Hi everyone and welcome to the second of my monthly blogs as we continue the journey towards The 2018 Ryder Cup. Since we last spoke, we have played the HNA Open de France at The Ryder Cup venue – Le Golf National – so I’ll kick off with a look back at that.
Looking through different eyes….
There were a lot of good things to come out of the week; spending time in our Ryder Cup host country, spending time with the key local personnel, spending time in the hotels we will use, spending time on and around the golf course and simply getting the feel for everything. When you are Ryder Cup captain you look at things with different eyes to simply being a player, there is no question about that. I’ll admit it can be difficult to compete at times, especially at Le Golf National, because you might be facing a shot into a pin and all of a sudden your mind wanders to think about where the grandstand is going to be positioned behind that green during The Ryder Cup. Then it can be tricky to snap your mind back to thinking about hitting the actual shot! But I knew that would be the case when I accepted the role and it certainly won’t be any different next year. But it is the nature of the beast and I wouldn’t change it. It certainly makes you more observant about everything!
Firmly on course……
The HNA Open de France was interesting this year. We had a new sponsor and in addition to that, it was the first time the Tour had run the tournament having taken over from ASO. On reflection I’d say it was a great success and definitely had an extra feel to it being part of our new Rolex Series. We also had our Director of Tour Operations David Garland in place as Tournament Director for the first time – an important and strategic move for us with The Ryder Cup in mind, where David will perform the same role. Because of that I largely left David, and all the guys who work on the course on a regular basis, to it and didn’t interfere too much. It was important for David to form his own opinions about the course and set-up. There have been a lot of renovations to the course over the past 12 months and obviously it is also being prepared outside the ropes for the massive crowds who will come next September, so there was definitely a different look and feel to Le Golf National this year. But it is apparent you can do a lot with the golf course and that is always a great thing to know. It is now simply a case of making up our minds as to how we want the course to be played – there will be a lot of thought given to that over the next 14 months.
One of the other benefits of being in France was that it gave me the opportunity to meet first hand with the people from Loro Piana, the high-end clothing company who are official suppliers to myself and the European Team. I undertook a store visit in Paris and it reaffirmed once again that they are an unbelievable group of people and an amazing company to work with. I come from a world where I play golf and to move into a world where people live and breathe fashion and lifestyles is interesting and fun although it can be a bit daunting at times because you are so far out of your comfort zone. We still have a bit to go to get the team outfits where we want them but there are no major concerns and everything is moving along nicely. Seeing the company’s enthusiasm for this project also put a bit of perspective on how big The Ryder Cup will be in France and for France.
Taking a step up…..
I mentioned the European Tour’s new Rolex Series earlier and, having been at all four tournaments we have staged so far in 2017, I can say without question that each and every one of them has taken a step up. You walk through the door of a Rolex Series event and you immediately know you are at something different. From a playing perspective certainly, but also from a commercial and broadcasting perspective they are turning out well. You have to be careful about putting success stamps on things before you have taken everything into account and reviewed the entire year, but we are definitely on the right track. It is special to be a part of and my only regret is that I am not 20 again and this initiative had emerged at the start of my professional career! They are very good events played on excellent golf courses and in great environments which all adds to the overall package. From a Ryder Cup perspective, I also know they are going to play a huge part in the shaping of the team next year, there is no doubt about that.
Sharing the media spotlight….
Being in the media is part and parcel of the job of Ryder Cup captain, but I was not the only Bjørn to be in the media spotlight during the Irish Open a couple of weeks ago! I was delighted to have two of my children – Filippa and Oliver – with me in Portstewart and while Oliver took time to walk the course and enjoy the golf, Filippa was working in the media centre behind the desk with the European Tour’s media team. The guys told me she fitted in very well and I know she really enjoyed the week so thanks to everyone for making her so welcome and giving her the opportunity.
I think the Open is returning to one of the best venues on the rota this year. Royal Birkdale is a fantastic golf course and one where there isn’t really any place to hide. You have to play your best golf around there but if you do, it is very fair. It is also coming at a good time for European golf with Henrik Stenson going there as defending champion and Europeans having done well there in the past. Padraig Harrington has great memories there obviously, Ian Poulter has done well there too and Justin Rose can think back to making his golfing breakthrough there in 1998 as an amateur. It gives me genuine optimism that there will be Europeans in the mix come Sunday night and even though there will be another Open Championship before The 2018 Ryder Cup is played, I will be keeping a very close eye on this one. Even though our points haven’t started yet, you look at any player who can get the job done in a Major Championship differently. You learn so much more about players in those weeks than you do in a normal week on Tour. Those are the weeks where big players stand up to be counted and that is what you need in The Ryder Cup – big players.
Until next time…………