A NEW ROLE TO RELISH
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
’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”
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