modern era. We’ve done pretty measly through the last decade or so and it kind of flipped around. We always had the upper hand and expected to win and, all of a sudden, it was the Europeans who had the upper hand and beat us handily. So I would say absolutely it was the most significant win in the last 20 years.