Hi everyone and welcome to the latest of my monthly Blogs along my captaincy journey to France. It is, of course, my first message of 2018 and simply having that date on it brings the reality of The Ryder Cup itself ever closer – I can’t wait!
There is only one place to start this month and that is to look back on a successful EurAsia Cup match in Kuala Lumpur a couple of weeks’ ago. I said, when the teams were announced, that we were going up against a strong Asian team and that was proved over the first couple of days to leave us one point behind going into the singles. But on Sunday it was different. In our team talk on the Saturday night I could sense a real determination and a desire from the players to go out there and show exactly what they were all about. Therefore, to do just that, and get the job done the way they did, showed a lot about their character individually, but also about the character and strength of European golf as a whole. That is most definitely one of the many positives that I took away from the week.
Obviously to win the EurAsia Cup was important, but the week was important for me in many other ways. I learned a bit more about myself as a captain and I learned a bit more about all 12 of the players and how they reacted to the team room environment as opposed to the individual nature of their professional lives every other week. There is no doubt that some of the players who played in the EurAsia Cup will be part of Team Europe in Paris, just as there are obviously some other players who will come into contention over the next few weeks and months. But events like the EurAsia Cup simply reinforce the way we are as a Tour, the way our players are with each other and how they believe in each other. With that in mind we will go to France, on a golf course we know well and with tremendous support from the fans, with every confidence we can win that little gold trophy back.
I was asked a lot during the week about the EurAsia Cup simply being a warm-up for The Ryder Cup. While there were obvious learnings I was able to take for September, to categorise it purely in that way is a bit disrespectful to the event itself. The EurAsia Cup has continued to grow over the first three stagings and I think it most definitely has a great place in the game of golf moving forward. The relationship between the European Tour and the Asian Tour is strong and the EurAsia Cup is the perfect embodiment of that. You also need to look at the commitment of the players. Almost every one of them had options about where to play at this time of year, yet they chose to travel to Malaysia - that shows what this tournament is all about and how the players value events like it. Furthermore, it might also be good for their games! I already noted on Twitter that ten of the 12 European players in this year’s EurAsia Cup team finished in the top 20 in the following week’s tournament in Abu Dhabi. As stats go, that is a pretty remarkable one!
While that is good news for our game, there was further positive signs for European golf right across the globe on what turned into a bit of a Super Sunday last weekend. Firstly, congratulations to Tommy Fleetwood on the successful defence of his Abu Dhabi title. Tommy is now on the fringes of the world’s top ten and he showed precisely why with a world-class back nine of 30 on Sunday afternoon, featuring five birdies in the final seven holes. It was also great to see Rory McIlroy back in action in Abu Dhabi. I caught up with him for a chat during the week and as well as looking in peak physical condition, he proved his game is looking pretty sharp too after his three month lay-off, with four under par rounds to finish in a tie for third. He has most definitely got his eye on Augusta National, but Sergio Garcia, the man who will defend the Green Jacket in April, showed he is in pretty decent shape too, with a five-shot victory in the SMBC Singapore Open on the Asian Tour, a final round 68 sealing a week where he only dropped three shots in four rounds. Then, to put the icing on the cake, Sergio’s fellow Spaniard Jon Rahm came from behind to win the CareerBuilder Challenge on the PGA Tour in the US, beating Andrew Landry with a birdie at the fourth play-off hole. Yes, that was most definitely was a Sunday to remember!
I am now in Dubai for the Omega Dubai Desert Classic on the wonderful Majlis Course at the Emirates Golf Club, a tournament I always look forward to very much, not just because of the happy memories of my win here in 2001 where I just happened to beat a certain Mr Woods down the stretch! No, for many reasons it is one of my favourite events of any year, not least for the fact that I feel at home in Dubai after having spent a lot of time here. I also feel, if I am playing well, it is a course I can score well on, so I am going into it with a bit of confidence because my form is not too bad at the moment. I had a pretty decent week in Abu Dhabi with three consecutive rounds of 69 to follow my opening 73, all of which saw me finish in the top 30. I made 14 birdies over the last three rounds in Abu Dhabi, so hopefully there will be more of those to come this week.
Now we are into 2018, as you can imagine, thoughts of The Ryder Cup are never too far from my mind. Someone asked me recently what The Ryder Cup means to me, so I thought it would be a good way to end this month with my reflections on that topic. For a start, The Ryder Cup is just a unique experience. As individual sportsmen we tend to look at team sports and think it would be nice to be in that locker room environment where you are all in it together. Having said that though, it is something that individual sportsmen can sometimes find difficult. But at the Ryder Cup, it just comes so naturally to our players and everybody around, that it makes it a very special week indeed. To be a part of that, firstly with the history I have been fortunate to have had with the competition, and secondly with what lies ahead for me personally over the next nine months as captain, is something that makes me extremely proud.
Until next time…….