| 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.

HK Golfer - - Contents - By The Ed­i­tors

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

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