Europe captain Bjorn: Garcia is in a ‘good place’
A controversial ‘wild card’ pick, the Spaniard's form has been less than inspiring
Europe captain Thomas Bjorn during a press conference in Paris ahead of the Ryder Cup at Le Golf National. Photograph: Stuart Franklin/Getty Images
Who’d have thought it? Ever? Thomas Bjorn, psychologist...or, at the very least, motivator. But as all captains have learned when stepping into the role as a leader of men, one important part of being a Ryder Cup captain is to ensure that their players are in the right frame of mind.
And ever since the qualifying process came to its conclusion, followed by that requirement to select his four “wild card” picks, the Dane has fulfilled that obligation to be a talker and a listener and to get one man especially – Sergio Garcia – on the right track.
A somewhat controversial pick from Bjorn, Garcia’s travails on the golf course this summer were less than inspiring. He showed his desire to make the European team by adding the French Open to his schedule back in July – which brought a top 10 finish and an awareness that his shot-making was indeed suited to the Le Golf National course – but what happened after that was a run of poor form with more missed cuts than those made.
Let’s retrace the steps of Garcia’s summer tour stops since he played the French Open: British Open (missed cut), Canadian Open (missed cut), Bridgestone Invitational (tied-39th), US PGA (missed cut), Wyndham Championship (tied-24th)...and, finally, that chink of light at the end of the dark tunnel at the Portugal Masters (tied-7th).
For Bjorn to get Garcia ticking again, he needed to get inside his head. As he explained: “Sergio is the type of guy that needs that little [confidence] boost of things going his way. I think the conversations I had with him leading into picking him and I’ve had after makes him feel like he’s in a good place and his golf is moving in the right direction. I know the values of him as a person, and now he wants to get out on the golf course and show what he’s capable of.
“We all know that Sergio at his best, he’s one of the best golfers in the world. He’s in a good place. He’s got a big smile on his face, happy, and he just can’t wait to get out there, and like all of them on this team, they are really buzzing about this Ryder Cup coming up and they want to get out and play golf.
“He’s no more than any of the other 11, but he’s also very much a big part of what we do. I’m delighted with the conversations I’ve had with him. They have been positive and they have been great, and he knows what he’s doing and he’s in a good place.”
So, that four-week break from the sport, and a return that gave him a top 10 finish in Portugal would indicate that Bjorn’s gentle words of inspiring confidence have had some effect.
“I was pleased for Sergio. He wanted to get out there and shoot some good numbers and feel good about himself on the golf course. I know what Sergio stands for, and I know what he brings to this team. He came in here in good spirits and with a big smile on his face, and that’s what he will send on to his teammates.”
But, as Bjorn knows, the Ryder Cup is different from a regular tour stop on the European circuit. “It’s a completely different beast,” he acknowledged, hoping perhaps that it will stir Garcia into his old self.
The Spaniard was, of course, among the 12 players under Bjorn’s control who joined up at the team hotel on Monday. Ian Poulter was one of the first out onto the range and onto the course on the first day of practice, the Englishman having arrived on Sunday.
Hit a few balls
“He looks forward to this. We all know Ian’s history and feelings about the Ryder Cup. He came in [on Sunday] and he was ready to go and he just felt like he wanted to get out,” said Bjorn.
“Those guys that come in early, they just want to familiarise themselves with everything and once they are here, they can’t wait to get on the turf on the driving range and hit a few balls. He felt like he wanted to get up and just hit a few. He’s that type of guy.
“He’s certainly ready to go. It was nice to see him taking it on and feeling like that was something he wanted to do, but he’s excited like they all are when they get in, and you have a little bit more time than everybody else, so he got in a bit early. That’s natural.”
By contrast, those who had played in the Tour Championship were given leave to get extra rest at the team hotel. All part of the minding, all part of the game for Bjorn.