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Catriona needs to keep her players comfortable as she vies for Solheim Cup glory

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Tony spoke to former Reuters golf correspondent Tony Jimenez to look ahead at this week's Solheim Cup match at Gleneagles:

"People often ask, 'what it's like for a captain in the week leading up to a big team event like the Ryder Cup or the Solheim Cup?'.

For me, it was all about making sure my players were as comfortable as possible. Being thorough with my checks on every member of the team, making sure I knew who was playing the best, and also checking who my weak links were and trying to make sure they weren't advertised.

The players are all impatient to get going on the Friday morning but, as captain, you have to check everything out, check the other team out too, find out who might be their dangerman or dangerwoman.

The excitement levels are really high in the last few days and, in many ways, the anticipation is sometimes better than the real thing. There's this underlying 'what if?' feeling, wondering which team is going to get off to the best start.

The media, of course, are all looking for stories. Today, all the players go in for press conferences ahead of the main event but I didn't want my guys to go through that when I was in charge. I just wanted to free them up to concentrate on their games.

These days, and I think it's understandable now, everyone wants to know what the players are thinking. I wanted to take that sort of pressure off my team.

I'll be rooting for Catriona Matthew and her European players come Friday. She raised a few eyebrows by picking new mum Suzann Pettersen as one of her wildcards and it will be interesting to see if that turns out to be a good choice after her spell of inactivity.

Choosing Suzann was a bit like Thomas Bjorn picking Sergio Garcia for last year's Ryder Cup despite the fact his golf had gone south since winning the Masters. It went well for Thomas so let's hope the same thing happens this time.

Suzann's a feisty competitor and I reckon that's what Catriona was looking for. There's no backing-off in that particular Norwegian player.

When push comes to shove, it'll be what happens on Friday morning that is key and it's important that the players are ready. Nothing beats solid golf and making putts, that's what match play golf is all about.

I was with Ernie Els at Pebble Beach for the past champions dinner at the US Open in June. Ernie, of course, will be captain of the International team that takes on the USA in the Presidents Cup later this year.

We sat at the same table and he said, 'Come on, I want it from the horse's mouth'. I just said that as far as the captain is concerned, he needs to be a best friend to all his players.

Your relationship with them all needs to be pure, 100 per cent straight and honest, for no other reason that if they are not firing on all cylinders that week, they need to tell you.

I just tried to be a friend to them all. I never tried to tell them how to play, they wouldn't be there if they couldn't play. You've just got to massage their egos and wrap them in cotton wool that week.

The same goes for the caddies, keeping them positive all week long, because they're the only ones the players can talk to out on the course.

It'll be a battle of wills between Catriona and counterpart Juli Inkster this week. It's all about putting points on the board for the captains and putting the right players together. Sometimes you won't necessarily put your best pairings out first in the order, you'll maybe put them out second or third to try to find that winning formula.

Europe will be heavy underdogs this week but there are all manner of David and Goliath stories in the history of match play golf.

Going back to my second match as captain for The Belfry singles in 1985, I'll never forget the way Manuel Pinero reacted.

I put him out first because I thought he was a terrific match player. When he found out he was drawn to play Lanny Wadkins he jumped four feet in the air.

It was such a positive reaction and it filtered down to the rest of the team. He eventually went out there, led the way and when he beat Wadkins it set everything up for us.

These events are not about individuals, it's about the team. Fifteen, 20 years ago people used to big-up Tiger Woods in the Ryder Cup. So what?, that used to be my reaction, because he's only one guy among 12.

Tiger lost on several occasions because match play is not the same as week-to-week stroke play. It's about how the team is doing, positivity in the team room. It's not about bravado, it's about being confident that your side can beat the other one."