For golfers playing at the Ryder Cup, it must be like footballers going from club football to international football or at least playing in one of the big derby games.
You must win your individual battles and let that feed into the team’s overall performance. Its been a long, hard season for all the players and it’s like going to a World Cup after playing in domestic leagues.
And like most high-pressure sporting events – it will also come down to how the team performs on the day.
One of the vice captains this year and a Ryder Cup veteran, Lee Westwood, once told me that no matter how many times you play in the Ryder Cup, you’re still as nervous hitting your first tee shot every time.
I know when I played in big games I got nervous. But it’s how you control those nerves that matter.
You want to feed off your emotions rather than let them control you.
The captains play a vital role here too as golf – unlike football – is such an individual game. There’s no hiding place if things aren’t going well. A lot will depend on how the players spark with each other and how good their off-course relationship is.
When I first started playing for England, you’d have a Manchester United table, Liverpool table or Arsenal table where players from those clubs would stick together in the international set-up.
It changed under Terry Venables and lenn Hoddle and there was a really good team spirit in those groups. Even though I didn’t play in the same club side as Les Ferdinand, Ian Wright and Paul Gascoigne, I formed life-long friendships with them.
Later, when I was managing Blackburn, I noticed that players tended to stay within their own peer groups – so I changed it around.
I wanted the right-back and the right winger sitting together and becoming friendly so that this would be reflected on the pitch. You try to create a bond and you’re almost looking for a telepathy between the players the feeds into higher performance levels for the whole team.
Most people have the Europeans down as the underdogs but Ian Poulter, Rory McIlroy and Justin Rose have been there, done that. They’ll be the leaders in the dressing-room that the rookies will look to.
The States have been given a massive lift by Tiger Woods’ return to form this year and his victory in the Tour Championship last weekend was the icing on the cake.
They’ll be full of confidence as they try to retain the Ryder Cup. But Tiger Woods is just one player in this team format and can’t win it on his own. That’s where the captain’s pairings are vital.
Some of the Americans have had issues with each other in the past and the Europeans seem to get on better as a group. Thomas Bjorn will try to blend all those different personalities and characteristics together to get the best outcome for the team.
Sergio Garcia and Ian Poulter mightn’t be great if they played together as they’re both passionate players. If you add that passion to more reserved players like Francesco Molinari or Tommy Fleetwood, it could be a potent mix.
Even though Tommy Fleetwood is a rookie, I think he’ll surprise people. He’s the Race to Dubai champion, was runner-up in the US Open this year and looks to have nerves of steel. He’ll need to play at least four if not all five games to be among the contenders for the leading points scorers, but if he does he could be a good bet for it.
European captain Thomas Bjorn might want to see who performs best of his ‘rookies’ and then pairs them up with the more established players on day two as momentum is going to be important and Europe will want to see those points on the board early.
It settles everyone down. If Europe take an early lead the Americans may get frustrated. On the flip side though, if Team USA start sinking putts it can silence the home support and put extra pressure on the Europeans.
I’m hoping home advantage just gets us over the line this weekend.