Thomas Bjorn will not strike a ball in anger at Le Golf National next week but he will be regarded either as a mastermind or failure depending on whether or not Europe regain the Ryder Cup. The 47-year-old Dane knows that too, but if anyone is equipped to deal with the many imponderables he will wrestle with over the weekend, it is him.
Europe captain Bjorn will not have any trouble commanding the absolute respect of his players having been part of triumphant Ryder Cup teams in 1997, 2002 and 2014 and being a three-time vice-captain.
But for a greenside bunker on the 16th at Royal St George’s in 2003 he would also be a major champion too. Until last year he was also the long-standing chairman of the European Tour’s influential tournament committee — a job involving dealing with the myriad gripes of pampered Tour pros.
In short, Bjorn is a man who gets things done. The volatile temperament that once earned him the nickname “Semtex” has mellowed with age, marriage and fatherhood, but Bjorn remains a tough cookie who will not allow the egos of his players to divert him from the task in hand.
“He’s used to dealing with players from his years as chairman. He’ll have no problem managing different personalities in the team room,” 2014 captain Paul McGinley said. “He’s very strong willed and will do things his way.”
That was demonstrated when he announced his four “captain’s picks” with struggling Spaniard Sergio Garcia given a place instead of highly-tipped Rafa Cabrera Bello — Garcia becoming the first man selected for a Ryder Cup having missed the cut at all four of the year’s majors.
Swede Henrik Stenson, who has struggled with injury this season, was also picked by Bjorn while calls to select a French vice-captain, perhaps Jean Van de Velde or Thomas Levet, to spike home interest also fell on deaf ears.
Bjorn’s trusted lieutenants will be Luke Donald, Padraig Harrington, Graeme McDowell, Lee Westwood and Robert Karlsson. “I’ve been thinking about what’s right for me and the team. A good captain will surround himself with people that he gets good advice from. But I make the decisions,” 15-times European Tour winner Bjorn said when naming his vice-captains in May. While Bjorn describes his first-timers — English duo Tommy Fleetwood and Tyrrell Hatton, Swede Alex Noren, Spaniard Jon Rahm and fellow Dane Thorbjorn Olesen — as “five great rookies” he knows he needs battle-hardened warriors to triumph.
That is why he had no hesitation selecting Garcia, a man he describes as the “heartbeat” of the team, “Mr Ryder Cup” Ian Poulter, Stenson and Paul Casey. “I had written down 12 names before I started my captaincy journey, it wouldn’t have been far away from this,” Bjorn said. “I’m very delighted with this team and I’m very proud to be captain for these 12 players.”
Blending the old guard with the new will be Bjorn’s biggest challenge — with his pairings over the first two days crucial if Europe are to take a lead going into Sunday’s singles when the Americans could be at their most dangerous.
As so often proved by Europe in the past, triumphant Ryder Cup teams can often be greater than the sum of their parts. With his US counterpart Jim Furyk able to call on a rejuvenated Tiger Woods, one of nine major winners in his side compared to Europe’s five, Bjorn will hope that rings true again.
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