Ryder Cup 2018: An honour and a burden - the unique challenge of captaincy

Thomas Bjorn and Jim Furyk have assumed roles that will challenge them in ways they have never experienced before.

Published : Sep 25, 2018 00:46 IST

Team USA captain Jim Furyk and Team Europe counterpart Thomas Bjorn
Team USA captain Jim Furyk and Team Europe counterpart Thomas Bjorn

Team USA captain Jim Furyk and Team Europe counterpart Thomas Bjorn

Ryder Cup captaincy is in equal measures an honour and a burden. Elevated to a position of leadership in a team event in a sport that is for the most part a solo pursuit, it represents a unique challenge.

Thomas Bjorn and Jim Furyk are vastly experienced in their profession, and yet captaining their respective teams in France will test them in ways they have never been tested before. Both must be braced for the incongruity of being in a setting so familiar – a golf course, packed stands, expectant atmosphere – and yet harbouring a palpable sense of stepping into the unknown.

The fate of a team, a nation, a continent rests on their shoulders, producing a level of pressure unlike anything they will have felt up to now.

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Furyk's blithe assertion on Monday that "it's never going to be about the two of us up here" might well come back to haunt him. When the chips are down, it will most certainly be about the two men at the top. And should the worst happen and your team loses, you had better believe that the most scathing questions will come your way.

The public autopsy carried out on the still warm cadaver of Tom Watson's failed captaincy in 2014, with Phil Mickelson wielding the scalpel, was traumatising. It still is.

But both skippers repeatedly underlined how this event is all about the players. The intent behind that approach is not to absolve themselves of any personal liability, rather it is to empower their teams to seize the opportunity before them.

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It is perfectly acceptable for a winning captain to direct the warm glow of the spotlight to fall entirely on his charges, but for a losing captain to do likewise would be regarded as weak and not befitting a true leader. For now, with the result not yet known, it is a safer, more modest approach to place the emphasis on those who will play the shots, rather than call them.

Asked how they would summarise their roles this week, both reduced themselves largely to the function of cheerleaders.

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"I've always taken a position where I've been on tour and in Ryder Cup teams, it's always been about the 12 players," said Bjorn, who tasted victory in all three of the continent-versus-country events he played in.

"For me, it's a situation of just getting in that team room and getting them out on the golf course and [letting them] do what they do best.

"My role is to be the support and lead them in the right direction."

Furyk added that he had taken valuable lessons from his playing career that he would draw on over the three days of competition.

"We've had a number of experiences both as players and vice-captains in this role and I think you can take bits and pieces from the captains I've admired before me and obviously we've learned along the way," he said.

"I really felt like I was taking notes along the way as a young player, hoping one day for the opportunity and I'll try to draw from all those experiences and add bits and pieces to this year and this team."

This time next week, one man will boast the honour of being a Ryder Cup-winning skipper, while the other will feel the heavy burden of defeat. Both will have to take a captain's share of the responsibility. And that is no small thing.


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