It’s always interesting to see how a prominent player responds to being offered an assistant’s role at a Presidents or Ryder Cup.
Obviously, most active players would rather be playing the event, but Masters champion Sergio Garcia, an assistant Ryder Cup captain in 2010, is living proof that all is certainly not lost just because you’ve been handed a walkie-talkie and the keys to a golf cart.
The names Woods, Els, Couples and Furyk are among the prominent names taking on an assistant captain role at this year’s Presidents Cup and another of them, 2006 US Open champion and three-time International team representative, Geoff Ogilvy, is bursting with anticipation and excitement for the job ahead at Liberty National.
“I’ve been excited about this since ‘Pricey’ (International team captain Nick Price) called me last year,” said Ogilvy, who recently extended his US PGA Tour career by securing a FedEx Cup playoffs berth.
“Nick’s all in. His enthusiasm is contagious, I’ve noticed over the years.”
The excitement in the Victorian’s voice is mirrored in Price and fellow assistants Ernie Els, Tony Johnstone and Mike Weir. Collectively, they have a sense that the tide is starting to turn the way of the Internationals, with an enormous step taken two years ago in the nail-biting loss to the Americans in Korea.
Ogilvy explains: “It’s been building. We always left the Presidents Cup a bit flat because we usually got completely nailed.
“What you really want, you watch that Ryder Cup almost lovingly in a way, how exciting and tense it is. It might be the best atmosphere in any sport, when it comes down to it. It’s like match point at Wimbledon in a way and it seems to happen for a whole weekend.
“So when you’re involved in one of these tournaments, that’s what you’re looking forward to, that aspect. We play golf every week and it’s great, but you can go two years without ever feeling what you would feel in a Presidents Cup, every shot you hit.
“You’re looking forward to that and certainly the ones I was involved in – and Muirfield Village (2013) was the same, it was a little bit flat because it was almost over before Sunday.
“There wasn’t that build-up of tension but Korea (in 2015) had that.”
“With 10 minutes to play, it was a coin toss who was going to win. It came down to Anirban Lahiri and Chris Kirk – Kirk holed a long putt that looked unlikely and then Lahiri missed the putt he looked likely to hole.”
“He hit a great putt and didn’t do anything wrong, but it was one of those amazing momentum flips. All of a sudden, it was over, but it gave everyone a taste of the environment and how good it would be to win.
“More so than we’ve ever had before.
“When I talked to all the guys who played in Korea, they were so excited. They already had that anticipation for two years’ time, for this one.”
While Ogilvy implied a Presidents Cup would be an exciting spectacle if played in a paddock, he said this team the 2017 venue were combining to create the hallmarks of something really special.
“The core of the team, we have one of those periods of time where we have seven or eight guys back in the team from last time, a great captain that everybody loves, a great venue at Liberty National, the New York City skyline,” Ogilvy said.
“Everyone is just excited because of the build-up of events and thinking, ‘It’s time we got this one done’.
“You get the feeling over here (on the PGA Tour) in a Ryder Cup year. A Ryder Cup year in the locker room is a very different feeling than a non-Ryder Cup year. Both the Europeans who play in America all the time and the Americans are talking about it, trying to make the team.
“It feels more important to them than any individual reward and that really hasn’t been evident with the Presidents Cup. From the evidence that I’ve seen from our side, guys have been into this one much earlier than normal.
“And that can only be a good thing.”
There were times as Ogilvy spoke that it was difficult to separate assistant captain-speak from a person who might be auditioning for a role at Tourism New York.
When you’ve won a US Open in New York, it’s understandable the city will hold a special place in your heart.
“New York is kind of like the Melbourne of American sport in that they’re passionate sport fans. It doesn’t matter about the sport, they just turn up,” Ogilvy said.
“And it’s also one of those cities where people might have had going to a Presidents Cup on their bucket list and they see New York City (and say), `That’s the one we’re going to’.
“I think a lot of people will travel to this one and it’s going to create an incredible atmosphere and a feeling that would be hard to replicate in many other places.”
“I love New York. Every year, I find a reason to go there even if we’re not playing.”
“When we play in New York, we normally play on the outskirts somewhere and it’s a bit of a mission to get in and out. We’ll usually find a way when we’re playing those tournaments to spend three or four days (extra) there.
“It’s a brilliant city, great food, something on every corner, little holes in the wall, Michelin star restaurants.”
Business comes before pleasure, however, and Ogilvy knows the odds have been stacked against the Internationals for much of the Cup’s 23-year history.
Historically, it’s taken the Internationals a few days of each contest to find their feet – a few days too many as the record books clearly indicate.
“By Saturday night or Sunday we’re a great team unit, but Nick’s 100 per cent right in that we need to be ready to go on Thursday.
“As assistants, we need to be showing enthusiasm, preparing the rookies as much as you can, remind them how good it’s going to feel when we win.”
“You’re really not ready for the first tee on Thursday until you’ve experienced it – it’s hard to prepare for that. You think it’s going to be like playing the last few holes of a major or a big tournament, but it’s completely different.
“You’re carrying 11 other guys on your back and millions of others watching you.
“On paper though, this has got the makings of our best team for sure. Multiple major winners, our top five guys have played a lot of these.
“Adam (Scott) has played about seven of these, this will be Jason’s (Day) fourth, (Charl) Schwartzel’s played three or four, Louis (Oosthuizen) has played a few. Branden Grace was amazing last time in Korea and Hideki (Matsuyama) is clearly one of the best players in the world. He’s in contention every time he plays.
“The core group of the team looks really, really good for us and well experienced now.
“One of the better teams we’ve ever presented, I think.”