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Ryder Cup 2012: Davis Love III gets emotional on the eve of battle

26th September 2012

US captain betrays the mounting pressure while Europe’s José María Olazábal ponders his pairings for the opening foursomes

The Ryder Cup can do strange things to people, particularly the captains. Nick Faldo, in his speech at the 2006 opening ceremony, blithered on about his daughter’s fashion career. Two years ago Corey Pavin’s elaborate introductions omitted all mention of one his players, Stewart Cink. On both occasions subsequent events were to indicate that plots had already been lost.

Yesterday Davis Love III, a man seemingly imperturbable with a golf club in his hand, teared up – as they say in these parts – while answering a perfectly mundane question about Phil Mickelson’s role in the United States team.

Nor, as his eyes moistened, did he attempt to disguise it. By the end of the weekend this curious little outbreak of spontaneous emotion might be seen as the first sign of a fatal weakness. Or it could take its place in a victory narrative, alongside Ben Crenshaw’s seemingly bonkers pronouncement at Brookline in 1999, with a day to go and the United States confronting humiliation: “I have a good feeling about this.”

The captaincy of a Ryder Cup team is a post that requires its occupant to spend two years fretting about such matters as the design of the wallpaper in the team room and the outfits for the players’ partners. Meanwhile, up at the business end of the captain’s mind, the bit he used when he was a player himself, he is also calculating the most effective order for the Sunday singles showdown.

So how important is he, really? At the end of the day, Sergio García claimed , it is like a football match. “The players are the ones who win it or lose it. If we don’t perform, it doesn’t matter what our captain can do. He can’t hit any shots for us.”

Well, yes and no to that. Sergio has been around the Ryder Cup long enough – five previous editions as a player and last time out as one of Colin Montgomerie’s assistants – to recognise that a good captain sets the tone for the whole enterprise. And this is not a pearl of wisdom gleaned via hindsight: almost always you can see it happening as the weekend unfolds and the players of the winning team draw from a central reservoir of strength meticulously built up over the preceding months.

Each of the elements has its importance, as García acknowledged. “I think there’s no doubt that the captain has things to do, things that can make you feel better or more comfortable,” he said. What Sergio did not say was that the captain can also make his team feel worse and less comfortable, physically and mentally.

But there is no guaranteed winning formula for Love and his opposite number this year, José María Olazábal, to follow. Successful captains in this unique tournament come in all methodological shapes and sizes. Who knew, for example, that Ian Woosnam would turn out to be such an effective leader six years ago at the K Club?

This is Luke Donald’s fourth Ryder Cup and, as he observed after following Sergio into the press conference room, he has already played under three very different captains. “Bernhard Langer in 2004 was the most meticulous, detail-oriented of them,” he said. “Ian Woosnam was more laissez-faire: let things happen and let’s just go out and play. Monty was somewhere in between. And we won all three.”

Love, 48, and Olazábal, 46, belong to the same golfing generation. Love won one major, the USPGA in 1997, to Olazábal’s two Masters wins in 1994 and 1999. The home captain’s record in his six Ryder Cups as a player – won nine matches, lost 12, halved five – is not nearly as impressive as Olazábal’s 18-8-2, although the latter had the benefit of Seve Ballesteros as a partner. Nothing in these statistics, however, gives a clue to which of them will be accepting the trophy on Sunday evening.

Both are likely to make considerable use of their assistants. Olazábal has Thomas Bjorn, Darren Clarke, Miguel Angel Jiménez and Paul McGinley to deploy as his eyes and ears around the course. Love has his old friends Fred Couples, Jeff Sluman, Scott Verplank and Mike Hulbert, a lesser known 54-year-old whose pro career featured three Tour victories.

Hulbert and Love played together in the first round of the latter’s PGA Tour debut event in Atlanta in 1985 and they have remained close. So what is his contribution at Medinah? “When I say, ‘Hub, go stand by that elevator and make sure everybody has a white hat,’ he says, ‘OK, I’ll do it.’ If you tell him to go stand out there and wait by the gate for a black car to come, he’ll do it. You’ve got to have people around you that you trust.”

There is also Michael Jordan, who has no role in the team room but whose presence is probably calculated to put his friend Tiger Woods at ease in a tournament the former world No1 has seldom enjoyed.

Two years ago Olazábal himself played an unexpected part in Europe’s command structure. Montgomerie thought he had completed his recruitment when García, who had not qualified for the team, called up and asked for a non-playing role, joining Bjorn, Clarke and McGinley among the assistants. But then along came Olazábal, working for the tournament’s official coffee supplier.

“José María is here as an ambassador for Nespresso,” Montgomerie said during the tournament. “We felt that was a misuse of talent, expertise and experience. So we drafted him in.” His announcement got a laugh but his spur-of-the-moment idea paid off.

Of a hundred decisions, great and small, strategic or tactical, just one may eventually be deemed to have led to triumph or disaster. Micro-management was in evidence yesterday when Olazábal explained his attitude towards the players’ use of Twitter. “I’m not banning it,” he said. “What I’ve told them is that they have to be careful on what they say, how they say it and when they say it.”

At the somewhat grander end of the decision-making spectrum, he is still pondering on his pairings for Friday morning’s opening foursomes. He has already made his contribution to raising the emotional pitch of his team’s approach to this year’s Ryder Cup by placing the image of Ballesteros, for so long Europe’s figurehead, in full celebratory silhouette on the side of each player’s bag.

For Love and Olazábal, one such decision might be enough to tip the balance of the contest and secure a place in history. The loser will have a queue of people ready to identify his catalogue of errors. © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

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