| Rolex & Golf
The Great Dane - as Thomas Bjørn is known throughout the golf world - will take on the responsibility of leading Team Europe to success in the 2018 Ryder Cup, inspiring synergies among teammates and bringing out the best in each player.
It’s Thomas Bjørn’s responsibility to inspire synergies among the European Ryder Cup Team and to bring out the best in each player.
Afew days before striking his first ball in competitive team golf something happened that allowed Thomas Bjørn to fully appreciate the scale, depth and meaning of The Ryder Cup. Just hours before the start of play, the late Severiano Ballesteros, the European Team Captain for the 1997 edition of the biennial trans-Atlantic golf tournament, handed Bjørn a commemorative Rolex watch. Looking back, of all the special memories he enjoyed as he became the first ever Dane to play in the competition, it was the limited-edition timepiece, with his name engraved on the back, that came to mean the most. Given solely to those selected to play by the team captain, for him it was a defining moment, a sign he had arrived at the very pinnacle of golf.
“That moment, when Ballesteros presented me with a Rolex watch, symbolises what makes
The Ryder Cup so special,” Bjørn recalls. “The captain usually gives them to the players on the Tuesday night of the tournament week. It’s a unique moment for the entire team, very symbolic considering the scale and nature of the event and what Rolex has done for the game of golf.”
THE GREAT DANE
Bjørn joins an elite group of Rolex Testimonees who have been selected to captain Europe in The Ryder Cup over the 50-year relationship between Rolex and golf. These include German Bernhard Langer (2008), Scotland’s Colin Montgomerie (2010), Spain’s José María Olazábal (2012) and Paul McGinley, from Ireland, in 2014. Like his predecessors, in 2018, it will be the Dane’s turn to present the watches.
The ceremony will mark Bjørn’s crossing from player to captaincy. “There’s nothing better as a professional golfer than walking down the 16th, 17th and 18th holes in a Major championship if you have a chance to win - The Ryder Cup brings that same feeling and pressure from the very first morning; it’s a really unique atmosphere,” he says. “In terms of how all-consuming the captaincy is, it’s on my mind 24/7.”
As one would expect from the contemplative Bjørn, who as a player won 21 tournaments and was runner-up three times in Majors, he has thought long and hard about what it means to be the European Ryder Cup captain. Still months before the competition will get underway in September at Le Golf National Club south of Paris, he has already defined his approach and the style of leadership he will bring.
“It’s not my role to tell them how to play, but rather to support and manage them, not by getting in their way, but by helping them make the right decisions.”
Bjørn’s analysis is shrewd. While the position may share some of the requirements of being at the helm of a racing yacht in the Rolex Sydney Hobart Yacht Race, taking the captaincy at the Ryder Cup is a role unique in world sport. Unlike a coach in a team sport who will tell a player whether he wants him to pass short or long, where to run and even where to position himself on the field of play, it would be a rash Ryder Cup captain who tried to tell those under his charge how to address the ball and play each stroke. Each member of the 12-man team will arrive in Paris with a tried and tested system in place of what works for his game.
“These golfers play for themselves all of the time, so you don’t have to instruct them in how to play the course,” says Bjørn. The true task of the Ryder Cup captain is to foster and develop team spirit, to help players performing in the most mentally intimidating arena in their sport feel comfortable and relaxed, ready for action. Everything in his control – from the style of the uniforms through the standard of the accommodation to the speech made at the ceremonial dinner the night before the competition begins – can make a difference.
“I think that confidence is everything in
this game,” Bjørn says. Moreover, ensuring his team’s self-assurance is not compromised will be at the heart of his approach. “The younger players sometimes need guidance, and I’m not afraid to tell them that they might be making some strange decisions. In my experience, the best thing to do is have a quiet conversation with them and point out a potentially different choice they might make.”
“My main concern is to have 12 guys there who are in form and ready to play,” Bjørn says. “My message to players is that it’s not about making The Ryder Cup Team, it’s about playing in The Ryder Cup. Looking back over the years, people are so keen to make the team that they forget that from the day they qualify they have to play in it as well. It’s a fantastic stage to play on, but only when you are ready to play.”
When the first tee shot is made on the morning of 28 September, the captain will have decided who plays with whom, and in what order. That is often a critical, match-winning decision. It is one Bjørn knows he will need to get right.
“You must put your trust in your team and believe that your 12 guys can deliver,” says the Dane. “You’ve got to try to play to your team’s strengths as best you can. Hindsight is 20/20, and people will always say what might have happened if you had chosen differently. You just have to go on what feels right at the moment.”
Looking back at his own contribution to Ryder Cup history (he was on the winning side in all three of his appearances in 1997, 2002 and 2014) he is well aware of the significance of the captain’s contribution. “Sam Torrance was a fantastic captain [in 2002]. He had a different captaincy than in previous years, unfortunately because of September 11th [when tragic events in New York delayed the match for 12 months]. But it did give him an extra year to prepare. He got to spend so much time with us that he influenced us a lot and that put a completely different perspective on the captaincy. He was a motivator, and he had the ability to make all 12 players feel like they were the best in the world. He probably didn’t have the greatest team, but he still managed to win against an American team that was extremely strong. I thought that his way of talking to people was amazing.”
It is an approach Bjørn will seek to emulate in his one-on-one conversations with the players. Though he says, he won’t even try to match Torrance’s inspirational locker room speeches, ever grand and moving.
“I won’t try to be something that I’m not,” he insists. “I want to try to create an uplifting environment for the players. I have some different responsibilities as captain because I have to listen to everybody and then make decisions and I understand that. But I still want to create an environment that all of these guys enjoy being in and playing in. Whether we win or lose, I want all 12 guys to walk away from The Ryder Cup thinking that it was a good experience – that is my main goal.”
And that experience will indeed begin the moment Bjørn presents the ceremonial Rolex watches to each of the twelve representatives of Team Europe.
The 2018 European Ryder Cup Captain Thomas Bjørn
Rolex Testimonee Jon Rahm
Ryder Cup Captain Paul McGinley with the victorious 2014 European Team