Monday 26 June 2017

Friends and enmities key to Monty's band of brothers

Karl MacGinty

SERGIO GARCIA is unlikely ever to be invited to a Harrington family picnic.

Colin Montgomerie and Thomas Bjorn have made headlines internationally with a couple of their schoolyard squabbles.

Another of the European skipper's vice-captains at Celtic Manor this week, Darren Clarke, led the inquisition when the European Tour's all-powerful Tournament Committee looked into 'Jakarta-gate' in 2005, Monty's darkest hour on Tour.

The Ulsterman has never been slow to make his feelings plain about Montgomerie's faux pas during that year's Indonesia Open, when video showed Monty replacing his ball in a more advantageous position after an overnight weather delay.

And Monty has fired a couple of broadsides at Ian Poulter since they fell out at the 2005 Seve Trophy at The Wynyard, when captain Monty took Poulter to task for hitting drives on the range while Padraig Harrington was putting out in his match on the 18th green nearby.

Last year, he tore strips off Poulter in the media for not playing the Vivendi Trophy in Paris.

family

Doesn't it all make the European Ryder Cup team seem like any other close family?

When 12 of the world's most competitive and motivated individual athletes, guys who try (figuratively, one hopes) to beat each other's brains out for 51 weeks of the year, are put in a team room for seven days, sparks will fly.

The Americans are no different. Nature simply will not permit a firm friendship between Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson. "I'd never expect them to be friends," says team-mate Hunter Mahan, "because they are trying to be the best, and their personalities are just 180 degrees apart."

Harrington is far too diplomatic to discuss it, but his long-running feud with Garcia perhaps has roots in a bust-up with another Spaniard, Jose Maria Olazabal, at the 2003 Seve Trophy, when the latter took grave exception to being forced by the Dubliner to call in a referee to solve a dispute over pitch marks.

Can there be any other explanation for a subsequent confrontation between Harrington and Garcia at a PGA Tour event in Westchester, when Sergio was so adamant in his refusal to accept a ruling in the Irishman's favour, the referee had to offer to sign for Harrington's score at the hole.

Any angst on the part of the Spanish firebrand would have been intensified a thousand-fold when he lost by one stroke to Harrington in a play-off at the 2007 British Open in Carnoustie and took a pasting from him at the climax of the 2008 US PGA at Oakland Hills.

Yet even these two set aside any personal enmity when they played on the European team at Valhalla. Ryder Cup defeat on that occasion was rooted in Nick Faldo's ham-fisted captaincy and his failure to strike up a working relationship with senior players like Harrington and Lee Westwood.

Winning back the Ryder Cup is so crucial to the future well-being and security of the European Tour that personal differences have been set aside for Celtic Manor, if not completely forgotten.

Montgomerie's decision to appoint Bjorn and Clarke as vice-captains along with Paul McGinley and then Garcia, heavily underscores the inclusive nature of his captaincy and nothing will be allowed to disrupt unity within the European camp.

Asked how he'd been getting on with Monty this week, Poulter insisted: "I think the chemistry is great. We understand each other very well. I'm a passionate player and so is Colin, that's why we might have had the odd clash. But we understand each other. I respect him, he respects me, I think it's worked out great."

When it comes to team-building, the Europeans traditionally have had an advantage over their US colleagues.

While many PGA Tour members travel from event to event with family, with no great social interaction between players, the Europeans generally live cheek by jowl as they circumnavigate the globe; it has much of the intimacy of a travelling circus.

Perhaps the epitome of the well-travelled European Tour player is Graeme McDowell, who has developed a firm friendship not just with fellow Ulsterman Rory McIlroy but also Ross Fisher, Poulter, Miguel Angel Jimenez and Garcia, not to mention McGinley, his Vivendi Trophy captain last year.

For example, McDowell, Poulter, Fisher and Shane Lowry shared the golfing equivalent of a 'frat house' at the recent US PGA Championships in Whistling Straits.

Pulling a Ryder Cup team together is like completing an intricate mosaic. Monty will rely on his vice-captains to bond with players and ensure they always have easy access to management should any issues arise.

As Sam Torrance said: "Keeping your players happy may be the most important thing a captain does. Making sure they are happy with their rooms. Making sure they are happy with their golf. And making sure they are happy with their pairings."

outlet

For example, McIlroy might find it easier to approach his long-time mentor Clarke than Monty, while Garcia offers an easy outlet not just to his compatriot Jimenez but also his closest friend in golf, Luke Donald.

And so the web stretches throughout the team. Harrington is close to McGinley, Clarke, Westwood and, of course, Monty.

The Molinari brothers have each other, while Edoardo, the elder, has struck up a good friendship with Jimenez. Martin Kaymer and McIlroy get on well, as do Peter Hanson and Bjorn.

These are bonds which pull tight at the Ryder Cup and, prior to Valhalla, made Europe an almost irresistible force.

Irish Independent

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