Ryder Cup: Thomas Bjorn turns to the old guard
Philip Reid looks at Team Europe's four wildcard picks for Golf National
Europe’s Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn announces his ‘wild card’ picks at Sky Central, London. Photograph: John Walton/PA Wire
Did Thomas Bjorn miss a trick? Only time will tell, but Europe’s Ryder Cup captain took the conservative option in going for the old warhorses rather than injecting fresher energy into his team when naming Paul Casey, Sergio Garcia, Ian Poulter and Henrik Stenson as his four “wild card” picks to complete his 12-man line-up to face the United States at Golf National in Paris later this month.
No Rafa Cabrera-Bello.
No Thomas Pieters.
No Matt Wallace.
Rather than going for a mix and match, or adding some spice to old ingredients, Bjorn stuck with a generation of his peers: although Casey has been brought back in from the wilderness, and will play in the Ryder Cup for the first time in a decade, the selected quartet have played in a combined 20 contests. That’s a lot of experience to be sure, but Bjorn is also hoping that his faith in Stenson and Garcia especially will shrug off their season’s lethargy.
Garcia, in particular, has struggled with his game this season. He missed the cut in all four Majors and has slid down the world rankings, out of the top-10 at the start of the year to a current position of 30th. What Garcia brings to the party, however, is an unrivalled passion for the Ryder Cup, which, Bjorn will hope, may provide the missing spark to ignite his game.
“The one thing about Sergio is he’s the heartbeat of the team. I’ve always said that about him. It’s like a football team going without their captain. That’s what he is. He comes in the team room, and people that have experienced Sergio in the team room, and around the Ryder Cup team, realise how much he brings to it,” Bjorn said.
“Not only is he a fantastic golfer and goes out on the golf course and does what he does in Ryder Cups . . . but what he also brings is that he makes everyone around him better. He is just everything that that team room is.”
In relation to his reasoning in overlooking Garcia’s poor recent form, Bjorn added: “You need people that’s been there and done it all and through it all positively and negatively, and Sergio is, for me, the one person that I really feel like I can trust with everything that we do that’s Ryder Cup.”
Garcia – who has played in every Ryder Cup since 1999, with the exception of Celtic Manor in 2010 when he filled the role of one of Colin Montgomerie’s back room team – was appreciative, shall we say, of Bjorn’s pick. Nobody knows better than Garcia that he has struggled this season.
He talked of being “thankful” to his old friend for the nod. “I know that it probably wasn’t an easy decision. I mean, he knows what I bring to the team, not only game-wise but inside the team room. It’s been a tough year obviously.
“I’ve been working hard. I feel like my game is coming along . . . I’m trying to be as ready as I can be to help the European team win that cup back. That’s the goal and that’s what we want.”
So, the phone calls to Senor Cabrera-Bello, to Monsieur Pieters and to Mr Wallace – among others – were what Bjorn called the “hard” part of his task.
But he seemed happy with his lot, even if it was opting for experience and old pals. “If I had written down 12 names before I started my captaincy journey, it wouldn’t have been far away from this. We know what we are up against. We know what America brings, but I’m confident that this is the group of guys that can do the job,” said Bjorn.