The greatest golf show on Earth kicks off this morning when The European Team will try to keep the Ryder Cup in their possession with a 4th consectutive victory over a well fancied United States Team. 

 

I rarely watch golf on television these days, mainly due to the saturation of events that are consistently on screen at any given hour come Thursday through Sunday on almost any week of the year- bar the Christmas period. I still like to watch the Majors- as that is a tradition I started long ago as a 12 year old- where I would set the alarm for an ungodly hour 4 days for 4 weeks per year to awaken and watch the best players in the world tackle Augusta National, Oak Hill, Baltusrol, Royal St Georges and all the other Championship venues as the players searched for individual glory and the right to be forever declared a Major Champion.

 

I will still watch The Majors to varying degrees of time but not religously like when I was young and was fully intrigued by these amazing courses so far away on the opposite side of the world. There is one event I do not ever miss however...and that is The Ryder Cup. 

 

 

  

 

 

I was extremely fortunate to experience the highest level of golf competition in a team format way back in 1994 at the inaugural Presidents Cup held just outside Washington DC at The Robert Trent Jones Golf Club. The week was a real whirlwind of excitement, pressure, fun, optimism, heartache- so many emotions from highs to lows. But what an experience and it is definitely the highlight of my golf career- especially to be able to say I competed in the very first Presidents Cup.

 

I cant say I had to deal with the extreme pressures and fluctuations that will confront this weeks participants, as the Presidents Cup was in it's infancy and for the most part even most of the International Team lived and competed in America on a weekly basis. So in that regard it was a much friendlier and less hostile environment than the Ryder Cup has become. Even so, the memories and reminders are still there and I thought I would share my thoughts and insights into what the players are/may be feeling- What the captains are going through as far as their pairing selections & the general atmosphere of the weeks events from the team room to the bus rides to the functions and of course the all important playing and the competition itself.

 

THE FUNCTIONS-

The formal dinners arranged and scheduled while enlightening and necessary are something very different to what a player would determine as part of his schedule for a regular tournament. I had just flown to Washington DC on the Monday- not even knowing if I was going to be playing the event or not- as I had received a phone call on Monday morning in my apartment near Tokyo's Narita airport that I was the next player in line and could I get on a plane 3 hours later to serve as an alternate for the team. Without hesitation myself and my caddie hopped the 11 hour flight and upon my arrival I was told that I would actually be playing as Greg Norman had taken ill and would not be able to take part in the event.

Wearily that afternoon I was fitted for all my official clothing and then that evening I was at The White House having dinner with President Clinton!! A dramatic turn of events in less than 24 hours considering I was meant to be having a rest week in Tokyo to play some golf with my sponsor there. The bus ride home was mainly snoring from my end to close out a long and tiring yet exhilirating day.

The next night was dinner at The Australian Embassy. Wednesday night was dinner with the American Team at the Trent Jones clubhouse. Lots of autograph signing, photos taken, memorabilia to be signed. Definitely an out of the ordinary preparation compared to a normal tournament week. Thankfully for me- I was still high on adrenalin and got through the functions without falling asleep in my soup due to the significant time change and last minute dash to be there.

 

   

 

THE PRACTICE ROUNDS-

Getting out on the course inside the ropes was peaceful. That was my job and what I was used to and the practice rounds were a nice change of scenery. It's the time to take notes- Pick the clubs and angles from the tee shots to set up the approach. It was a real lot of fun to play with the other guys- especially the players I didnt know so well. It was very relaxing and enjoyable as we talked shop and handed out different tips as to how and why we would play a hole in such a manner. It's a great aspect of golf- that players readily hand out tips to other players. Steve Elkington gave me a great tip about my putting grip and that litle alteration served me well throughout the week. In the practice rounds the intensity was there but minus the cauldron pressure- and we had some side bets about making birdies and not making bogeys- just little games to concentrate but mingle and bond at the same time.

The practice days are really a great environment for the spectators also- as they get to see the more subdued side of some players and the players all tend to interact well with the fans in this more relaxed atmosphere.

 

THE WARM UP- 

That knot in your stomach begins to get a good grip on your system as you start warming up on the range. How does my swing feel? Can I ht the shots I am visualizing and aiming for? What was that cheer for? I learned that being nervous, agitated, excited and raring to go before the start of a round is always a positive. It means I am eager and invested in what the result of the round will be. There is no use trying to downplay it or pretend it isn't there. Anticpation is to be used as an asset and all players can and will deal with this in different ways. Some get focused intently and don't want to be disturbed. Others like to joke around and relax a little until the gun is really ready to go off.

Caddies play an important role in this session as they know their players habits, their mannerisms. They don't want to allow their player to feel the moment is bigger than any other and they certainly dont want their player so relaxed he is sleep walking. The range should be used for tempo & rythum and getting a solid strike with the last few balls really zoning into the preshot routine and the visuals- so the mind and the swing is prepared and oiled for the first tee shot.

 

    

 

THE FIRST TEE-

As you can see from the photo near the top of this page- the first tee at the Ryder Cup is more Rome coliseum nowadays than a nice little loosener up the fairway.

The screaming and chanting and lyrical songs begin as the players start their walk from the range towards the tee. In every match you will see the captain right there on the #1 tee- prepared to read the player and deliver the right message to them to make their first tee shot a statement of what is to come in the match.

I remember my first tee shot in the Presidents Cup- something happened that I had never experienced before or since.

I had been playing well in Japan and in the USA in some events I was invited to and even though I was jet lagged I continued my good form in the practice rounds. So well in fact that captain David Graham suggested to me that he would like to pair me with Nick Price the next day in the opening fourball matches. It was an offer you cant refuse truthfully. I felt I was up to it and lets face it, even if I messed up a few holes I had the World Number ONE golfer as my team mate- Nick Price- who had just won the British Open, The USPGA Championship and The Canadian Open in the past 5 weeks.

That was an easy yes answer.

Unfortunately on the morning of the first matches fog rolled into the area and we had a 2 hour delay. I was chomping at the bit to get out there and the delay certainly didn't do much for my stomach and anxiety to get underway. Eventually we got to match number 3 and its tee time. I look around at the surroundings. Here I am- last man in the field standing on the first tee of the first Presidents Cup with the World #1 as my partner up against Fred Couples and Davis Love III - who had just won the World Cup four years in a row as a partnership. Stomach tightens more. Throw in the fact there are two Presidents of The United States on the tee - millions of people watching on television and the grand old man himself Byron Nelson flipping the coin to see who had the honour- I was sucking for air.

Freddie and Davis both hit driver over a fairway bunker that I couldnt see let alone think about carrying with my tee shot to about 60 yards short of the green. Pricey went first and hit a 3 wood up the fairway and left me as the 'anchorman"- so now it was ALL eyes on me.

I believed a 2 iron to be the only play for me on the 1st hole as I couldnt reach the bunker and certainly couldnt carry it like I had just witnessed my two opponents do seconds before.

As you step up from hearing your name called-- Then the doubts came tapping on the right side of my brain... or was it the left side of my brain?

Either way I know begin to think.."damn should I hit a wood because you cant shank a wood"!!!

Too late for that now as I teed the ball up- placed my shankable iron behind the ball and then suddenly everything went black........My eyes lost focus. I actually couldnt even see the ball due to blurred vision and I was now in a predicament. What do I do? Do I go back and start again? My conscience told me and I kid you not..."Ok, the club is definitely behind the ball- so the best solution to all this is DON'T waggle. Just look down the fairway, keep the clubhead still and where it is and then swing away".

Obviously not the greatest thought to have running through one's mind in such a situation. However I swung- made solid contact and put it right up near Nick Price's ball and we were off and running. 

I can only imagine what the players on the first tee at the Ryder Cup are feeling. And believe it or not most if not all of them will be feeling the pressure and the hype just as much as I did that day back in 1994 even though they are much more experienced than I was at that time.

For the record - After that black out tee ball I then struck an 8 iron to within 2 and 1/2 feet of the cup and matched Freddies opening birdie. So once the initial shock was gone it was back to business as usual. Deep breaths and an inner sigh will be heard on the first tee this week- just listen closely and learn that everyone gets nervous- its how we handle it that is important.

 

     

 Bradley Hughes Highlights 1994 Presidents Cup Matches

 

 

PLAY AS A TEAM or PLAY YOUR OWN GAME?-

Who picks the pairings? The captain or the players? 

Finding a great team partnership can work in a number of ways. 

Do the players games compliment one another? Should a long driver be paired with a good iron player? Should an erratic driver be paired with a short game freak? Can two similar style players be the perfect match? So many questions but so few answers.....

This subject has always been a feversh topic of conversation in Ryder Cups. In my opinion we are still really playing our own game. Our decisions shouldnt necessarily be based on your partner. We play golf for a living and have our own factors involved in our decision making. I kind of preferred making my own decisions as a golfer- at least then if I screwed it up I had no-one else to blame but myself!!

I was ready to play golf. It didn't matter who I was playing with- If the captain said I was going to play with Nick Price then I was going to prepare my mind in a way that he and I were the perfect partners. It obviously helps when you are both on the same mission and encouraging one another but ideally its the player who is hitting the shot that should make the final decision without being swayed into something they cant see or feel or are capable of achieving.

The European Team are fantastic in this regard. The players generally travel together on tour. They stay in the same hotels. They eat together. It's a real camaraderie that flows over to the course and a huge reason why they have performed so well in the Ryder Cup over the past 20 years.

In my other fourball match in the 1994 Presidents Cup I was paired with Craig Parry. I had known Pazz since I was 13 years old as he had grown up in Melbourne before moving off to Perth ad ultimately Sydney with his family.

We had played together quite a lot and were very comfortable with one another on and off the golf course. We played against Loren Roberts and Tom Lehman in the morning of day 2 and worked a perfect partnership together. We both played our own games. I could attack and he was always going to be in the hole with his consistancy and his deft touch around the greens. By the 14th hole we were 3 up and I had made 5 birdies and he had made 3 birdies. We were strolling around like it was a fun whack around our local course.

The 14th hole is a par 5 surrounded by water and I had ripped a nice drive out there but still had 271 yards to the hole and was contemplating what to do. It wasnt a really enticing shot with water everywhere and a narrow opening to try get the ball through- any miss right or left would basically result in a bogey and I didnt want to let Lehman and Roberst get a sniff of gaining a hole back so I had pulled out an iron and was going to lay up to the same area the other three were at and see if we could get a birdie with a pitch and a putt.

Parry came over to me and said "Hugo...I got the birdie from there- just get your 3 wood out and give it plenty". That instilled a confidence in me to then go back to my attacking nature and I then proceeded to hit the most gorgeous 3 wood of my life- 8 feet past the hole straight at it. Parry wedged his approach to about 10 feet and then said " Hey Hugo how about you putt first and knock it in for eagle and lets get this thing over and done with- save me mucking around having to putt"... Boom. The eagle putt went straight in the middle and we were 4 up with 4 to play and the match was over on the next.

It was great instinct by Craig Parry to give me the all clear to fire away based on his confidence in the situation. And it proved to be a match winner.

There are certain situations in match play when your partner can be pivotal in your approch. I think it best to not poke in each others pockets all day and just play your own game- however when in doubt two heads can be better than one. It's an art of team match play and playing with someone you know well and have played a lot of golf with who knows your capabilities can be that extra club in the bag at times.

 

             

 

PLAY HARD PLAY FAIR BE GRACIOUS-

Nobody likes losing in these matches. And of course everybody loves a winner.

Play hard- Play Fair- Be Gracious Win Lose or Draw

From viewing recent Ryder Cups it honestly looks like the European team are enjoying themselves a lot more than the USA team. That may sound obvious because winners are grinners- however from the outset of Match One on Day One the European players genuinely look like they thrive on the competition in a more relaxed manner. Their demeanour whether they win lose or draw doesnt change too much. They have accepted the role of the Ryder Cup as an event to not be ignored but also to be enjoyed at the same time. 

I am really looking forward to seeing how the reactions of both teams play out this week. Not just on the decision of a match- but on each hole. Over stating the fact of one hole to the detriment of the holes still ahead to play is a heavy burden to carry. So play each hole hard. Play each hole fairly...and accept the result of the hole and the match. While we all want to win that is not often the case in a sport such as golf and it is how we accept and move on from each shot and each hole that will ultimately get the result each player so desperately wants for himself and for his team.

 

                                  

 

I am sure the 2016 edition of The Ryder Cup will provide great drama and as per usual some amazing golf. This competition always tends to produce unfathomable shots at the right time (or the worng times) depending on who you are supporting. Certain players rise to the occasion, while others find momentum hard to come by. Some wear capes and become heros- others end up naked as a jaybird with nowhere to hide.

It's a gruelling week culminating in 5 rounds of golf squeezed into 3 days- again something that as a tournament golfer we aren't really prepared for. Those long intensive days do take a toll, hence why attitude really can be the making or the breaking in who gets the spoils come Sunday evening.

 

I have an affinity for both sides, having played in Europe in the early 90's before I switched my trade to the US Tour and have lived in both areas.... but for me I like an underdog and even though the Euros hold the Open Championship, The Masters, The Fed X Cup titles and have the Olympic Champion on board they are still decisive underdogs by having six rookies on the team. This is the role they love and have used so well to their advantage in recent years.

The American side is full of terrific players but as my Aussie Rules football coach alway used to say.. "A Champion team will always beat a team of Champions"....PLus I am really tired of watching the US team give my International Team a drubbing in the Prez Cup!!!!!

 

So my selection is Europe 15 points to 13 points in a down to the wire tussle........ I trust everyone enjoys the spectacle of Hazeltine 2016