Former Ryder Cup captains share their playbooks

Former Ryder Cup captains share their playbooks

Jacklin helped reinvigorate the once-hapless Europeans.
Tony Tomsil/SI

European captain
Mark James
faced a trying decision
days before the
1999 Ryder Cup.
“Robert Karlsson
or Andrew Coltart?” James recalls
of his final captain’s pick. “I went
for Coltart but only after days of
torment.” Soon after, James checked
himself into a hospital, his arms
covered in blisters. “It was shingles,”
he says, “brought on by stress.” And
so it goes in the gut-grinding, nerveshredding,
shingles-inducing world
of a Ryder Cup captain, a job that
requires equal parts steel, strategy
and serenity. Think the responsibility
is overrated? “You’re smoking
something,” says Dave Stockton,
who captained the U.S. to a onepoint
victory in 1991. “An individual
can’t win the thing,” he says. “The
nearest thing to it is the captain.”
But don’t sweat it, Zinger. Here,
from eight captains.with eight wins
among every tip, tactic, do
and don’t you need to win a Ryder
Cup without losing your mind. (Tip
#1: Don’t share this with Faldo.)

The Contributing Captains:
• Tony Jacklin, 1983 (lost), ’85
(won) ’87 (won), ’89 (halved)
• Seve Ballesteros, 1997 (won)
• Mark James, Europe, 1999 (lost)
• Bernhard Langer, 2004 (won)

• Billy Casper, 1979 (won)
• Dave Stockton, 1991 (won)
• Tom Watson, 1993 (won)
• Ben Crenshaw, 1999 (won)

Don’t over-strategize
CRENSHAW: “My counterpart in ’99,
Mark James, said, ‘Look — you give them
a candy bar and a sandwich and you tell
them to play well.’ You don’t want to tell
them too much. Don’t overboil it.”

Play your rookies early
JAMES: “It was a big risk not to play my
three rookies (Jarmo Sandelin, Jean Van
de Velde and Andrew Coltart) before
the Sunday singles, [especially because]
the crowd was turning hostile and those
who had already experienced the
atmosphere were better equiped to cope
with it. We had a four-point lead going
into Sunday, but the three untried
rookies were paired against three of the
strongest U.S. players (Phil Mickelson,
Davis Love III and Tiger Woods). That’s
the one decision I still think about.”

Be prepared to improvise
WATSON: “Before I became captain,
I talked with Roy Williams [then the
basketball coach at the University of
Kansas]. I told him I had never coached a
team before. I’m an individual player,
now I’m supposed to be here coaching a
team. And he said: ‘This is what I do. I
prepare them as best I can. I get the
match-ups correct. I have a strategy on
offense and defense. Then five minutes
into the game, I throw that out and coach
by the seat of my pants.’ And that’s what
you have to do, and that’s what I did.”

Don’t be a dictator
LANGER: “You can lead with love or fear.
I would much rather lead with love. Put
yourself in their shoes and find out what
they like and don’t like.”

Don’t be afraid to bench your stars
BALLESTEROS: “Somebody always has
to be left out. Ian Woosnam has always
been a great champion and one of the best
players I have seen over the years. But in
that particular week he wasn’t in his best
form, and I thought it was not a good idea
to put him in some of the matches. I
understand that he was not comfortable
with my decisions but as captain I had to
put the best players out for the matches.”

Remind them what the Cup is about
CASPER: “I told Azinger to instill in
the players the vision of the Ryder Cup.
He needs to play some of the old
matches and the [comments] and
feelings of the players, what they
thought of the Ryder Cup. These guys
today don’t have the vision of what the

Don’t stand for showboating
JACKLIN: “Those stupid bloody Desert
Storm hats at Kiawah [in 1991] were
provocative. And I think I would have
drawn the line before wearing a cowboy
hat like Hal Sutton [in 2004].”

STOCKTON: “The one
thing I wouldn’t do again
is have the players wear
the camo hats. The Gulf
War was going on, and the
media started calling the
tournament the War by
the Shore. That was unfortunate,
and I had some
control over that.”

captain is a good listener.
You have to listen to what
the players and the caddies
say. They’re reacting
to the golf course and
breaking it down. I was all
ears the whole week.”

Pair players who will
inspire one another

JACKLIN: “Lee Trevino
said it doesn’t matter
who you pair with whom.
What nonsense. I said in
1985 that you had to match up guys who
feed off each other. If the personalities
don’t gel, they won’t work as a team.”

Pairing strategy depends on the
format of play

STOCKTON: “In best-ball, I wanted
somebody who I could let go nuts and
play hard and make birdies. I’d pair them
with someone who was more consistent
and could grind out pars. You can’t put
two long hitters together. In alternate shot,
you have to pair players who are alike.”

Play your best players early
in singles…

JACKLIN: “The best players were always
put out last. But by 1985, I remember
thinking, ‘What bloody use is Seve to me
in the anchor spot if we’ve already lost?’ I
stacked the strength of the team right in
the middle of the order. It worked.”

… but also save a couple
of them for last

CASPER: “I wanted some
good players in front, some
good players in back, and
mediocre players in the
middle. Why? If you’re
winning a couple matches
in the beginning, you’ve got
some padding. And
if you lose some of the middle
matches, you can still
finish strong.”

Take care of your guys
JACKLIN: “I took the
captain’s job in 1983 on
conditions: I wanted to fly
on a Concorde because the
American team always
flew first-class and we sat
in bloody economy. We
weren’t allowed to take
caddies, we had no team
room nor a team uniform.
One year they even gave us
plastic shoes. The
Americans had everything. That had
to change. In 1985, I said the players would
only do one cocktail party and
one formal dinner. I was there to win
the bloody Cup, not make friends.”

Play to the media
STOCKTON: “I think I was much better
with the media as a captain. If someone
called me, I’d return calls and be frank
with them and tell them what was I
going to do. I had fun with that.”

Don’t take yourself too seriously

CRENSHAW: “It’s the players who win it.
The captain certainly points out things
they can do better. He can see what clubs
players are hitting, help them choose clubs
on par-3s and create a confident framework
for them to play in. But it comes from
the players. The captain has to just let
them do their work.

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