I have to ad­mit I’d known about my Ry­der Cup vice-cap­taincy for some time, but it’s a huge thrill to be play­ing an im­por­tant role at Hazel­tine in Septem­ber

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’ve been lucky over the course of my 30-year ca­reer in pro­fes­sional golf. A lot of nice things have hap­pened to me along the way, but this was a mo­ment I’ll never forget. Last July, right af­ter he and I had played in the Farm­foods Paul Lawrie Golf Cen­tre Chal­lenge on the Mon­day of Open Cham­pi­onship week, Darren Clarke asked if he could have a cou­ple of min­utes with my wife, Mar­ian, and my­self.

Darren had a sim­ple re­quest: would I, as­sum­ing I wasn’t go­ing to make the team as a player, like to serve as one of his as­sis­tant cap­tains in the 2016 Ry­der Cup?

It took me about three sec­onds to make up my mind. Darren of­fered me a cou­ple of days to think things over, but I didn’t need time to con­sider my an­swer. “You’re jok­ing,” I said. “I’d love to do it.”

I saw Darren ask­ing me as a huge com­pli­ment. He and I go back a long way. We joined the Euro­pean Tour right about the same time. We’ve al­ways been pals. When­ever we are drawn to­gether we al­ways have a great time. And I have huge re­spect for him as a golfer and a per­son. But it was still nice to hear him say the same sort of things about me. I was enor­mously pleased to be asked.

Right af­ter the an­nounce­ment of my vice-cap­taincy – along with Thomas Bjorn and Padraig Har­ring­ton – at the BMW PGA Cham­pi­onship in May this year, I sent Darren a text re­peat­ing how hon­oured I am to be part of his back­room team. His re­sponse was un­be­liev­ably flat­ter­ing and a huge boost to my con­fi­dence go­ing into a job I’ve never done be­fore.

My first task, of course, was to keep my ap­point­ment a se­cret for what turned out to be ten months. Mar­ian and I told our sons, Craig and Michael, and one or two oth­ers, but no one else. Darren was keen to keep things un­der wraps for as long as pos­si­ble, so se­crecy was im­por­tant. He wanted to give the guys he had in mind as vice-cap­tains – there will be five at Hazel­tine – ev­ery chance to make the side as play­ers be­fore an­nounc­ing any­thing.

Any­way, since the news be­came pub­lic – Ian Poul­ter has also been added to the group – I’ve been asked a few times what it is Ry­der Cup vice-cap­tains ac­tu­ally do... which was one of the first ques­tions I put to Darren. Any reser­va­tions I had were be­cause of my lack of ex­pe­ri­ence in the role. But he quickly put my mind at ease. He did the job him­self for the first time at Celtic Manor in 2010, so he knows ex­actly

Iwhat he wants from me. I’ve also spo­ken to Thomas more than once. This will be his fourth time as an as­sis­tant, so he knows bet­ter than any­one what the job en­tails. I have my own ideas too, of course. When I played in my first Ry­der Cup back in 1999, Sam Tor­rance and Ken Brown were Mark James’ as­sis­tants. They were both su­perb, but for me per­son­ally Sam was es­pe­cially valu­able. He spent a lot of time with me in the days lead­ing up to the matches. Even though I was Open Cham­pion, I was still a Cup rookie. So I wasn’t 100 per cent sure of what to ex­pect. Sam helped so much in that re­gard. In 2012, when I made the team for a se­cond time, the as­sis­tants I spent most time with were Darren and Thomas. So I’ve had op­por­tu­ni­ties to see what works and what doesn’t. For me, one of the most im­por­tant as­pects of the job will be com­mu­ni­ca­tion with the play­ers. It is so im­por­tant that they know ex­actly what is go­ing on at all times, es­pe­cially when it comes to when, where and with whom they are play­ing. The last thing you need in a Ry­der Cup en­vi­ron­ment are sur­prises.

So a lot of the as­sis­tant cap­tain’s time is spent on lo­gis­tics – where the play­ers need to be at any give time, and get­ting stuff they need on and off the course. In my own case, I was al­ways ask­ing things I should have known al­ready. But I’m a typ­i­cal tour pro; I don’t al­ways read ev­ery­thing I should! And it is safe to as­sume there will be oth­ers in the team this year who take a sim­i­larly ca­sual view to writ­ten in­struc­tions left in their rooms.

The most im­por­tant as­pect of my job, though, is to make sure ev­ery player in the team is com­fort­able and as re­laxed as pos­si­ble in what is a high-stress week. Even some­one like Danny Wil­lett – a Ma­jor Cham­pion – is go­ing to need an arm round his shoul­der be­fore he plays in his first Ry­der Cup. Com­pet­ing for your­self is very dif­fer­ent from play­ing in a team. Sud­denly, hit­ting a poor shot means let­ting down more than just you alone. So it is the job of all the as­sis­tant cap­tains to help en­sure that the play­ers are ready to per­form at the top of their games. That, in turn, will give Europe the best chance of re­tain­ing the tro­phy. I can’t wait.

“It is the job of all the as­sis­tant cap­tains to help en­sure that the play­ers are ready to per­form. That, in turn, will give Europe the best chance”

The Car­di­nal range is a new golf ap­parel and ac­ces­sories brand worn and en­dorsed by Paul Lawrie. Look out for more in­for­ma­tion about the col­lec­tion at www. car­di­nal­golf.co.uk

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