The Ryder Cup has enjoyed many different commercial supporters in its more than 90 years of existence, but one of the longest lasting has been with Rolex who first partnered with the event in 1995. Since 2014, Rolex has been an official event partner as well as sponsoring the European team at every match and it’s something that the players are very aware of for one particular reason.
Four-time Ryder Cup player Martin Kaymer says: “The engraved watch that Rolex presents to every member of the European team is very special. The watch is something to treasure to hand down to your grandchildren one day. It is a fantastic reminder that, as a golfer, you have achieved something very special – you have been selected as one of the best players to represent all of Europe.”
This year’s European Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn also has fond memories of receiving the commemorative watch. “(The presentation of the watch) usually happens on the Tuesday night of the tournament week, when the captains – who are involved in choosing the watch – give them to the players.
“I think the guys who have played in even nine or 10 Ryder Cups still get as excited as the first time they received their watch. The players’ names are engraved on the back, and it’s amazing for some players who have built up a collection of watches from playing on Ryder Cup teams. It really shows how much Rolex has been involved in the European Ryder Cup Team, and golf in general, over the years.”
For 2004 European captain Bernhard Langer, the memory of his Rolex watch presentation that year is tinged with humour. “When I was captain, I heard Darren Clarke say ‘Well, Bernhard is probably going to give us a Bible’ as I was known to be a Christian. But, instead, I gave him a Rolex watch with an engraving on the back saying ‘European Ryder Cup Team, 2004, Detroit’. I heard him say later ‘Well, I thought you might give us a Bible, but to get a Rolex watch is pretty awesome!’”
Rolex has a long-term relationship with many Ryder Cup players and particularly those who have gone on to become captains of both teams. For Rolex which began its relationship with golf in 1967, these men are ambassadors – better known by the brand as testimonees – whose opinions are much sort after.
The following is an edited excerpt from a Q&A interview with Thomas Bjorn at one of last season’s Rolex Series events that take place on the European Tour throughout the year.
Q: What are the biggest lessons to learn from Hazeltine? Matthew Fitzpatrick said he felt he needed to play a fourball before he played on Sunday.
A: Yes, it’s a difficult one, because I look back at it and I think a lot of things developed into a situation that was really difficult. For Darren [Clarke], it was a team that he felt needed to get a good start, and they really got off to the worst possible start, and he was playing catch up from then on.
You have to put your trust in your team and believe that your 12 guys can deliver, even if you want to fall back on what you know. The way I see it is that you’ve got to try to use your team as best you can. Hindsight is a great thing, and people will always say what might have happened if you had chosen a different eight, but I think that was a tough Ryder Cup for a lot of players.
My message to players is that it’s not about making The Ryder Cup team, it’s about playing in The Ryder Cup. Looking back over the years, people are so keen to make the team, that they forget that from the day they qualify they have to play in it as well, and it’s something you see on both sides. It’s a fantastic stage to play on, but only when you are ready to play, because it’s a horrible place to be if you’re not.
Q: Is that the main impetus behind points being multiplied closer to the event so that you get a more informed decision?
A: It came out of conversations with ex-captains, and they all believe that form is more important than who you are. I feel that because the events are so big in that period, and especially over the summer, the boost that guys get from playing well will stand them in good stead come September because they’ll be in a good place with themselves and they can use that drive and confidence during Ryder Cup week.
Confidence is everything in this game, because every single player that is here this week can win this tournament if they are feeling confident. Of course, there are guys who will be confident and in better positions than others, but they can all play, and confidence is everything for them. Ultimately, I’m not concerned with who they are, I just want to have 12 guys there who are in form and ready to play.
Q: Do you think that might have happened to Stephen Gallacher at Gleneagles? He did very well to qualify, but once he got there it just didn’t happen for him.
A: It’s really a question for Stephen and Paul [McGinley], but I think Paul would say that in hindsight he would have managed that situation a little differently. It’s such a big occasion for a local player to play in his home country, and everything around it becomes so big that you forget the core part of it. That’s why, when I look at the several French players that I could include, I would really have to manage that situation, because the expectations are so high, and there is so much going on.
I feel that it’s my job to keep them in that bubble of the Ryder Cup, and once it’s over, they’re free to do what they want. I don’t care what they do on the Monday after the Ryder Cup, I care about what they do from now until then. I’ve got to manage them, by not getting in their way, but by helping them make the right decisions, especially guys that are rookies.
Q: How have you found the transition from player to captain?
A: Everything that people say about it is true, and it’s a lot more than you think it will be, but I’m trying to keep the captaincy and my own golf separate, even though that’s an extremely difficult
thing to do. Whereas before, if I made two bogies in a row, I used to channel my temper and frustration to make two birdies on the next holes, but now if I make two bogies in a row I find myself watching what other guys are doing at tournaments I’m playing in.
On the other hand, I think the captaincy has given me a fantastic perspective of where I am – I love being out here, not necessarily for the reasons of playing my own golf, but because I’m learning about people and how different they are.
Every single person I have met is so different, whether it’s how they practice, what team they have around them, and how they think about things. Some guys are living in a wonderland where they get to play golf all of the time, while other guys are so strict about everything they do. I think I’ve learned a lot about golfers, and I find that a little bit surreal, in the way that it’s such a different place to be in, but I really enjoy it. I think it helps that I have that relationship with all the members of the tour because of the ten years I spent as European Tour Chairman, dealing with players and getting so much information and feedback from players.
Q: Would you have a French vice-captain just for the sake of it?
A: I use the same thinking with the vice-captains as I do with the players. I want the five best vice-captains that I can possibly have, and if at that time there’s a French person who fits that criteria, they will be involved, but if not, there won’t. My job is to win the Ryder Cup, and to do that with the best team of people that we can put together – what nationality they are doesn’t matter to me because we are one continent for that week, we are not individual nations. I want to put together a group of people who will allow those 12 players to perform the best. Even in my wildcard selections, I’m only picking guys who will make up what I think is the best 12 players available at the time.
Q: Who was the best captain you worked under, either as a player or a vice captain?
A: Sam [Torrance] was a fantastic captain but, unfortunately, he had a different captaincy than everybody else because of September 11th, which gave him an extra year to prepare. He got to spend so much time with us that he influenced us a lot more than we thought he did and that put a completely different perspective on the captaincy, but he really was fantastic. He was a motivator, and he had the ability to make all 12 players feel like they were the best in the world. He probably didn’t have the greatest team, but he still managed to win against an American team that was extremely strong.
Paul McGinley transformed the captaincy in the way he went into it in detail, and he certainly spent a lot of time on becoming a manager, doing things from a football perspective. But I think sometimes you have to be careful because you can’t have the players every day, they’re not your players. For a football manager, that’s his team, they’re his players working for him and the club, but these golfers play for themselves all of the time.
When I look at all of the Ryder Cups that I have been involved in, they all had great things about them, but the best captains were able to create an environment that was fun to play in, and they all did that, even Bernhard Langer. Bernhard was brilliant for the week, especially as he had a reputation for doing his own thing and not really interacting with anyone throughout the year, but when it came to the Ryder Cup he was so different.
Q: What type of captain will Thomas Bjørn be?
A: I don’t think I’m going to change, and I feel that I got this captaincy because of the players – they wanted me to be their captain, and if they didn’t I wouldn’t be in this position. They will all have been asked at some stage, and someone, somewhere thought it would be a good idea, so I feel like I have the support of the players, and I can then give that support back to them.
We have a trust in each other and a belief in each other, and I won’t try to be something that I’m not. I want to try to create a good environment for the players, and in every vice-captain’s role I’ve had, all I’ve wanted to do is support our 12 guys. I had no agenda for myself, and I will be the same as captain. I have some different responsibilities as captain, because I have to listen to everybody and then make decisions, and I understand that, but I still want to create an environment that all of these guys enjoy being in and playing in. Whether we win or lose, I want all 12 guys to walk away from the Ryder Cup thinking that it was a good experience – that is my main goal.