Thomas Bjorn: I'd have no worries about Bob MacIntyre in Ryder Cup

It’s a well-known fact that Europe’s Ryder Cup success over the past 20 or so years is partly down to succession planning for the captain, with contenders lined up for probably the next five matches.

Europe's current Ryder Cup captain Padraig Harrington and his predecessor, Thomas Bjorn, pose with the trophy. Picture: Andrew Redington/Getty Images.

What is sometimes overlooked, though, is that a serving captain is allowed to get on with his job without interference from his predecessors, especially the direct one, as was evidenced when winning 2010 skipper Colin Montgomerie let Jose Maria Olazabal get on with his stint in 2012 and so on with Paul McGinley (2014) and Darren Clarke (2016).

Having led his side to a thumping win at Le Golf National on the outskirts of Paris in 2018, Thomas Bjorn is the latest European captain to be treading carefully when it comes to Ryder Cup matters out of respect for Padraig Harrington, who will be at the helm for the rescheduled clash at Whistling Straits in Wisconsin in September.

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The great Dane knows he doesn’t need to say anything because Harrington, having served under not only him in France but also McGinley at Gleneagles and Clarke at Hazeltine, has his finger on the pulse in terms of the chemistry required to the best out of players in the biennial bout.

Bob Macintyre and Padraig Harrington played together in the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship in January. Picture: Andrew Redington/Getty Images.

The battle for 12 spots is starting to heat up and, though undoubtedly facing a tough task, Bjorn is among those watching with interest to see if young Scot Bob MacIntyre can make Harrington’s team under his own team or as one of three wildcards available to the Irishman.

“I don’t know him that well, but he’s a top player and also comes across very well,” Bjorn, speaking exclusively to Scotland on Sunday, said of the 24-year-old left-hander from Oban. “He looks as though he has a good demeanour and a quality that few have.

“It’s one of those things. He needs a bit of time to take the momentum he has at the moment and use that in good ways. And that’s not just about results. He needs to plan his schedule and plan his time, both here and in America, and get to a stage where he feels comfortable as a world player.

“He’ll stick his nose in there, there’s no doubt about that. But it’s a process to get there over a long period of time. It’s easier to be comfortable here (in Europe) because he knows a lot of the guys from playing with them as he was growing up.

Thomas Bjorn celebrates with his players and their wives and partners after Europe's thumping win in the 42nd Ryder Cup at Le Golf National near Paris in 2018. Picture: Eric Feferberg/AFP via Getty Images.

“I always say that they are in such a rush to get to America and understandably so. But sometimes it can happen too quickly and it was nice to see him at The Belfry recently for the Betfred British Masters. He could easily have been in Texas that week.”

Helped by breaking into the world’s top 50 for the first time earlier this year and getting himself into majors and WGCs, MacIntyre sits just outside the automatic berths. He’s not putting any extra pressure on himself by making bold predictions about the Ryder Cup, with Bjorn, for one, pleased about that.

“I think he is catching the end of a great generation of players and putting yourself in there and saying you have to be there is a big ask,” said the 50-year-old - he recently made his debut on the Champions Tour in the US - who played on winning teams in all three of his appearances before maintaining that record as captain.

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“There are a lot of big names who are not in the team as of now and that generation of players is quite special. You’ve got the Caseys, Roses, Poulters. They only need a decent summer and they are there.

“To put pressure on yourself to go up against those guys is something he doesn’t need to do. If he has a decent summer, he will get in the team no problem. My message to him would be to focus on what is in front of you. The Ryder Cup takes care of itself if you play well enough.

But Bob is definitely one for the future if it doesn’t happen this year.”

If it does, though, Bjorn feels confident that MacIntyre could be paired with anyone, including Rory McIlroy, although this was definitely the part of our conversation that you knew he was trying to tread as carefully as possible.

“He’s your guy that, if you were captain, you would have no worries,” he said. “He could be your …..I think Rory needs somebody like that. I tried it with Thorbjorn [Olesen], but it didn’t quite work out. And Rory may need someone now who isn’t from the new generation and they both play powerful games. But that will be for Padraig to decide.”

In the aforementioned Betfred British Masters, Bjorn was the only player in the field to have competed in a Ryder Cup at The Belfry, having been a member of Sam Torrance’s triumphant team at the Sutton Coldfield venue in 2002.

“It’s a long time ago now!” he said, laughing. “For my generation, The Belfry obviously holds a lot of history, both playing and in terms of childhood memories. You know, when you fall in love with the game and that generation of 80s and 90s players that formed European golf into something special.

“It was very nice to be back and the golf course had dramatically improved since 1985 (when it staged the event for the first time). It is actually a very good golf course now.

“They are tinkering with it and I’m not necessarily agreeing with the decision to make it longer as I don’t think that is required. I think it holds up quite nicely in terms of scoring and it offers a lot of thought, which there is not much of these days in the game.”

The 2023 Ryder Cup is heading to Marco Simone Golf outside Rome before the event returns to Ireland as the 2027 edition is held at Adare Manor. That means the next available slot is 2031, with The Belfry believed to be in the reckoning.

“The Ryder Cup needs to be held in England,” insisted Bjorn, who lives in London and is an ardent Liverpool FC fan. “That has long been my view and wherever it goes then fine. But this should certainly be a contender for it. There’s a lot of history here and the golf course is certainly good enough.

“There’s a lot of things that speak in favour of it, but, in this day and age, there are so many other things you have to factor in when it comes to venue choice. But, in my opinion, there would certainly be nothing wrong with it being back here, that’s for sure.”

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