Hi everyone and welcome to the latest of my blogs as we continue the journey towards The 2018 Ryder Cup. I ended my last blog by saying how much I was looking forward to the Year to Go event in Paris, so looking back on a magical few days in the French capital seems the logical place to start this month.
Vive la France….!
The Year to Go celebrations were amazing and showed off everything that France is about. Ever since I was appointed, there's been talk about us delivering the best Ryder Cup in history next September – I think it’s fair to say we are off to a pretty good start! Over the three days we were there, France rolled out the red carpet for us – literally on many occasions – and showed it is ready to take on one of the world’s great sporting events. Every country in Europe is rightly proud of its history but perhaps there is no country with a richer heritage than France and we certainly lived that with visits to iconic locations such as the Château de Versailles and the Élysée Palace. I’ve spoken to a lot of the French players on Tour since the event and, to a man, they were in awe of what we achieved and so proud that we managed to show their country off so well to the world. This will also be the first time The Ryder Cup has been staged in one of the world’s major cities and it is a mouthwatering prospect that when the match unfolds next year, it will have Paris as a backdrop – as a result it’s going to be delivered in a completely new way. It's going to be an event that I don't think we've seen in the game of golf before.
I’ve said in the past that The Ryder Cup provides so much more than just a game of golf over three days. It is beamed to 200 countries and to millions of people around the globe and shows an event that can bring a world, which is a little bit fragmented at times today, together. It touches hearts and we certainly felt that during the Year to Go event. To see the joy on the faces of the children we visited at the school close to Le Golf National and the excitement of the hundreds of children who came to watch us captain the elite French Juniors in the challenge match, was something special. But it was not just the children who experienced those emotions. Jim Furyk and I most definitely shared them during the unbelievable PR stunt we undertook on the Eiffel Tower where we recreated history by hitting shots off the world-renowned structure just as Arnold Palmer did 41 years ago. I saw the pictures from 1976 and to recreate that was a truly amazing experience and something that will stay with me for the rest of my life.
I am well aware what an honour it is to be Europe’s Ryder Cup Captain and, at the same time, the responsibility that comes with the role. That was driven home recently when, in the space of a week, I had an audience with two Presidents! The first was French President Emmanuel Macron who we had breakfast with at the Élysée Palace as part of the Year to Go celebrations; the second was a meeting with Malaysian Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak in Kuala Lumpur during a fact-finding mission I undertook ahead of January’s EurAsia Cup match. Both of these meetings are a great indication of where golf can take you, to places where you never thought you would go. When you are 22, you are all about practicing and playing the game but once your career progresses, you realise that the game of golf reaches so many other things. It is a great platform.
Delighted and honoured…..
Talking of the EurAsia Cup, I’ve realised my last Blog was written just before I was announced as Captain of the European team for the event, so I want to take this opportunity to reiterate how delighted and honoured I am to be in that position and I am very much looking forward to the challenge that awaits us in January at the Glenmarie Golf and Country Club in Kuala Lumpur from what I am sure will be a strong Asian team on home soil. I was lucky enough to be a member of the European Team for the first EurAsia Cup in 2014 and I have seen the event grow and develop since then. We have some of the best golfers in the world in Europe and I am relishing the opportunity to work closely with them as individuals and as a team to try and ensure we keep the trophy in European hands, following the victory in the last match in 2016.
As Europe’s Captain it is always good to see European players excel on the world stage and the latest example of that came at the WGC-HSBC Champions tournament in China at the end of last month where Justin Rose stormed through on the final day to grab his first WGC title while Henrik Stenson pushed him close to finish in a tie for second. I thought Justin was absolutely fantastic in the final round and of course, he carried that form into last week in Turkey, again coming from behind to win for the second week in a row. As for Henrik, I've watched him closely for the past four or five months and it looks like he's got the bit between his teeth again and really wants to get going which is great to see. Here’s hoping the injury he has picked up which has ruled him out of the Nedbank this week, won’t keep him out of action for too long. I thought they both looked very strong in China and hopefully they can carry this kind of form into next year.
Welcome back Paul…..
Understandably, there has been a lot of noise in the media over the past couple of weeks about Paul Casey decision to rejoin the European Tour for the 2018 season, hence making himself available to try and qualify for The Ryder Cup team. It's well‑documented I've spoken to Paul over the last few months and we have had open dialogue about where he is in his life. I’ve made no secret that I wanted him to be eligible, just as I want every European player to be eligible. When he is on form, Paul is right up there with the best in the world, he's a strong player and he's got great match play history. Now he has made the decision, the ball is in his court. It is my job to take the 12 best European players to Le Golf National next September and they will all be on form and all have their own particular strengths and attributes. If Paul Casey is one of those 12 at that time, then he’s got a good chance of being on the team. If he isn’t, then he won’t. Just like every European player, he knows the work that's ahead of him over the next ten months – he has to make it like everybody else.
Back in action…..
After my injury lay-off in August and September, I am pleased that the last few weeks have seen me back in action inside the ropes. Understandably there is still a bit of rust evident, but there have also been encouraging signs such as my second round 66 in Italy and a solid four round showing last week in Turkey. This week I am also in the field for the penultimate event of the European Tour season, the Nedbank Golf Challenge at the beautiful Gary Player Country Club at Sun City. It’s a pleasure to be returning to the scene of my last Tour triumph and somewhere that offers me many wonderful but poignant memories. While my win here four years ago was undoubtedly up there with one of the best weeks of my career, it was also a week tinged with sadness, not just for the people of South Africa, but for the entire world due to the passing of Nelson Mandela on the first day of the tournament. I was proud to win in the great man’s country that week and shooting 65 in the final round to beat a field of that quality was something I will always cherish.
Until next time…….