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It’s been a long time coming but finally Britain’s most successful golfer ever has the chance to lead Europe to victory in golf’s biggest theatre – The Ryder Cup.
So how does the great man feel? TG spoke exclusively to him to find out how things are shaping up….
What do you admire most about Paul Azinger?
Not a lot (sniggers). I think the thing he has is the passion for the Ryder Cup. He is a fierce competitor. And we have reached an agreement where we want to
create a really memorable experience. There will be some fun and games along the way but we both want it to be well fought and that all the finest qualities of
golf will be upheld.
So when he calls you a prick (which Azinger did in a recent interview)…
Well, I know Zinger and I know what he’s like. We spent two years together at ABC and got on so well. What he actually did say was: I’m pro Nick. And somehow it
just came out wrong (sniggers again).
How long did it take for you to think that one up?
It just came to me now. I am a live analyst. It just comes to me on the spur of the moment.
Pick any player from history to be on your team.
Oh wow, Seve had so much passion. My goodness. He was wonderful in the team room. In his day, matchplay was his thing. He was probably born in the wrong
era. If he had been back in the days when the US PGA was matchplay…He has got to be one of the greatest matchplayers. You know, because anything can
happen. He never gave up and, more importantly, he made things happen. Very few players can do that.
Isn’t it boring now that USA keep getting beaten?
Don’t forget the history. We went through 40 years of being beaten. And we’ve now fortunately been on the good end for 23 years now winning consistently
more than them.
Seve says it would be best for the Ryder Cup if USA wins this year.
I have got 12 guys who I am sure would disagree with that. I don’t think the guys are worried about ratings. All they want to see is Europe engraved on the
What did it feel like playing on losing teams?
Oh crumbs. At that time, we were playing in a losing era and it was a forgone conclusion. We had 77, 79, and 81 was Walton Heath which was probably the
greatest American team ever with 11 guys who had won majors (check). So we were always going to lose that one. It was just a matter of what we were going to
lose by. You played more as an individual. You kinda knew the team was going to lose. You just did the best you could as an individual. And I obviously did well.
Talk about the hype…
The Ryder Cup is an incredibly powerful thing. Everybody wants to talk about it. Everybody wants to make the team. It’s the No.1 goal of so many players on both
sides of the Atlantic. Crumbs, it’s pretty unique. Outside of the Olympics. You are playing a team game and the most valuable thing is one point. And there’s the
history and the razzamattaz.
What’s toughest: the pressure in Majors or the Ryder Cup?
It’s the pressure in the Ryder Cup because you are playing for somebody else. You don’t want to let anybody down. If you have a bad major, you kick the bag,
and you mess up yourself. The pressure in the Ryder Cup is massive.
Tell us about your first Ryder Cup.
The first day. I had never played before where my stomach churned all day. It was just, wham, playing with adrenaline. Playing with butterflies in my stomach.
Either that or my landlady had forgotten to wash the lettuce.
And have you prepared your Opening ceremony speech?
It’s already written. Officially started thinking about it at in March. Unofficially, we used to sit at the dinner table and come up with some great ideas of things to
A lot has been said about Monty. Will he get a pick?
I haven’t given up that he isn’t going to make it. With all that ability and character. I assume he wants to be there. He’ll find a way to make that happen.
What are your strengths as captain?
At least I have walked the walked and got the T-shirt. And I can prepare the guys how I feel you need to prepare. And obviously they have some experience of
those situations. I have some strong views on certain areas that I think are going to be important for the players.
Do Captains make a difference?
I’m gonna offer to the guys how I prepared for majors and Ryder Cups in the past and all the experiences I have. It’s then down to each individual how much they
draw from that. You’ve gotta believe you will do your bit to create a good atmosphere and prepare the guys. Crumbs, I’ve got 35 years’ experience as a pro and
20 years’ experience of majors and as a Ryder Cupper. You’ve gotta believe that if they need something right there and then, I can have a really good stab at it
and help them.
You’ve been influenced by lots of captains. What will be your style?
I’m keeping all the good ideas under my hat, obviously, in case Zinger hasn’t thought of them. I had three main guys: Tony (Jacklin) was very inspirational, then
Bernard (Gallacher), who was the diplomat, and then there was Seve (Ballesteros), who was the passion. So you take a little bit of those and mix them together.
I’m gonna be me but I will draw on those. You know, Tony was the first captain to actually sit there and say: Look, where are we going to win today? That was a
great feeling. Everybody was going hmm, yeah, I reckon it’s going to be here or there. I reckon we’re gonna win it around players 7, 8, or 9. That was a great
time to be thinking that way. That never happened in the past.
Q. As someone who watches the U.S. players obviously when you’re working on TV, what do you think of all the rookies, either who gained through points or that Paul named on the team?
CAPTAIN NICK FALDO: I think Paul’s whole team is very talented, a very skilful team. That’s really it.
I mean, obviously I’ve watched them play, but this is now a different event, as we all know. You qualify to make the Ryder Cup Team, and then we switch to match play; we switch the whole team. It’s a very special, different animal. Q. You sent the guys out in threes today. Can you explain the thinking behind that?
CAPTAIN NICK FALDO: I thought we’d play in threes on Friday (laughter).
No, today was day one as a practice day. Just get out there and play, get themselves acclimatized. And I’ve always personally found four, when you’re doing a lot of chipping or putting around the green, four is a crowd; there’s always balls going everywhere. The guys are happy with that. We decided collectively that, yeah, let’s go and have a look at the golf course, get the feel of things.
As I said, they can chip and putt and test the sand, so they’re more than happy doing that. Q. Two questions: A, what do you see as Sergio’s greatest asset to this team; and secondly, what do you see about him during the Ryder Cup that’s different than the other 103 weeks?
CAPTAIN NICK FALDO: Well, as we’ve seen, Sergio has really changed this year. I mean, he’s matured at the speed of light. I mean, I thought for me the moment came this year when he three-putted the 17th hole, day three of THE PLAYERS from like ten feet. You can imagine the old Sergio, either he wouldn’t have made it to the 18th tee in one piece or his clubs.
But the way he now can deal with things, he has so much more patience, and he’s obviously — I believe that he’s recognized, wow, if I stayed — the way he’s playing, the more patient he stays, the better his performance is. And we’ve seen it. He’s a different guy, isn’t he. Q. Even if he lacked patience before, when he came to this week, he was virtually unbeatable.
CAPTAIN NICK FALDO: Well, this week passion really came into it. He brings a lot of passion to this team. It gives you the same — when you see Sergio, you see Seve. They love this event. Obviously match play, again, is different, isn’t it, to play, and he gets fired up. He’s fired up on the golf course; he’s great off the golf course; so he is a key member to the team. Q. Even before the photo shoot, you got all the players together on the first tee. What was the thinking of that and what was the message?
CAPTAIN NICK FALDO: Yeah, that was my thought. Familiarity, really. As we’ve said, or talked about, the Friday morning is different. Once again, it’s another different emotion. So I thought — it was great. It was a good moment. It was great that Sergio joined in; Lee Westwood joined in; we talked and we had a chat. Padraig, as well. Everybody shared a few little thoughts.
It went a lot further than I expected. It was my idea to go down. I said, well, for me, I enjoyed that, to see it. If you can see what you’ve got to do — I was very big on visualization, so you could then take that straight to the range. You can visualize that first tee shot, and off you go.
But the guys are very — I’m delighted the guys took it more than two steps further. We really had a good little chat for whatever we were there for, five, ten minutes, and that was really productive. The team are really tight together; it’s great. Q. It’s a learning process for you, as well. What are your experiences like from this? What are you getting out of this so far?
CAPTAIN NICK FALDO: Well, I’m loving it. That’s really obvious. I love being big mother hen to this lot. It’s really great. They’re a special bunch. Even the wives are joining in. We had a questionnaire on the plane. The girls even came up with that. So everybody is into it. It’s really great.
As Europe has always proved, the team spirit is instantly there. Yeah, for me there’s a lot of — yeah, I’m learning there’s a lot going on. We have to juggle so many things of how I even play the guys tomorrow, because I’ve got to fit in with three to go to one press conference, three go to another one and all sorts.
So it’s a constant juggling act. And I get thoughts at three o’clock in the morning, and I’m like, oh, great, here we go.
But I’m loving it. I’m just going to be on h-y-p-e-r drive until I collapse. Q. Quick follow-up on Paddy Harrington and his form. Has his form surprised you in recent weeks, the back-to-back majors?
CAPTAIN NICK FALDO: I think, fair to say, surprised a lot, a lot of people. Yes and no. Probably leaning more towards the no.
I mean, after winning the Open Championship at Carnoustie, how he then got into position at Birkdale; you kind of sensed that he’s really been able to use his experience. It’s been a quick introduction to experience of winning a major. Really, to be fair, he’d been close; close at Winged Foot, that sort of thing.
But he’s really grasped what it is and how to control his own adrenaline flow because obviously you can see how he changes, and obviously he’s thriving on producing that feeling.
So what he did at Birkdale was — I thought was quite obvious once he got in position. But then to go to the PGA and continue, and obviously he recognized, as well, if I’m in there and I’m in the right frame of mind, which he obviously is, who’s going to beat me. He’s right now the man to beat. You know, what he did for that month was really historic, wasn’t it. Q. There’s probably very little you don’t know about the Ryder Cup, having appeared in 11 as a player. I just wonder what has been your biggest challenge so far as captain, and has anything in particular surprised you in your role?
CAPTAIN NICK FALDO: I don’t know. The first challenge is when I spoke to all the players last week, and I said, right, who are you going to be comfortable playing with, and then I marked all the initials down. And it was like a Rubik’s Cube when I looked at it. If he plays with him, that cancels out him. I just went like that, after that. I’m enjoying the challenge of all these different things. I don’t know what surprised me, I’m just taking it all on board as we go, really simple as that. Q. Three guys could easily stand up as the team leader: You, being the captain; you could have a team leader, Westwood with the most Ryder Cups, Harrington with the majors, Sergio with the Ryder Cup history. Who is that guy that the players seem to be rallying around as a team leader? And I have one other question about Oliver Wilson, and I’ll just follow up with that, but first that question.
CAPTAIN NICK FALDO: Yeah, the good thing is, you’re right. To be honest is they’re pretty equal. They’re both chipping in. Last night at our meeting, Sergio chipped in first with a few of his thoughts. Today down on the tee, Lee chipped in first; and Padraig, and I’ve had a really good chats with Padraig last night, and then today on the cart.
So yeah, if I sleep in, I’m laughing. Somebody else can take over quite happily (smiling). Q. Oliver Wilson, not many people know much about him that don’t follow the game as closely. Never winning and making this team, have you had a conversation with him? Obviously he earned his place on this team, but what have you told him to make he feel like he genuinely belongs, and is there any sense that he is tentative about his position on this team?
CAPTAIN NICK FALDO: Not at all. I think he’s a fine player. I mean, with his record, to make the team, the guys had to play really hard the last month or so to consolidate their position. He is a very competent player, and as you said, some people might not have heard of him, but I’m pretty sure that they will do by Sunday night. He has a role, he has a style of golf which I think will fit in this week. Q. What’s his role? What will his role be?
CAPTAIN NICK FALDO: What his role will be? Well, that all depends where he goes into fourball or foursomes. That’s really what the next — definitely tomorrow we will be looking at. But as I said, we’re going to try a few different formulas over the next couple of days and see which one they’re more than comfortable with and who they want to be with, whether they need a wing man, that sort of thing. But he’s more comfortable and confident with his abilities out there. . Q. The Europeans always thrived on team spirit and unity, and people are wondering because you’ve got such a dominant personality yourself, whether you’ll be able to avoid doing anything to damage that sense of team unity and experience. Are you confident you can detach your own ego from managing the team over the next few days?
CAPTAIN NICK FALDO: I am, very confident. I am very confident I won’t damage the team. I’m very confident I won’t damage the team. I think the way I’ve been talking right now, I’m showing that there isn’t — the way the team is formulating with these guys, I’ve got a dozen characters in there, and obviously we haven’t even touched on Jiménez or Poulter. I’m the quiet one in the team room right now. Q. What do you think about the Swedish players, Robert Karlsson and Henrik Stenson, and what are the chances that they will play together?
CAPTAIN NICK FALDO: Well, delighted. Robert wins last week, and both great guys, lovely guys. I get on very well with them.
The chances of them playing together, it’s obviously top secret. We shall see. It all depends — well, we shall see. But I’m delighted I’ve got two guys of that character and that stature on my team. Q. The opening set of pairings have often been decided by however boys play and gel in these days of practice. With only two of you to sort of monitor them, are you having to rely on the boys to be more honest and put their hands up than perhaps any previous captain?
CAPTAIN NICK FALDO: I don’t think so, no. I’m enjoying — I’ve been touring the golf course this morning with everybody, and we’ve got preconceived ideas for pairings, and everybody is very happy with that. You know, I’m taking it all in. Q. A lot is made here in Kentucky about J.B. Holmes and Kenny Perry playing right here in their home state. Would you see that as a really huge advantage if you had two fellows in that situation? And what do you think of their games?
CAPTAIN NICK FALDO: Well, most of your states are bigger than our countries. Most of your states are bigger than the whole of Europe, actually. Texas, I guess.
No, I don’t see — that may be an obvious pairing for Paul to go for, but we shall see. Q. You were enormously successful as a player in Ryder Cup play. What does it take? Is there a unique mindset to be successful in this versus individual play?
CAPTAIN NICK FALDO: There sure is. I think, you know, big heart, strong in mind and strong in battle.
KELLY ELBIN: European Ryder Cup Captain Nick Faldo, thanks very much.