Des Smyth, a Ryder Cup veteran, is hoping Sergio Garcia can “grow” in a way Colin Montgomerie always seemed to on the same stage when the Spaniard walks into the European team room at Le Golf National outside Paris for next week’s event.
Controversially in the eyes of many, Garcia was picked ahead of his compatriot, Rafa Cabrera Bello, as well as Englishman Matt Wallace, for the match in France, despite missing the cut in all four majors this season.
“Sergio has had a bad run, we all know that, though I’m not sure why,” said Smyth, who played in the 1979 and 1981 matches and was also a vice captain on two occasions, including for Paul McGinley at Gleneagles four years ago. “He won The Masters last year, having a huge year, and it’s maybe just been a little bit of a downer for him this season.
“Personally, I’d have preferred to see Rafa Cabrera Bello on the team. I think he deserved a spot more than anyone else. He hustles at the top end every week.
“That’s my only concern, but I am fairly confident that, when Sergio gets to the team practice and they are all around him, he’ll be a bit like Monty when it comes to the Ryder Cup. Monty seemed to grow in the company of the team and I hope that happens with Sergio next week.”
In addition to his playing and vice-captaincy roles, Smyth was also part of the Radio Five Live commentary team in 2016 at Hazeltine, where the Americans recorded their first win in the event in eight years.
“It is the most exciting event in golf,” insisted the Irishman. “It kind of transcends golf. It is a world sporting event. They have them in every sport and ours is the Ryder Cup. I got it from close quarters on two occasions as a vice captain and I also played in it twice. It’s a wonderful event.
“This one is on a great golf course and there’s going to be a lot of drama. This course lends itself to that. In the Ryder Cup, the tension gets heightened and playing the 14th, 15th and 16th on this course, I think the guys will be petrified.
“I think these are two very strong teams and it’s been pretty tight over the last few matches and I think it will be a tight one this, too. The Americans haven’t won over here for 25 years – and we’d like to keep it that way!”
Both Smyth’s matches as vice captain resulted in wins, having also been on Ian Woosnam’s backroom team at The K Club in 2006. Now the spotlight is on Thomas Bjorn and Jim Furyk as they lock horns in what is only the second contest to be held in Continental Europe.
“The role of the captain is always important but, at the end of the day, it’s the players who hit the shots and have to hole the putts,” said Smyth. “The players are what it’s all about and a good captain will do everything to ensure his players are comfortable and happy. Once they get to that first tee, it is all down to them.
“They were all a colossus for Paul McGinley at Gleneagles. Justin Rose was, as was Rory McIlroy, who played some unbelievable golf. Henrik Stenson was also unbelievable with Justin.
“They all played so well yet we only got over the line by a few points. That’s how close this event is.
“Even though we lost it the last time, we had chances to win matches. I was there working for the BBC and it could have gone either way.
“As for this match, I’m looking forward to sitting down on the Friday morning and not getting up until the Sunday night when it’s over. I think I will bring my bed downstairs!”