Francesco Molinari capped off an amazing year for himself on a personal level by winning all five of his matches the Ryder Cup and securing the winning point. Was his performance one of the best you’ve ever seen?
It’s certainly up there. Francesco played like an Open champion – he was imperious off the tee, and his putting was superb.
Putting was the one element of Francesco’s game that used to let him down, but since he’s played more in the PGA Tour he’s developed a really strong putting stroke. He’s always had a solid tee-to-green game, but since moving to London and working with his coach Denis Pugh, he’s become an even more formidable opponent.
He’s usually quite a reserved character, as we saw at Carnoustie, but this time he was much more animated. The crowd lifted him, and he rose to the occasion. Playing with Tommy Fleetwood helped too because he was very exuberant when he holed putts and together, they really got the crowd going.
Molinari and Tommy Fleetwood were formidable together. Could you have expected their partnership would be so successful?
It’s not a huge surprise how well they played together because you could pair Tommy and Francesco with anybody. They’re great players who are both on a rich vein of form. They were a good match because they’re very straight hitters, which you need in foursome play. Both struck the ball so well and one supported the other.
Pairing them was a masterstroke by Thomas Bjorn. Both play on the PGA Tour and are apparently close friends off the golf course, which I didn’t know. Thomas has clearly done his homework and he obviously knows them well.
As a former Ryder Cup captain, you know about the importance of the picks. How much credit does Thomas Bjorn deserve for his pairings at Le Golf National?
The key thing is that Thomas didn’t panic. The Americans won the opening fourballs 3-1, but he stuck with his foursome combinations in the afternoon and didn’t make widescale changes.
He gave his team confidence and the result was a whitewash in the afternoon, which of course was the best foursomes session in the history of the Ryder Cup.
This highlights the importance of being a captain, which is to keep faith in your team. I felt this was the opposite of Jim Furyk’s approach.
It’s been reported that there have been fallouts between some of the USA players. What do you make of these fallouts and do you think Furyk has to take some responsibility for them?
When things started to go wrong, he chopped and changed and he sent out bad partnerships. It’s since come to light that Patrick Reed wanted to play with Jordan Spieth, but Jordan wanted to play with Justin Thomas.
I don’t think Jordan had anything against Patrick, I think he chose Justin because they’re close friends, but Patrick took it personally. He needs to look at himself and count to ten before he speaks sometimes.
Regarding the Patrick and Tiger Woods partnership, it didn’t look like Patrick wanted to play alongside Tiger, and Tiger’s body language was bad the whole week. He seemed out of sorts having won the Tour Championship. On paper, it should have been a good partnership.
Phil Mickelson was also off-form, and he should not have been playing the foursomes. The foursomes are very difficult and require hitting the ball straight off the tee, which he wasn’t doing.
The mood of Phil and Tiger seemed to permeate throughout the team, and Jim Furyk couldn’t lift the rest of the players.
During the foursomes, we saw Rory McIlroy turn to the crowd and shout “who can’t putt?” after holding a birdie. Did he prove his critics wrong with his putting?
I think that moment shows where Rory is with his putting. He himself will feel he’s not putting well, otherwise he wouldn’t have said that. It was a light-hearted moment, but I think he needs to take a different attitude.
Rory is a great player and a great driver of the ball. It’s an easy game when his driving is on form, because he’s always so far up the fairway. If he has a good day on the greens, he’s always going to do well.
However, he hasn’t had a great year in terms of putting stats and we saw that at Augusta, when he missed a short putt on the second hole during the last round. If he didn’t think there was anything in the heckling from the crowd, he wouldn’t have reacted like that.
The talk all week was about the USA’s 25-year winless streak on European soil. That’s now been extended to 29. Where do you think it went wrong for them and what do they need to do to finally win in Europe?
We’ve now reached a stage where both teams are setting up the courses to suit their players, which started at Valhalla in 2008. At Hazeltine last time out, Davis Love III put all the pins in the middle of the greens, cut all the rough back and widened the fairways, which played into the USA’s hands.
This year, we got our own back by bringing in the fairways and playing the Ryder Cup on a course that the players knew, and you saw how much the USA struggled as a result. In future, I think it’s going to be very difficult for away teams to win, whether it be Europe or the USA, because of the crowds and the course setup.
It’s a big change from when I was captain at The Belfry in 1993. I asked the European Tour director to set up the course as he would for a normal European Tour event. I didn’t want him to do anything differently, or to get the blame for setting up the course to help my players gain an advantage.
There was a very unfortunate incident in which a woman lost an eye after being struck by a shot from Brooks Koepka. What does this say about the dangers of the golf course?
The worrying thing is that this incident took place despite the fact the spectators were much further away from the fairway than you would normally get at a Major, such as The Open. When the players were hitting offline shots, they very seldom reached the spectators, which is where the good lies are.
Le Golf National is a stadium-type golf course with high mounds just off the fairways, so it’s a very good course for spectators. That’s what makes this unfortunate incident all the more surprising.
It’s difficult to assess how you protect spectators from offline shots – whether someone shouts ‘fore’ or not, you’re still going to be hit by a ball that’s travelling at around 200mph. I’m surprised there haven’t been more injuries in other amateur and professional championships.
Where Brooks Koepka took the shot from was a driveable par-4, and I think in future when players are hitting big shots on a par-4, they’re going to be offline a lot more. It’s not like a normal par-3 when you hit an iron shot.
Do you think more can be done to ensure spectator safety and what measures do you think could be taken?
There’s definitely more to come from this. Judging from the case in Scotland, when James Gordon’s shot struck Anthony Phee resulting in a £397K legal battle, there will be some serious repercussions for the player and the organisers.
That incident was at amateur level, but this is at a much higher scale. Ultimately, the loser is golf. One of the big worries is that, if you took your children to the golf course, something like this could happen to them. It could get to a point where children have to wear protective headgear such as a helmet.
We also saw some booing and loutish behaviour from fans. How much do you think this affected the players and did it risk spoiling the Ryder Cup?
I think if we can survive Kiawah Island in 1991, we can survive anything. I didn’t see anything this year that came close to that.
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