NEWPORT, Wales — If the Ryder Cup awarded a point to the captain with the most flair and charm, then the Europeans would be holding an even bigger lead. Team Europe captain Colin Montgomerie has a keen wit and a doughy charisma, which he has been displaying frequently as he rides his buggy around the course to rally his players and trades cracks with the hundreds of reporters here. In fact, Montgomerie even awarded himself an imaginary point after his counterpart Corey Pavin flubbed his team introductions during the opening ceremonies, initially forgetting to name Stewart Cink.
However, Pavin doesn’t see his role as captain the same way as Montgomerie does. No one will mistake Pavin for Al Pacino in Any Given Sunday when he talks to his players Sunday night, not that he’d tell us about that talk anyway. But he does have a plan, and despite a tough Sunday when his players lost five of six matches, he’s not making any changes to it.
“You know, my thoughts for the last two years are basically to do everything I can to give Team USA the best chance to win, and that’s where my focus is,” Pavin said. “These guys go out there and play. I feel like I’ve done a reasonable job, and you’ll have to ask the players about that.
“But that was my focus. That’s what I wanted to accomplish,” Pavin said. “So it wasn’t about a result, per se. And obviously I’d like to be sitting on the 18th green and in victory with the team. But, that’s not the way I’ve been looking at it. I’ve been looking at it as doing the best job I can for Team USA.”
Getting goosebumps yet? Me neither. But according to Pavin’s former college coach Eddie Merrins, that’s just the quiet and confident attitude that has made Pavin successful at every stage of his career.
Merrins, the teaching pro emeritus at Bel-Air Country Club in Los Angeles, was Pavin’s coach at UCLA from 1977-1982, and he said that he knew Pavin was a special player the first time he saw him, at a junior golf tournament at Los Angeles’ Griffith Park where Merrins was scouting some other players.
“The very first shot I saw him play he hit the flagsick with his approach on a par 4,” Merrins said. “Even though he was smaller than the other players, he didn’t see himself that way. He impressed me as a player with a lot of courage.”
Merrins offered Pavin a one-third scholarship after seeing Pavin finish third in that touranment. It was the best offer he had. However, while Merrins spent the summer as a visiting teaching pro in Switzerland, his assistant called him with news that their new recruit was winning every tournament he entered, so UCLA upped the offer to a full-scholarship and Pavin joined the team.
Pavin had a standout college career, winning six tournaments as a junior and being named college player of the year as a senior. What impressed his coach the most was his competitiveness and mental approach to the game.
“He never saw himself as small,” Merrins said. “In his mind, he was a big as Fred Couples or Bobby Clampett.”
Merrins said that Pavin’s experience on the 1981 Walker Cup team stood out as a turning point. (The Walker Cup is the amateur equivalent to the Ryder Cup, with amateurs from the United States playing amateurs from Great Britain and Ireland in a team match-play format.)
“That Walker Cup did more for him than anything else in his career,” Merrins said. “It made him aware that there’s something bigger than himself. He was representing his team and his country and it overwhelmed him.”
Pavin kept that passion during his three Ryder Cups as a player, where he had a 8-5-0 record, and the captaincy has been on his mind for a long time. Merrins remembered sitting with Pavin and Pavin’s mental game coach Richard Coop at the grill room in Augusta National in 1995, the year Pavin would win the U.S. Open.
“The two of them were in close conversation talking about when he was going to be captain of the Ryder Cup team,” Merrins said. “I remember thinking, ‘That’s a little presumptuous,’ but that’s how much this Ryder Cup has meant to him. It’s the crowning achievement to a sparkling career.”
Merrins understands that people sometimes like to see a fiery, flamboyant coach like the performance Montgomerie has put on this week, but that doesn’t always do the job, he said. The low-key, lead-by-example approach of Pavin can be just as successful.
“You don’t win by trying to win and you don’t win by making winning a talking point,” Merrins said. “That’s not the goal. The goal is to play as well as you can and relate to par. Winning is the reward.”
When Pavin was asked Sunday if he would try to motivate his players the way Montgomerie roused his team the day before, he sounded a lot like his former coach.
“I don’t need to change their attitude,” Pavin said. “They have a great attitude. As I said, they are playing hard. They are playing as well as they can, and that’s all you can do when you go out there and play. They are playing with passion and pride, and they will do that again tomorrow.”