Golf: What does it take to win the Ryder Cup?

Mark James with the Ryder Cup.
Mark James with the Ryder Cup.
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Former captain Mark James tells Grant Woodward what it takes to win the Ryder Cup.

MARK James knows what it’s like to feel the sting of Ryder Cup defeat. Fifteen years ago, the Ilkley man captained a European team which put itself on the brink of a stunning victory, only for an astonishing comeback from the US to grab the spoils in one of the planet’s most nailbiting sporting contests...

WHY’S THE RYDER CUP SO SPECIAL?

“Apart from being a massive team match, and we don’t play many of those in golf, it’s the history of it and the fact that anything can happen.

“The Ryder Cup is different to any of the tournaments you play. I’ve stood over putts where I couldn’t move my feet because I was so nervous. I played with someone – I’m not going to say who – and he couldn’t even speak. You see some terrible nerves out there, players struggling to balance balls on tee pegs.”

WHY HAVE EUROPE WON SO MANY OF THE RECENT CONTESTS?

“A lot if it is down to how well the team gels. Traditionally, the European players have had a better rapport with each other than the Americans. I think some of that is down to the fact that at European tour events they tend to stay in just one or two hotels, whereas in America they’re spread across several.

“Paul Azinger pulled a masterstroke in 2008 when he put his players into pods, making them reliant on each other and he got that rapport that the Europeans seem to have naturally.”

WHAT’S THE BIGGEST MISTAKE A CAPTAIN CAN MAKE?

“The only mistake a captain can make is if he doesn’t get on with the players. I’ve seen it happen the odd time in certain situations and if players are unhappy it’s a really big problem. As captain you have to make sure the players are in the right accommodation and have the right sort of team room where they can chill out and feel good.”

WILL THE US TEAM MISS TIGER WOODS?

“Obviously he’s got injury problems and he was playing badly, so I think Tom Watson would have passed him by when it came to handing out his wild cards even if he hadn’t ruled himself out. He didn’t play in 2008 when they won and his Ryder Cup record isn’t awesome so he might not be missed that much.”

WHAT’S THE SECRET TO WINNING?

“You need to have a bit of luck at the right time. If someone does what Ian Poulter did on Saturday afternoon at Medinah last time out then that’s massive. Basically he won the Ryder Cup single-handed, then followed it up by winning his singles match on the Sunday. It was a brilliant performance. If one or two players do that then it boosts the team and suddenly you have a chance where you perhaps didn’t before.”

HOW DO YOU DECIDE WHO SHOULD PLAY TOGETHER?

“Choosing your pairings for the foursomes and fourballs is about listening to the players. They will have an idea about who they want to play with. But I warned my team in 1999 that they needed to be flexible and willing to play with anybody.

“I had some established pairings like Westwood and Darren Clarke and the rest pretty much fell into place. Then you have people like Seve Ballesteros. He would play with anyone if it was for the good of the team.”

CAN EUROPE DO IT AGAIN?

“We’ve got four of the top five in the world rankings and everyone is playing well at the moment. We’ll be going in as favourites, that’s for sure.”

Mark James is an ambassador for Huddersfield-based clothing brand Glenbrae – www.glenbrae.com

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