It was truly a surprise…the phone call. As I was walking a corn field in South Dakota with a few of the bravest souls I have ever known, seeking to flush a pheasant or two, it rang. I was on the right flank of these Wounded Warriors as I took the call and kept walking trying to corral the roosters we had seen as we had unloaded from our bus. The caller was Ted Bishop who told me he was the upcoming president of the PGA of America….as opposed to the PGA Tour…the association of golf professionals who teach us to play as well as run the golf shops all around America….and that he wanted to talk to me about the Ryder Cup. Little did Ted know, I had been waiting for this call for almost two decades.
In 1992, I was approached by this same association (The PGA of America) and gratefully accepted their invitation to Captain the 1993 U.S. Ryder Cup Team. That year we were very fortunate to eke out a narrow but extremely emotional win in England at The Belfry thanks to some real heroics of our players and a good break at the end of the singles matches on the final day. That winning feeling was tremendous…the feeling of pure joy for the players who made it happen…for their families and friends…and for the rest of America. As Captain I had little to do with the victory, but so much enjoyed being “inside the curtain” with the players during the entire process and watching them pull out the win, coming from behind. I couldn’t have been prouder of them if they all were my own brothers. From that Sunday in the fall of 1993 until that day in November of 2011 in a South Dakota pheasant field, I had wanted to again have the chance to experience that exuberance and joy again.
As I told Ted I would call him back, that I had some business to attend to, I knew this was THE call.
Fast forward to this past week in New York. The secret of my being Captain had already flown the coop as golf journalist Tim Rosaforte broke the story…once again..that I would be named the 2014 Ryder Cup Captain. This was on Tuesday and we had planned the formal announcement on the Today Show with Matt Lauer early Thursday morning. After Matt’s short interview it was on to a press conference on the 80th floor of the Empire State Building, which in the honor of the 2014 Ryder Cup Matches’, lit up their iconic building that night in red, white, and blue….which we observed as we walked to and from the Knicks/Lakers game at Madison Square Garden….what a treat!
The press conference gave me the opportunity to thank the PGA of America as well as speaking to the many issues associated with being Captain and especially to the main issue of our Team’s decline in performance vs. the Europeans. We certainly have had our clocks handed to us a few times as well as close losses in recent matches ….like this year’s tremendous European comeback to victory. I was asked what I might be able to do to effect a change in our team’s fortunes and I thought about the simplest answer which made the most sense to me as a former Ryder Cup player and Captain….play better!
I also mentioned somewhat of an overlooked benefit which I believe gives the European team a real home field advantage. The fact is that they play the Ryder Cup matches on courses where they play in yearly European PGA Tour tournaments. This means that their Ryder Cup players have played the golf course many more times than we have and in varying wind and weather conditions. It will be the same in 2014 where the Gleneagles PGA Centenary Course in Perthshire, Scotland yearly hosts the Johnny Walker Championship. When a golfer plays a course many times he gets to know it like the back of his hand….that…is an advantage that our Team in 2014 can overcome by “playing better”…again, it’s as simple as that.
I am sincerely grateful to the PGA of America for tapping me on the shoulder once again to be Captain of the U.S. Ryder Cup Team. I am humbled and honored. I promise I will do everything in my power to help set the stage so that our players can win and live that same exact wonderful feeling I experienced in 1993 as Captain and in the three victorious Ryder Cup Teams on which I played. There is no better feeling in golf…winning for your teammates, and most of all, your country.