The inside story of how Europe regained the Ryder Cup
It’s far too easy to forget, in among all the American supposed infighting and squabbling in France, quite what a brilliant upset Europe pulled off in September last year.
Not many gave them much of a chance; Tiger Woods had just won again, they had the bulk of the superstars, Hazeltine and the Task Force would be the start of a new dawn for American dominance, and our wildcards were the golfing version of Dad’s Army.
But, behind the scenes, the level of planning by the European team had gone into overdrive in terms of set-up, pairings and statistics.
Robert Karlsson was Thomas Bjorn’s right-hand man and one of five vice-captains who helped the Dane to a sensational seven-point triumph and here he reveals, in his own words, the secret behind how Europe got their hands back on the prized trophy…
“Thomas picked me as his first vice-captain in May 2017 while the other four were picked a year later. So I worked with Thomas a bit longer but when we got into the week it was five guys – Padraig Harrington, Lee Westwood, Luke Donald, Graeme McDowell and myself – supporting Thomas.
“I really enjoyed and I did a bit of extra work with the stats guys at 15th Club. We would speak regularly with them, maybe every six weeks and more as we got closer to the matches, to understand how we could use them and questions would always come up.
“You wonder how deep you should dive, they are only stats and some players who should gel might not. You have to question them a little bit as some stats are taken from completely different circumstances from the Ryder Cup.”
“We knew Francesco Molinari and Tommy Fleetwood would play together two months in advance, we got a text from both of them saying they wanted to play together.
“Thomas was a bit worried about Molinari when he didn’t come and play Scotland, he was a little bit upset and wondered what he was doing as he needed to cement his place. After he won The Open he sent Thomas a little text saying, ‘Is this good enough for you?’
“Paul Casey and Henrik Stenson knew around the time of Carnoustie or just after that they were in the team. Sergio Garcia and Ian Poulter were a bit later.
“You can be crucified if they don’t play well and this has nothing against any other player but Sergio in the team room adds to it. Even if he’s playing poorly he will add to it and, as long as he’s in a good frame of mind, and that’s a big thing with him, the worst case is you have a really good cheerleader in the team room. It couldn’t have turned out any better.
“Rickie Fowler asked Henrik’s old caddie, Lordy, why he thought we hadn’t picked another player rather than Garcia. He said: ‘Let me put it this way, it’s the Sunday morning in Paris and you hear, “On the tee: Sergio Garcia” or “On the tee, someone else”…’
Fowler said: ‘You’ve got it right, we just don’t want to play him in the Ryder Cup.’
And that match – Garcia vs. Fowler – happened on the Sunday which was incredible. And Sergio won 2&1.
“I played with Matt Wallace on the Thursday in Denmark and he said: ‘I know I can’t play myself in but I’m going to give you a proper headache.’ Then he won, so you have to give him so much credit.
“But it didn’t really matter who was on the outside, we had three world-class players and Poulter who had won in Houston – and it’s Ian Poulter, so what are you going to do? He just loves it more than anybody else.”
Interview continues on the next page, where Karlsson reveals how the backroom team set up Le Golf National to favour the home team…