Trick of making the abnormal seem normal
Providing an insight into how he intends to combat the USA’s hometown advantage, Olazabal said: “The Americans have the flag, (they’re) very proud of the country they live in. Their flag means a lot to them. They are very intense when they have to defend their country or their image. And, in that regard, the Ryder Cup makes them fight really hard for it and they are very proud of that.
“We cannot access patriotism as a motivational tool to the same extent. That’s one card we don’t have. On the other hand, I think we can compensate with the desire to be as good as them and by emphasising the positive role diversity plays in the make-up of our team.”
What we do know from recent Ryder Cups is that the decisions of captains can be key to victory, or defeat. Lee Westwood made a salient observation in defence of Faldo’s captaincy in remarking, “we hold the golf clubs and we hit the shots, not the captain.”
True, but not entirely right.
After all, it was Hal Sutton who decided – against everyone’s better judgment – to pair Tiger Woods with Phil Mickelson, with disastrous consequences, at Oakland Hills in Detroit in 2004. It was James, with equally disastrous consequences, who decided to leave players as spectators for two full days before throwing them to the wolves. It was Paul Azinger who basically out-smarted Faldo in Valhalla and developed the pod system of playing groups of four players in foursomes and fourballs during practice with each one aware they could be paired with anyone from those groups.
Azinger’s clever ploy showed that, even after all these years, it was possible to think outside the box. Yet, as it transpired, Woosnam had made an even braver call ahead of the match at the K Club in 2006 when picking Darren Clarke – in Medinah next week as one of Olazabal’s vice-captains – as a “wild card” just six weeks after the death of the player’s first wife, Heather.
Of that decision, Woosnam would recall: “I never had any doubts. He is a born fighter and once he told me he was ready, that was good enough for me. And once I had picked Darren, Lee (Westwood) was a definite to partner him. Lee is his mate and was the perfect person to be around Darren under the circumstances . . . the way it turned out, it was Darren’s ultimate tribute to Heather.”
Another influence which home captains have in advance of matches is in how the course is set up. Torrance, for example was conscious of setting up the course at The Belfry in 2002 to suit his men.
“We lengthened the rough around the greens midway through the week, also changed a couple of tee positions to bring bunkers into play for real big-hitters such as Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson. The speed of the greens is also vital. The Americans are used to playing on faster greens, while in Europe they tend to be a bit slower. Making home advantage work is important.”
If Torrance – or Woosie for that matter – didn’t hesitate about using home town advantage, it would seem that Love is more reluctant to influence course set-up at Medinah.
“You don’t have to tailor Medinah, you know what you’ve got,” said Love at the time of naming his four wild-card picks. “It is a big ballpark and it is perfect for us. I love our whole team on that golf course because we have a great driving team. It’s a big, long golf course that’s going to have fast greens and it’s going to look like a Major championship. I think a lot of guys on our team are really used to that kind of golf.”
Olazabal, though, could argue the same thing. His players are no slouches when it comes to driving the ball long.
In providing his own insight into how he will prepare his team, Love recalled sitting down with Bob Rotella and fellow tour player Tom Kite in 1986 for what was his first ever session with a psychologist. The basic instruction hasn’t changed.