RYDER CUP: Davis Love interview

We speak to the American Ryder Cup captain less than a fortnight ahead of his home-soil assault...

How significant is home advantage?
Being at home – not necessarily the golf course – is certainly an advantage. You feel better with home fans.
I don’t know if it’s worth a point, but half a point’s enough. It seems like that’s always what it comes down to.
I think it’s a big difference. I think it’s bigger maybe even than a football game or a basketball game. We really want the crowd to be fair and only cheer for good shots and be respectful, but if we’re making putts we expect to get the crowd behind us and get them excited. I think that’s an advantage. On the golf course maybe a little bit, but that’s going to be more for the veterans on the team like Tiger, Phil and Jim, who know that golf course pretty well.

What will Fred Couples add to your backroom team?
I hope he does whatever he’s been doing with the last two Presidents Cup teams, because he’s won two in a row. Fred and I have been through a lot and from my first days on tour he’s been an inspiration to me as well as a close friend. He knows the players. He’s been a lot more involved in the details of the matches when he’s captain. He’s talked to me a lot about strategy already.
He’s into it a lot more than you would think. Fred is relaxed and has a smooth swing, but he’s a competitor.

You said a year to go that you’d pick Tiger Woods regardless of his form. You didn’t need to…
I was pretty confident that if he played enough tournaments – and his record of one win every 3.5 entries is pretty good – he’d make enough points and I wouldn’t have to deal with it. So he’s done that.

What about the opposing captain?
I couldn’t have been any happier with José Maria, he’s always been good to me. He’s been very friendly competition and my first three Ryder Cup matches were against him and Seve – which was not fun, but a great introduction to the Ryder Cup. Tom Kite and I were one of only two teams I think that ever beat them. He’s always been one of the guys I enjoyed being around and playing with.
This has been a great year and a half with him and it will be an easy, friendly, but tough competition. We’re certainly not going to have any problems. He’s been very agreeable ever since he won the Masters and I finished second and he gave me all the left over wine from the last champions’ dinner the next year. We’ve gotten along very well since then.

You’ve played under several captains. Which one will you emulate most in terms of style?
Crenshaw, he won! The guys I played for all did it slightly different, but they all had some sort of theme.
Fred and I have been talking a lot about how we’re going to get them to relax and just play. These guys are going to be ready. They’re coming from the Tour Championship, played a whole season. I don’t have to work on their chipping or see if their putting strokes are good. I’ve just got to get them to relax and play. I know this group of players and how to pull them together.

Would you say this is going to be one of your strongest teams?
Every time I’ve sat on a stage with a team – and I’ve done it 13 times – I was going ‘man, this is a great-looking team’.
We always look great. We dress up nice and we get on the stage and it looks like we’re powerful and a strong team. And it always comes down to half a point or a point and how can it always be so close when we look like, especially at home, like we’re the favourites.
I think it’s just because golf has gotten so global, everybody’s so good. There’s so much pressure that it just levels the playing field out and we know that no matter how the rankings fit or how strong the team looks, that it’s going to be close.
But our guys are going to be tough to beat.
There’s so much pressure that it just levels the playing field out and we know that no matter how the rankings fit or how strong the team looks, that it’s going to be close. The four main golf team trophies reside over here now. Is that something you’ll use as motivation?
We want to get on a streak of winning the Ryder Cup. We’ve been in a streak of not winning it, but the secret is not to talk about that too much. The trick is going to be just to go out there and play.
We’re going to use whatever we can to get these guys to realise how big it is and then turn that off on Friday morning and go play.

Is there a big difference between playing in the Presidents Cup and Ryder Cup?
Maybe Friday morning (or Thursday in the Presidents Cup) isn’t quite as much pressure. You’re scared to death on Friday morning at the Ryder Cup. We get so built up and nervous from the first shot. That’s the way the Ryder Cup is from the first shot.

What’s the most nervous you’ve ever been in the Ryder Cup?
That’s as nervous as you ever want to be on the golf course, having the last shot or putt of the Ryder Cup. It’s a different kind of nervous. It’s the fear of losing and letting your team and your country down. You catch on pretty quick when the whole team and wives come down to watch that this is going to be important.
The first day, everybody on the golf course is watching that first match when it tees off. And when it comes down to the last guy, everybody is going to watch and it’s going to be hard to see. It’s not like watching a regular tournament.
When we all rushed back to see Hunter (Mahan) it was so unfair for these guys. The whole gallery, the whole world is watching these two guys.
It’s way too much pressure for golf, it’s not that important.
It’s the only tournament we really cry over. It’s an incredible feeling. You spend two years trying to make that team and then when you’re in the middle of it you say ‘Why do I want to be here, this is brutal?’ Then as soon as it’s over you start scheming on how you’re going to make the next one.
The Ryder Cup’s a little over the top.
But, it helps you if you’ve been through that. You say, well if I can survive that, then I can survive the last nine holes of the Open Championship.
It certainly makes you a better player. I don’t think anybody would tell you that the Ryder Cup didn’t make them a better player.

How do you feel about people playing all five series?
Whoever’s playing the best, I’m going to make them play. If the guy wins his first couple of matches, we’ll keep him out there. The hard thing about the Ryder Cup is picking those four guys you sit out. We’ll try to balance it and get everyone out there.
With each passing Ryder Cup, Tiger is more interested in winning four points than playing in five matches.
When I first played I said I wanted to play five. And after a few, I said I want to do whatever I can do to help the team.
If Tiger is playing well and healthy, we want him out there five times. If he says ‘four is better for me and I’ll be ready on Sunday’ then that’s what we’ll do.
But Dustin Johnson you could play him seven days in a row, he’s as strong as a horse. If they’re playing well, I’ll want them out there making birdies. I think we’ll have at least a couple who we say going in ‘he’s playing five no matter what’.

What’s your thinking on playing foursomes first?
Just to do it differently to Colin (Montgomerie) – because he won last time!
We felt like it was easier to plan your pairings the night before. If you had your pairings set and wanted to change them in the middle of the day for the afternoon matches, it would be easier to match guys up for the afternoon if you were just matching up a best ball team.
We feel like we’re pretty good at the alternate shot format. So we want to get it up and going early in the morning.
There wasn’t a whole lot of strategy involved, other than it seems to work better logistically. I’ll have to turn in pairings while guys are still on the golf course, so it makes it a little bit easier from that stand point.

How relaxed will you be?
I’m going to put on a good face, but I’m going to be very nervous. It’s going to be harder to watch than play, for sure.

Phil on Davis
Mickelson on his captain
“He has a lot of experience  and he’s able to take some of the things he has liked from captains and things he has not liked and eliminate those and make for a great experience for all the players. He will be a great captain.
In Jose Maria and Davis, you have two of the nicest guys both sides could offer. It’s going to be a fun match.”

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