Oh captain, my captain


Colin Montgomerie’s appointment as Ryder Cup captain for 2010 will be welcomed by the prospective European competitors, writers Hugh O’Connor.

One month ago, his name wasn’t in the ring. It was between José María Olazábal, Sandy Lyle, and Ian Woosnam, with the Spaniard as the bookies’ favourite. Suddenly, a word from Monty to the effect that he would do it, and that was it.

Colin Montgomerie was born to be a Ryder Cup captain. Ever since his Cup career began, he has been the ultimate team player. He’s unbeaten in singles, he’s a point behind Faldo in overall points, but most importantly, he’s the European talisman.

European teams are known for their cohesiveness, and their lack of hierarchies. In 2006, the US team entered the opening ceremony in order of world ranking – they might as well have flown home straightaway. Indeed, Azinger’s demolition of this individualistic mentality last September was the principal reason behind the USA’s resurgence.

However, if the Europeans were ever to look to one man as a leader in the team room, it would be Monty. His name is synonymous with Europe and the Ryder Cup, and his justifiable omission from the 2008 team has done nothing to change this.

The only question hanging over Monty as captain was when. When would he get it? He had consistently mentioned a desire to lead out the team in 2014, in his homeland, allowing him to concentrate on playing in the intervening two. However, once the offer came this year, he grabbed it with both hands.

Given the stance the selection committee is taking, it was the wise choice. After the Faldo disaster, the committee focussed on the reason least offensive to Faldo. He was 51, and “out of touch”. On being offered the Celtic Manor job, Monty did the maths, figured he’d be 51 in 2014, and didn’t want to risk it. He’ll be 47, and it’s a foregone conclusion that Olazábal will lead the men to the States in 2012, also aged 47.

“As a player, and a locker-room mentor, Montgomerie was born to be captain”

What of Sandy Lyle? He is the only one of the 1980s heroes to miss out on the role. Ken Brown has been among the most vocal in his disappointment with Lyle’s omission, claiming that we are missing a trick. Lyle was a successful Ryder Cup player in his time, and indeed member of the backroom staff at the K Club, but sentimentality has been the key club in the arguments in his favour.

He was a great player in the 80s, winning an Open and a Masters. However, unlike his fellows of that era, namely Langher, Faldo, and Ballesteros, his career as a contender ended prematurely, and he didn’t make it into the next decade. Despite being a similar age to Monty and Olazábal, he hasn’t been a significant name on the scene since 1989. Brown denounces the “out of touch” reasoning, saying all Sandy needs is a few invitations to tournaments.

This is a friend clutching at straws. Monty is still a dangerous competitor in the locker-room, a man you could be paired with coming down the stretch, a man still hunting for victories and, most importantly, a Ryder Cup teammate of many hoping to make the team.

The 2010 Ryder Cup team will be an interesting mix. One group will be Monty’s old teammates, men such as Harrington, Stenson, Karlsson, Westwood, and Garcia. He can trust Harrington and Westwood, both future captains themselves, to lead the players on the course. Then there is the more recent generation: McDowell, Rose, Poulter, Casey. As for the first-timers, there won’t be any surprises if Rory McIlroy, Alvaro Quiros, Martin Kaymer, and Ross Fisher are on that team.

This is a healthy combination of innocence and experience, calm and fire, 30-somethings and 20-somethings. It’s also a good group of people for Monty in particular to captain. He’ll have guys he’s played with in Ryder Cups gone by. He’ll have players whom he knows well from the Tour, if not from as many Cup campaigns.

Finally, he’ll have youngsters who have grown up watching Monty lead Europe to Ryder Cup victory. Olazábal will be a fantastic captain for similar reasons; he’s played with half of the team and inspired the rest.

The Ryder Cup captaincy is the highest honour in the game. In Colin Montgomerie, the Europeans have selected a man who will not be outdone in his commitment, work ethic, and shouldering of responsibility. No other player could be more motivated to bring back Samuel Ryder’s trophy. Monty knows the burden he is to carry, and relishes it. The captaincy ensures a place in the history books, whether for the right or wrong reasons. With Montgomerie, they won’t be the wrong ones.