Ryder Cup: Views from inside the ropes

The Ryder Cup begins later this week at Gleneagles Hotel. Picture: Getty
The Ryder Cup begins later this week at Gleneagles Hotel. Picture: Getty
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A CADDIE, a player’s partner and a match referee reveal their Ryder Cup experiences ahead of this year’s tournament at Gleneagles.

The wife - Laurae Westwood

My first Ryder Cup was when Lee made his debut in Spain in 1997 and I have to admit I was terrified. I only knew a handful of people, including Mark (Jessie) James’ wife Jane, and Ian Woosnam’s wife Glendryth. Yet, there I was sitting in a room with two of the biggest names in worldwide golf, Seve Ballesteros and Nick Faldo - talk about being intimidated! Then I saw Seve stand up and walk towards me and I just thought: ‘Oh! My goodness: what shall I say?’. To be honest, I’ve no idea what he said to me nor what my responses were. Everything was exciting and mind-boggling at the same time.

This will be Lee’s ninth Ryder Cup and my eighth because I missed the 2004 one because I was having our daughter, Poppy. Only the names have changed really since 1997 because the role of the wives is very much the same today as it was then - to support your partners and team. We’re just in the background because it’s not about us, all about them.

I think the most special one for me before this year was The Belfry, because it was so close to what was then home in Worksop. There were so many friends and family there and the atmosphere was fantastic. The K Club was also very special, but for different reasons. It was very soon after Darren Clarke’s wife, Heather, had passed away so there was a lot of emotion because of what Darren was going through and the support was simply amazing.

It’s through the Ryder Cup that I have struck up a bond with Paul McGinley’s wife, Ali. We don’t socialise away from the Ryder Cup, but for that particular week we get on so well and never fail to have a good laugh about something. The K Club was no exception and we were sat together when there was a magician on stage and he called up Paul and Padraig Harrington. They had to draw one of the other players and the magician had to guess who it was. Well, there were tears streaming down mine and Ali’s face, we were hysterical. So I’m looking forward to seeing her again and also Sam Torrance’s wife, Suzanne.

This year is obviously going to be extra special because it’s Scotland and so very important for the country. I’m very pleased and, at the same time lucky, to be there. It means so much to me to be there. I’m originally from Thornhill - my brother is Andrew Coltart - and I used to work at the Old Course Hotel in St Andrews. My boss there, who, coincidentally, eventually joined the European Tour, went to work at Gleneagles, as did a few of my colleagues and I’ve kept in touch with most of them.

Because we didn’t know Lee, one the three wildcards, would be in the team until the last minute, it’s made organising things very difficult because of the fact we’re now based in America. There were other decisions to be made, not least about the kids. I’m not one for taking them out of school, but we haven’t been here for long - we’re only just coming up to our second Christmas - so I wasn’t at all keen to be so many thousands of miles away for a week. It’s been a tough decision, but I’ve worked closely with the school and I’ve decided they’ll come over with us, although not to Gleneagles until perhaps the last day.

It’s not going to feel strange for me coming ‘home’, but it will be for our American friends in Palm Beach Gardens. They’ll desperately want America to win, but will be torn when it comes to Lee. I don’t have the same problem - because I want Lee and Europe to do well.

It’s the only tournament I get to watch from inside the ropes, which is a big help when you’re my height! Not that I go to many because it will be only the second time this year that I’ve seen Lee play and the other was at The Honda, which is played no more than a drive and a flick from where we live.

The caddie - Alastair McLean

Having caddied in seven Ryder Cups - six with Colin Montgomerie and one with Lee Westwood - I’m certainly speaking from experience when I say that it is a lot different to a normal tournament. Instead of what we are used to week in and week out, you are actually pulling for other guys to do well...your team-mates. It is actually quite a good bonding week as well as you find yourself hanging out with players you don’t usually associate with and have fun with them.

Monty loved the team spirit in the Ryder Cup. In the beginning just being in the team was the thrill and, latterly, being the talisman/leader of the team was what excited him and brought out the best in him. Being in a team environment kind of freed him up a wee bit more. I understand it is very nerve-wracking, but if you miss a putt, for example, and you still have a partner to putt then its not the end of the world. It is another chance, so to speak. This always allowed Monty to play with more freedom and a bit more aggressively than in the usual 72-hole stroke-play events where every shot is counted. I think his best putting weeks have always come in Ryder Cup matches.

I think Monty also enjoyed the partner aspect and the banter that went with it. In the early ones he was the apprentice and, in the later ones, he was the boss, showing the young lads the ropes and convincing them there was no reason to fear anything. Some of those lessons were definitely taken on board as his various partners went to win big tournaments down the road.

Actually caddying for him was simple. He loved involving his partners and between them they worked a lot of the issues out. Sometimes I might be called in - but they must have been desperate! I was just happy to be there inside the ropes, with the best view, watching some brilliant golf.

Nowadays caddies are treated very well at a Ryder Cup. We got a lot of free stuff in the shape of clothing, shoes, trainers, luggage etc and got pretty good travel sorted for us. I suppose the pinnacle of the travel arrangement was to fly on Concorde to and from one of the Ryder Cups. I know we only got it because of a cock-up by the official ticket-sellers not doing a good job, but, hey, it was good of the PGA to think about us when they became available. I don’t know of too many caddies to travel to work by Concorde!

Originally, our accommodation was different to the players, but nowadays it is in the same hotel. A lot of players are actually friends with their caddies and enjoy hanging out with them after play… well, some of them.

Caddies get to some of the functions. The good ones are the opening and closing ceremony (especially if you have won). Other than those caddies tend to shy away from functions. We are usually pretty tired at the end of the day and would rather wind down than have to rush around getting dressed up for formal functions. To be honest, I think players get asked to do too much at Ryder Cups. I think they would have more free time after practice to wind down.

One of the more amusing things I witnessed was when Seve (Ballesteros) was captain at Valderrama in 1997 and he wanted to hit every shot in every match. He was so involved and passionate - it was like he took a lost hole personally. He was everywhere that week in his blue buggy trying to inspire everybody.

Monty was playing with Bernhard Langer and it was on the last hole. I can’t remember who they were playing in the foursomes, but Monty hit the tee shot behind some cork trees. The match was all square at the time. Anyway, Monty and Langer were discussing options and along comes the blue buggy. Monty and Langer kinda decide on chipping out, but Seve runs in and points to a gap in the trees. Now Monty and Langer are scratching their chins looking for this “gap”. Anyway, it transpires there is about a six-inch gap about 50 yards away which Langer is supposed to play through. Langer walks back to the ball and chips it out onto the fairway, and at that moment you could see the disappointment in Seve’s face. “But why? But why?” he asked. Anyway, Monty whips the next shot to eight feet, Langer holes and the Americans three-putt. Now Seve’s face was priceless. Europe won that match one up.

It was always great to play with the likes of Langer and Nick Faldo. You could learn so much from them on how to go around the business of professional golf. Stuff that was so useful in winning in later years.

The referee - Michael MacDougall

My only Ryder Cup match just happened to be the one involving Graeme McDowell and Hunter Mahan on the Monday of of the 2010 event at Celtic Manor. I’d just become secretary of the PGA in Scotland, so was actually in Wales looking after sponsors etc and not there to referee. It was on the Sunday afternoon that the call went round European Tour and PGA officials on site for qualified referees as many of the American officials were booked to fly home. No phones were allowed in at that one, so I didn’t actually pick the message up until late on the Sunday. That was maybe why I got the last match as it was the final one to fill!

In the Ryder Cup, three rules officials go out with each game - a match referee and two forward/observer referees who are up ahead in the landing zone to determine questions of fact, where a ball crosses margins of hazards etc and to inform the match referee about the situation ahead to give him/her an idea of what’s going on ahead and I guess to make sure the crowd and marshals etc don’t do anything to influence match.

The Ryder Cup is different to normal tournaments in that you walk with a game and that only happens at The Open. In most other regular Tour events you are part of a team of roving guys covering areas of a given course.

Another difference is that the crowd/atmosphere is nuts - the first tee was really loud with lots of funny banter flying about right up to the seconds before the ball is hit. You are also aware that there’s a bigger audience watching. More cameras and press and people.

It’s not hard to stay impartial. You want Europe to win - I did in any case - but you don’t allow thoughts like that to come into your head when you’re in the situation. You want to do the job the best you can and in golf the majority of the decisions you have to make as a referee are deciding questions of fact and don’t involve judgement calls on your behalf. McDowell wanted a drop from what, in the opinion of myself and Simon Higginbottom, was an old divot at the back of the seventh green after overdoing his approach and was looking for relief thinking it was damage caused by the TV tower construction. That was denied and he had to play it - that was a judgement call that went against him but the decision would have been the same had Mahan ended up in that spot.

You know, so many people are also viewing at home and with the technology and quality of cameras etc now everything is scrutinised. So, from the point of view of personal pride, you want to do everything right and as equitably as possible.

It was a beautiful day and conditions inside ropes were much better than I’d assumed they would be. Our game started off with relatively small crowds compared to some of the games out ahead. By the 14th hole, though, it was obvious our match was looking like being crucial. I was about halfway up the fairway looking at the big scoreboards and, seeing the matches tightening, we were greeted by additional cameras and TV cameras and it was noticeable that the galleries suddenly swelled.

McDowell’s putt down the hill at 16 was incredible and the noise was nuts at that point. Just after Mahan’s flubbed chip and the end of the match, I was kneeling down to try to keep out of the way of spectators and I got knocked over as they swamped the green. I don’t think McDowell got to shake Mahan’s hand as the spectators were already on and around him as soon as the match result was known - a bit of a shame from sportsmanship point of view (certainly not GMac’s fault) but part and parcel when in the context of the Ryder Cup.