Almost all the work a Ryder Cup captain does comes down to preparing your players. That means a lot of things. It means he has them in the right psychological mood, makes sure they understand who their opponents are and how to beat them. It means making sure their clothes fit properly when they wake up, that their room is the right temperature and that they get the food they like.
In 2010, for example, I changed all the beds for my players. At the Celtic Manor Resort, I had 18 beds removed and brought in bigger ones. The headboards didn’t fit, it was a nightmare, but I wanted my players to feel comfortable. They wanted 6ft beds, and that’s what they got. I wanted them to get a good night’s sleep.
As a captain, preparation was all I did. After the 12th guy went in the singles, I thought, “Well, that’s that then.” What more could I do? I’d prepared them, they were happy. They’d all talked to me about their opponents. You send them out, and just pray they bring back enough points to win.
2. Manage the egos
I had two reigning Major champions in Graeme McDowell and Martin Kaymer in my team, having won the US Open and the US PGA. There were a lot of egos flying around, and you’ve got to beware of them.
The first thing I said, in the first meeting, was, “Thank God you’ve left your egos at the door. You can pick ’em up when you leave.” This is a team. It doesn’t matter who the hell gets the points, as long as we get 14 and a half. That’s the common goal.
They all did great for me. In my year, everybody earned at least half a point. Everybody can say that they contributed to that success. It must be difficult for someone who doesn’t gain at least half a point, not to have contributed. That never happened for me.
3. Feed off the adversity
It’s easy to say off the course, it’s bloody difficult on it. You’re one or two down in the match and the American crowd is going nuts, and you have a putt from 7ft that has to go in… That’s easier said than done. That’s why the captain has to prepare his team, has to make sure his players are capable of holing that putt.
It’s not easy away from home; you can’t do the same preparation you would do – can’t change the beds! You get the second locker room, you get the floor of the hotel that’s not as good. You get the hand-me-downs. It puts you on the back foot from the start.
4. Learn from the greats
When I took over as captain, I had already played eight times in the Ryder Cup as a player. I played under the likes of Bernhard Langer, Ian Woosnam, Seve Ballesteros, Sam Torrance and Bernard Gallagher. But I learnt a little piece from everyone and tried to put it into my own captaincy.
Darren Clarke (above), this year’s captain for Europe, was one of my vice-captains at Celtic Manor. He wants success for himself and the team. He’s been very good, done everything bang on thus far, and all I can do is wish him luck. I hope he’s picked up a couple of pointers.
5. It’s ok to be superstitious
I made sure that all my players at Celtic Manor didn’t use the lift going down from the ninth floor in the morning. They all had to walk down; they weren’t spending two years qualifying for this Ryder Cup only to get stuck in an elevator. They could use it on the way up – but only if they’d won!
6. Don’t be afraid of the big calls
There was a big decision that had to be made at Celtic Manor. It was the only Ryder Cup that went on to a Monday. The only way we could finish after the horrendous weather was to get everybody playing on the course at the same time. I got the caddies in, got the players in, told them what I thought, and banged it into them that I believed that they as a 12 were better than the Americans as a 12. It was my decision, I put them on the pitch at the same time: now they had to prove to me that I was right. Of all the decisions I made, that was the best one; we won five and a half out of six that day, and it swung it for us.
7. Go easy on the champagne
I let the players celebrate. I didn’t realise, but I had to go on breakfast television the morning after. I didn’t want to do a Freddie Flintoff and not make it. I went to bed earlier than most, let my players party, and did more press and media the next morning. I couldn’t celebrate as much as I would have wanted, but I was just glad to see them celebrating. They deserved it.
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