As Padraig Harrington takes up the reins for the next instalment in golf’s biggest and best team event at Whistling Straits next September, Bjorn is back at the coalface on the European Tour. And, to the surprise of even himself, he’s started life after the Ryder Cup quite promisingly.
The 15-time European Tour winner finished tied for 22nd in the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship then backed that up with another top-30 effort in the Omega Dubai Desert Classic. To put those displays into context, they were both better than his top performance in 19 outings last year.
“I went to Dubai at the end of December and worked quite hard for two weeks just to see how I felt about it and how I felt about trying to compete again knowing that, if you want to do that, you have to work extremely hard the older you get,” Bjorn told The Scotsman.
“It was that kind of thing where you are thinking that experience alone is not going to get you through. I had to work hard to get my swing speed up again and, to be honest, I enjoyed those two weeks hitting balls more than I have probably done for the last five or six years.
“That was definitely a boost and it’s given me the encouragement to knuckle down and see where I might get to. It’s not something I can assess after just two weeks. I was happy with how those two weeks went in Abu Dhabi and Dubai. In fact, they were probably better than I could ever have expected. But it is something I will probably have to assess after maybe six months.”
Just about every Ryder Cup captain is asked about doing the role in a playing capacity. With Bjorn having followed in the footsteps of Paul McGinley and Darren Clarke in seeing his own game suffer while holding the post, that seems highly unlikely to ever happen.
“When you are Ryder Cup captain, it is difficult to keep on top of your own game,” said Bjorn. “Your mind is constantly on other stuff. You could probably go through the first 10-12 months being okay, but then it changes. You are concentrating more on other players than what is happening with your own game.
“As captain, as much as you can’t do anything about who qualifies for the team, you are constantly thinking about the players and who you’d like to be there. You are almost living with them in a sense. You are always watching what they are doing and that makes it hard to concentrate on your own game.
“I have given up my tournament committee status, but I am still working on certain things with Keith Pelley and David Williams (the European Tour chief executive and chairman respectively). However, if I am to get back playing competitively again, I need these six to eight months to work hard and not really do anything else other than that.”
Harrington, one of Bjorn’s vice captains at Le Golf National, was appointed as his successor last month and will lock horns with Steve Stricker at Whistling Straits after the Wisconsin man was handed a home state gig a fortnight ago.
“I’ve had a nice conversation with Padraig since he was appointed,” said Bjorn of the three-time major winner. “I basically said to him that he needs to be true to himself and do things that he wants to do in the job. He has everything he needs. He comes into it from a great place. He’s done three vice captaincies, which has really turned him from being a player into a guy who now thinks about the Ryder Cup from a captain’s perspective. For me, it will be good fun to watch it from the sidelines this time.”
Bjorn’s brilliant captaincy ended with him keeping a promise to have Europe’s winning score in Paris tattooed on his backside.
In December, he posted a video showing him suitably inked with a 17½-10½ scoreline and a silhouette of the trophy.
Smiling as that topic was raised, Bjorn said: “Thomas Pieters also has one, which I didn’t know about until it came up in conversation when we played together in the final round in Dubai.
“He has the Ryder Cup and the Olympic rings. He’s ticking them off, I suppose, as he plays in them.
“For me, it all came about from a bit of an off-the- cuff remark during the week in France. Then Rory [McIlroy] and [Ian] Poulter obviously put me to the sword in the press conference on the Sunday night and there was no turning back from there. My mum is not too happy!
“It was certainly part of what this team was all about. We had a great time leading into it and an amazing time during the week.
“We had a great time after as well. I’ve watched a few interviews and it was interesting to hear Sergio [Garcia], who has been on a few teams, saying that he felt this was the best one as a group.
“I said it at the time and I will say it again, when you get 12 guys together who were as focused and determined as these players were, then it becomes easy to be captain.
“I can feel that carrying on through and I hope a lot of them are there the next time at Whistling Straits because they really are a tight-knit group,” added Bjorn.
“Not just on the course but off it as well.”