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Monty Would Be Smart to Heed Azinger's Template

When Colin Montgomerie, the Europe captain, introduced Thomas Bjorn, Darren Clarke and Paul McGinley as his vice-captains for the forthcoming Ryder Cup, there was good humour in the air at Wentworth. With Darren Clarke around it is rarely any different. “If I am in charge of the keg of Guinness, that will be fine,” Clarke said, beaming and full of bonhomie.

Much was made later of the disagreements that had marked Montgomerie’s past relationships with Clarke and Bjorn. Clarke, for example, was critical of Montgomerie for his alleged cheating at a tournament in Indonesia a few years ago while Bjorn, who had railed against Ian Woosnam for not picking him for the 2006 match, accused Montgomerie “of behaving like a three-year-old” after being disturbed by him while competing in a tournament in Bangkok in 2004.

Children! Children! Should anyone be surprised that when 156 men roam the world playing against one another week in and week out with large prize money at stake, there are going to be instances such as Bjorn’s. The thing to do here is to applaud Clarke and Bjorn for putting Europe’s cause ahead of past rivalries. Helping Europe regain the Ryder Cup, and with it the money that is so important to the future of the European Tour, is really, really important. The subtext to all this is: The event’s the thing.

Nonetheless, the thought occurs: has Montgomerie missed a trick? Though three vice-captains are more than any team from this side of the Atlantic has ever had, (and the same number as Paul Azinger had in Kentucky in 2008), why not have four, one for each match on the first two days? It is possible to have too many vice-captains, though it has not happened yet. It is much more likely that a captain has too few, as Nick Faldo had two years ago.

One of the charges leveled at Faldo after Europe’s defeat was that he tried to do too much himself. “The SAS operate in small units,” Faldo said at the time. “They’re like a two-man army. That’s what I like.” He had only Jose Maria Olazabal to help him. Can you wonder that Faldo made a number of questionable decisions when he was trying to do so much himself? His public speeches were rambling and too filled with references to his family. He got embroiled in a silly spat with the European press about his pairings in practice. That said, no captain should have to endure a loss of form by three of his star players as Faldo did with Harrington, Garcia and Westwood. They delivered only 2 ½ points out of a possible 11, not the 5 or so he had every right to expect from them. Ian Poulter won four points.

At Valhalla and in the build-up to it, Paul Azinger taught future Ryder Cup teams several things it would be well to have observed. He taught how to whip up patriotism – rallies downtown and regular calls for the 13th man. He taught his men the importance of the acronym WIN – What’s Important Now. He was brilliant at making sure his players felt comfortable. “Paul has a great EQ – explanation quotient,” said Ron Braund, Azinger’s life coach who accompanied Azinger everywhere. “He believes that the “I win, you lose” approach is no good. Paul is an “I win, you win man.”

Most impressive of all was Azinger’s tactic of dividing the team into groups of players and putting one vice-captain in charge of each group, or pod as he called them. Each vice-captain had only one thing to do that week – keep his men happy and liase with his captain. “I didn’t see Antony Kim hit a practice shot until Thursday” Azinger said. “I relied on Ray Floyd.” It worked brilliantly and surely laid down a template for future captains – on both sides of the Atlantic.

Earlier this year I had two delightful, free-ranging conversations with Paul Goydos, the personable American who is one of Pavin’s four vice-captains in Wales in October. “You know what,” Goydos said suddenly in the midst of one of these conversations. “Corey should let me deal with the press. That’ll free him up for other things. If I screw up, which I almost certainly will, then it doesn’t matter. If Corey screws up, then that’s a different matter. It’ll become an issue in itself that he will have to spend time sorting out and that is time he has not got.”

You know what the most sought-after commodity is at a Ryder Cup? Time. If the modern Ryder Cup has taught us anything it is how much there is to do and how little time in which to do it. It is a 14-hour day for the first few days and even longer once competitive play starts.

Montgomerie will not have enough time in the hectic days starting on Monday 27 September when he arrives at Celtic Manor. For that matter, nor will Pavin. Will Montgomerie be able to make up for what looks at this point like an early error?


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