Ryder Cup yarns, with Sam TorranceOctober 7, 2011 News & Tour
The 2002 Ryder Cup-winning captain reflects on his victorious week in charge
You played under three captains in eight successive matches, how did they differ?
You couldn’t meet a nicer man than John Jacobs and Bernard Gallacher is a very dear friend who I played with for such a long time but Tony Jacklin transformed the captaincy – he changed everything and made everyone feel very special and that was one of the strongest things I took to my captaincy.
I wanted to make my team feel extremely special and very proud to be there as part of the team.
You made your debut in 1981 against an American team that included Lee Trevino, Tom Kite, Johnny Miller, Tom Watson, Ray Floyd and Jack Nicklaus, how daunting was that?
Daunting isn’t the right word, it was more like terrifying. That was probably the strongest team ever. But I was not daunted at all, I just wanted to get out there and was desperate to be a part of it.
You lost three times to Trevino at Walton Heath. Was he the strongest opponent you came up against?
Trevino was very tough but everyone always said Floyd was tougher. I only played him once and I’m glad that was all, he was incredible and a great friend and what a competitor. We’ve had loads of money games over the years.
If you were to play one more Ryder Cup match who would your partner be?
Seve, whatever the format. He was the greatest Ryder Cupper of all time. He just brought everything – charisma, warmth, desire, he would help you with everything about any aspect of your game. That was one of the great things about the Ryder Cup – you could ask your peers and they would show you how to do it.
As captain in 2002 did you encourage the rookies to seek out advice?
No, that is just something that happens. Everyone was equal, there was no talisman and that was something that Sir Alex Ferguson taught me, to have no stars and no lesser players and that was huge.
Who else did you speak to ahead of the matches?
I spoke to Alex for a long time, I also spoke to Sven-Goran Eriksson but that was only because I was sat next to him on a plane. Alex is the best manager on the planet so that was good enough for me.
You have always said how important the opening speech was – why was that?
That was the only thing that scared me and I worked extremely hard on it with someone called David Purdie. The amount of times I had sat there as a player when the captain gets up to that podium and I always thought there was no way on this earth I could ever do that.
I always felt so proud to see my captain up there and to see how well he handled it and to me it was everything to get that right. Every speech it was me against Curtis (Strange) and I did my homework.
1981 was probably the strongest team ever. But I was not daunted at all, I just wanted to get out there and was desperate to be a part of it. How did you go about finding who did and didn’t want to play with who?
There was no putting names in envelopes, none of that at all. I knew who they wanted and didn’t want to play with.
In all honesty there was nobody who didn’t want to play with anybody, any differences were left at the front gate and they came to play together.
I didn’t have anyone with any animosity.
We had a great camaraderie, I was lucky in the way that I had an extra year to get my team together and have a couple of meetings and a day at The Belfry and that helped enormously.
Over that year a few players lost their form, how did you deal with that?
The day at The Belfry Pierre Fulke and Phillip Price were really struggling with their games and I put them out together against my two vice-captains Ian Woosnam and Mark James as Sergio Garcia and Jesper Parnevik couldn’t make it as they were in America. I said to Fulke ‘there is a reason for this, your game’s not up to scratch and I want you to show me something’.
I didn’t say that to Price as it wouldn’t have been the right thing to say to Phillip and Fulke came up to me about a month after the Ryder Cup and said it really made a big difference and that it really lifted him. On that day they had the best score of anyone.
Was it always in your thinking to play everyone at least once before the singles?
It was never part of the plan, it is always nice but I wasn’t going to jeopardise the chance of winning a point to blood someone. Jesper Parnevik said at the beginning of the week that his game had completely gone, he was working on it all day every day and told me when he gets it back he would tell me and that he didn’t mind sitting out until the singles. He came up to me on the Saturday and said he was ready and he was right.
Lee Westwood was in dreadful shape and the line I used with him was form is current, class is forever.
Looking back what was your best decision as captain?
Putting Sergio Garcia and Westwood together as that came totally out of the blue as they hadn’t even practised together up until the Thursday and they weren’t even in the same fourball but that worked out wonderfully.
How would you set up a course to help the Europeans?
I would have the greens slightly slower, I would cut most of the rough down around the greens and narrow the fairways at certain distances – the rough got very thick at 290 at The Belfry. That’s what you do when you’re at home, you set the course up to best suit your team, it is absolutely fair and there is nothing you can hide.
What made Monty such a special Ryder Cup player?
He played under me in 2002 and we played on three teams together and he was always the same, he has a desire and an absolute love for the Ryder Cup and you can see it in him. He absolutely thrives on it.