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‘I told Woosie to choose Westwood over Bjorn’


European Team Captain Ian Woosnam (R) chats with vice captain Des Smyth during the 2006 Ryder Cup at The K Club

European Team Captain Ian Woosnam (R) chats with vice captain Des Smyth during the 2006 Ryder Cup at The K Club

European Team Captain Ian Woosnam (R) chats with vice captain Des Smyth during the 2006 Ryder Cup at The K Club

INSIDE the team room at the Ryder Cup -- it's a unique situation. When you think about it, it's quite amazing. Multi-millionaire professional golfers who ply their trade as individuals week in, week out join together as a unified force to play in a totally unnatural environment that adds nothing to their bank balances.

They live their normal professional lives by the mantra: 'there's no team in I' -- unless they refer to their caddie, coach, manager, physical trainer, anyone in their back-room set-up helping them attain higher levels of golfing and financial success.

The guy -- or guys -- you would possibly cross the practice ground to avoid are in your face practically 24/7 for eight or nine hectic days.

And even more surprising perhaps, to outsiders anyway, is that world-class egos are parked outside the inner sanctum for that week. That's all part of the special allure of a Ryder Cup.

I was privileged to play in the first all-European team at The Greenbriar in 1979 and Walton Heath in 1981, and to serve as one of Ian Woosnam's vice-captains at The K Club in 2006.

I can honestly say I've never seen any argy-bargy or rows between team-mates at a Ryder Cup, although, in 1979, there was some upset in the camp with the behaviour of Ken Brown and Mark James.

Ken and Mark didn't conform to the rules as laid down by captain John Jacobs. It was disappointing, but it wasn't up to the players to take them to task. That was the captain's job, that's what he was there for.

Subsequently they went on to have fine careers, and Mark captained the 1999 Ryder Cup team but, in '79, it was all new to have a European team, and there was nothing like the support or back-up for the captain that there is now.

Mind you, there's one area where personality clashes are definitely avoided, and that is in matching up playing partners.

I played twice in the Ryder Cup, but had only one captain because John Jacobs did the job both times. On each occasion John came to me and said 'have you any issues?'

I told him there were two players I would prefer not to play with. I won't give names, and it wasn't personal. It was more a golfing personality clash.

I didn't like their attitude when they were on the golf course -- moaning, banging clubs, blaming the caddie, the wind, the spectators.

When I go out and play with people like that, I completely switch off. I ignore them totally. Happily, John took note of my wishes.

Probably the more likely area of rancour arises in the captain's picks when the team is announced.

In 2006 there were some strong contenders, as Woosie had decided that Darren Clarke, whose wife Heather died in August that year, would definitely be in the team once he made himself available.

Eventually it came down to a decision between Thomas Bjorn and Lee Westwood. Thomas had finished higher than Lee in the rankings.

I remember getting a number of calls from Ian where he said 'look, we're down to the wire on this. I'm going to ring you the day before the selection and I want you to tell me your player and why.'

I've never told anyone this, but I went for Lee and outlined my reasons to Woosie.

Ultimately it was his decision. I've no idea what anyone else said to him. I just gave an honest opinion. Thomas was very disappointed and publicly criticised Woosie, but the captain is there to make those decisions.

Another big call was Woosie's decision to play all the players on the first day at The K Club. Again, a lot of thought went into it, and before a decision, I was sent out twice to watch Paul McGinley in practice.

Paul had just made the team after a terrific effort. He wasn't the only player being watched, but happily I could report that Paul was playing fantastic in practice, and it was great strategy for everyone to get a game on the first day.

I was highly impressed with the way these guys -- who are big players, who have won Majors, money is no issue to these guys -- respected authority within the team.

Everyone pulled together. And it might surprise you to know that Colin Montgomerie was the player most in demand as a playing partner because the players knew he was so consistent and reliable.

I don't think he did himself justice sometimes with his histrionics when he was just playing for himself, but in the team situation Monty was a different guy.

In conversation with Liam Kelly

Irish Independent