Thomas Bjorn, the European captain, has revealed he was “worried” about Francesco Molinari making his team for the 42nd Ryder Cup when he skipped this year’s Scottish Open, a Rolex Series event on the European Tour and key counter in the qualifying race, to play in the John Deere Classic on the PGA Tour instead that week.
The Dane was speaking as he reflected on Molinari being the star of the show at Le Golf National, where he became the first European player in the event’s history to claim five points out of five and also secured the winning point in a resounding 17.5-10.5 victory.
Looking bleary-eyed after partying hard with players and vice captains on Sunday night in their hotel in Versailles, Bjorn, in replying to being asked by The Scotsman about Molinari’s role in Europe’s sixth straight success on home soil in the biennial event, said: “When he went to the John Deere Classic the week before The Open, I was a bit like, you know, is this the right move? And I spoke to him about it. And he’s like, well, I have to do this for how my year’s planning out. I said to him, I’m a little bit worried about it because I really want you to be on this team.
“I really did on this golf course because I thought it suited him perfectly. For me, it would be a perfect foursomes opportunity on this golf course. I had the conversation with him, but he said: ‘I have to do this but I promise you I will make the team’. I got a message on the Sunday night after The Open, saying: ‘Is this good enough?’ He’s just gone on from strength to strength since.”
He has indeed. In two previous appearances in this event – at Celtic Manor in 2010 then Medinah two years later– Molinari hadn’t managed to register a full point. The 35-year-old – one of the most modest individuals ever to play this game – is now only the fourth player to have claimed a full set and the first since Larry Nelson since 1979. He gelled brilliantly to win four matches on the opening two days before adding a 3&2 success over Phil Mickelson in the singles.
“I knew he was going to be right when he came here,” added Bjorn. “This was the only thing that was on his mind after he won the Open Championship. He’s such an underrated player and he has been for a long time. I think the qualities that he’s got, now that he’s got the confidence, he can do anything. He showed that this week. He’s phenomenal. He took on the best players in the world and he showed he’s equal to the task.”
With the Ryder Cup sitting between his feet, Bjorn admitted it had been quite a party the night before. “It was brilliant,” he said, smiling. “It was like everything that the week has been. It was everybody in there, players, wives, caddies, girlfriends, staff, partners, a lot of friends, family. They were all in there and that’s what the week has been all about. It was great till about 2:30, 3:00, and then it might have been a little bit over the top (laughing).
“They were just all in a good mood. About 1:30-2:00, Dustin [Johnson], Brooks [Koepka] and Patrick [Reed] came over. There was a good vibe in there. There was nothing too wild. The players are tired. Not only this week, they have had such long weeks in America.
“So it doesn’t really surprise that you it doesn’t go completely crazy. I feel more tired than hungover. But it was a good sleep for once. It’s been a while.”
Like the others before him, the captaincy has been a draining experience for Bjorn. In fairness, he got everything right, both in the build- up and during the match itself, but the 47-year-old, a 15-time winner on the European Tour, is now looking forward to getting back to his day job.
“This has been amazing,” he admitted. “It’s been fun. It’s been testing. I learned a lot about myself in the process, as well, which has been great. As much as you’re there to do it for other people, and it is for those 12 players, you are also there to learn things about yourself and your own development, and I’ve enjoyed it.
“I learned how to work with people, and that’s not easy when you’re an individual sportsman. You’re used to getting your own way a lot, and in this, there’s a lot of people involved that you have to work with.
“I’m going to enjoy the next two months. I will look into what I’m going to do going forward after this Ryder Cup. I might have to wait until we get into 2019 to make any concrete decisions on what I’m doing but right now I just want to go and lie on a bed for a few weeks.”
As has become the norm in recent years, Bjorn will be part of the process for picking the man to lead Europe’s defence of the trophy at Whistling Straits in Wisconsin in two years’ time. Padraig Harrington and Lee Westwood, two of the Dane’s assistants in France, are the front-runners, with the former likely to get the nod.
“He’d be brilliant,” said Bjorn of Harrington, a three-time major winner. “He’s got all the tools and all the knowledge. You know, they will all be quality, if they do it or when they do it. But let’s leave that one for a couple of months. I’m going to hold on to this (pointing down to the trophy) until I pass it on to some other captain.”