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How to Win a Ryder Cup

Monty will have learned from past mistakes and successes writes Imagine Golf Club's Dermot Gilleece

Posted Jan 12, 2010 by Dermot Gilleece

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Word from the Royal Trophy in sunny Thailand last weekend is that Colin Montgomerie was a major hit with his European players.  It seems that Henrik Stenson could hardly contain his enthusiasm at the prospect of Monty's leadership in the Ryder Cup at Celtic Manor next October. 

If prospective team members are delighted with Monty's approach so far, it surely augurs well for Europe's prospects of regaining the trophy, doesn't it?   Not necessarily.  Happy individuals don't necessarily guarantee a successful team outcome, according to Padraig Harrington. 

"Every captain goes to the Ryder Cup asking himself 'what approach got the best out of me?'" said the Dubliner.  "For Nick Faldo, that was doing his own thing.  So at Valhalla two years ago, the players came first, as far as Nick was concerned.  On a personal level, he did everything I wanted during the week of the tournament.   And the same applied to the other players, whose preparation was precisely how they themselves would have wanted.   
"On the face of it, it seemed a very sensible strategy.  In other Ryder Cups I played in I would get very frustrated with not being able to do what I wanted to do.  I found it annoying to be told I had to do this, that or the other, when all I wanted was to go off on my own and practice, whereas with Nick, the players came first.  On reflection, however, I realise that this just didn't cut it in the Ryder Cup.  For some reason, we didn't have the bond of previous years, the sort of togetherness the US team exhibited on that occasion.  And I have to believe that this was down to the way we prepared."

Had the Faldo strategy worked and Europe had successfully defended the trophy yet again, it could have become the template for future stagings, like Celtic Manor.  Just like Mark James would have been hailed as a strategic genius had his approach of attempting to win the Ryder Cup in two days at Brookline in 1999 been successful.  What happened then, of course, was that old hands were emotionally drained while three newcomers were left unblooded before Sunday's singles, all with disastrous results.

"The interesting thing is that I remember Brookline as a really great week," said Harrington.  "We were all having a terrific time and thinking that Mark was a phenomenal captain with a fascinating approach.  But his strategy failed and the public will never see him as anything other than as a failure, even if there was a great lesson there for future captains."

So if you want to get the best out of players in the Ryder Cup, the answer is to irritate them.  Keep them on edge.  Just as skipper, Bernhard Langer, did to Harrington, then an established tour player, at Oakland Hills in 2004 when Europe triumphed by a record margin.  As Montgomerie's foursomes partner, Harrington hit the tee-shots on all the odd holes, which happened to include the four par-threes.

"On each of those holes, Bernhard came up to me, told me the club to play, the place to hit it and why I should hit it there,"  Harrington recalled, without any obvious pleasure.  "And while it wasn't like he was telling you to do it, you were definitely aware that he was advising you."  All of which would have been noted by Monty, of course. 

- Dermot Gilleece

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