OPINION - Thomas Bjorn has rolled the dice... and unnecessarily so

Thomas Bjorn Captain

The deed is done. The dice have been rolled. The cards that Thomas Bjorn has been keeping close to his chest for the most part of the last year are now flat on the table for all to see.

Ian Poulter, Paul Casey, Henrik Stenson and Sergio Garcia – veterans of a combined 20 Ryder Cup matches between them – are bound for Paris at the expense of on-form upstarts Rafa Cabrera Bello, Matt Wallace and others, to somewhat of a lesser degree.

Bjorn’s formula for victory? Experience > form.

My, how the tables have turned.

In 2006, when an on-form Bjorn was overlooked for a wild card by the then European captain Ian Woosnam, the Dane’s first instinct was to go on the offensive. Offensive being the operative word.

"If the decision was based on competitive results, then I could go along with it,” he said at the time. “But it seems there's other reasons. He's based his decision on results which happened five years ago.”

He added that he had “lost all respect” for Woosnam and that his relationship with the Welshman was “completely dead and will remain so.”

Thomas Bjorn

Bjorn backtracked within 24 hours but the damage had been done. Woosnam was reportedly so upset by the criticism that he contemplated relinquishing the captaincy. Only at the insistence of his team did he stay on, ultimately leading Europe to a thumping 18½-9½ picking-apart of the United States at The K Club.

All of which makes it interesting to see Bjorn not just in the role of captain but making decisions based on the same principles as Woosnam did 12 years ago. Principles that led him to describe the Welshman as “barmy” and “the most pathetic captain I’ve ever seen”.

One suspects that those the Dane has disappointed over the last 24 hours will have received the news with immeasurably more grace. If they don’t, it should be easy to understand why.

Few would take issue with Poulter getting a pick. Likewise Stenson. Casey? Not quite as clear-cut (unless certain promises were made to him in order to ensure he renewed his membership of the European Tour).

Garcia, though.

Sergio Garcia Blog

That’s a gamble many will contend Bjorn simply didn’t need to make.

The Spaniard has had a largely wretched season. He finished in a tie for 24th on his last start, the Wyndham Championship. He had missed the cut in eight of his ten prior events on golf’s most lucrative circuit and failed to qualify for the FedEx Cup Playoffs for the first time since the end-of-season cash-grab was introduced in 2007.

He has fared marginally better in Europe, where he is currently 39th on the Race To Dubai – he has only finished the season outside the top 40 on the order of merit three times – and has posted three top tens. The most recent of those was a tie for eighth in July’s French Open at Le Golf National, host venue for this month’s Ryder Cup.

Despite qualifying, he passed on the chance to play for Bjorn’s European team at the EurAsia Cup in January. Thomas Pieters, Matt Fitzpatrick, Rafa Cabrera Bello and Paul Casey all made the effort to go.

Whilst the Irish Open was taking place at Ballyliffin, Garcia was at Wimbledon.

Whilst the Ryder Cup race was reaching its conclusion in Denmark last week, he was playing in a high-stakes poker match in Barcelona. Whatever the benevolent motives, it's hard to argue that it was a bad look.

Sergio Garcia

In short? He has done neither enough nor all he can to merit a place on Thomas Bjorn’s Ryder Cup team. And yet there he is.

The "Yeah, buts..." are deafening.

“Yeah, but… the Ryder Cup always brings out the best in him.”

Does it? Sure, he has amassed 22.5 points out of a possible 45 across eight editions of the match – but dating back to 2008, he has won just seven points out of a possible 16.

“Yeah, but… he finished in a tie for eighth at Le Golf National in this year’s French Open.”

That he did. Russell Knox finished in a tie for second and went on to win the very next week.

“Yeah, but… we’ve already got too many rookies in the team.”

There are five. The same as there were at the end of qualifying in 2016. Darren Clarke had the guts to pick a rookie (the winner of the Made In Denmark as it goes) and he went on to turn in the best-ever performance by a debutant.

“Yeah, but… Sergio guarantees you points.”

This is one of my favourites: speculation masquerading as fact. It’s almost too ridiculous to even dignify with a response, unless seeing into the future really is possible. In which case, why did so few people see this coming?

“Yeah, but…” ; “Yeah, but…” ; “Yeah, but…”.

Matt Wallace Blog

Yeah, but what about the message this sends out to the guys who are the lifeblood of the European Tour? The Matt Wallaces, the Adrian Otaeguis, the Alexander Bjorks, the Alex Levys, the Lucas Bjerregaards, the Mikko Korhonens.

The guys who are now what Thomas Bjorn has been for the majority of his career.

It says the reward for winning three times on the tour isn’t enough to merit a place on the European Ryder Cup team.

It says that, if you’re not a ‘name’, you’re name’s not on the team-sheet.

It leaves the tour – so fundamentally reliant on the Ryder Cup – vulnerable to accusations of favouritism, of “them and us” and “have and have not” allegations. Remember when people used to say Europe's greatest asset was it's camaraderie and how the PGA Tour was a more fractured, cliquey environment?

My, how the tables have turned.

Ryder Cup Sign

If this is the reward for membership and commitment, is it not better to head for the riches of America? Never mind the PGA Tour, there’s a great living to be had on the Web.com Tour. How many might consider that as an option?

As a solution, why not introduce a “three wins and you’re in” policy? A big like the “three wins for automatic graduation” policy on the Challenge Tour. Or four wins, whatever. Something, anything, that prevents weird anomalies this from happening again.

As captain, it’s Thomas Bjorn’s prerogative to pick who he likes. Noted and respected. 

Equally, though, it’s for those of us who cover the sport to separate sentimentality and cliché from the matter and properly analyse the decisions he’s made.

To me, having weighed it all up, Bjorn has made a mistake. Perhaps two. He’s added a layer of complication and pressure to the match that he didn’t need to. Clearly, he sees it differently. You might, too. That’s fine. It’s a game of opinions and, ultimately, only one person’s matter.

Win, and Bjorn will be a hero (and an exceptionally well recompensed one). Lose, and he’ll be regarded as an example of how not to do it. The margins are that fine.

Good luck to him, and good luck to his team.

The dice have been rolled. How they settle promises to be fascinating.

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