Thomas Björn and Paul McGinley, veterans of five Ryder Cups between them and equally familiar with the thrill of victory in golf’s classic team confrontation, will get their first taste of captaincy this week when the Vivendi Trophy with Seve Ballesteros takes place at Saint-Nom-la-Bretèche Golf Club in Paris.
Denmark’s Björn, who leads Continental Europe and Irishman McGinley, in charge of the Great Britain and Ireland side, are eager to use the vast experience gained in European Team rooms from Valderrama to The K Club in this biennial match which honours the great Seve Ballesteros.
Björn, holder of nine European Tour titles and a Ryder Cup winner in 1997 and 2002, said: “I have a good bunch of guys and I can sense that they want to go to Saint-Nom-la-Bretèche and do a good job.
“It’s important everyone on the team stands together and gets right behind each other with heart and soul. When you get ten guys together they will not all necessarily be playing great golf, but it’s a question of getting everybody believing and dreaming the same dream and I am confident we can do that.”
McGinley, who has won four titles on Tour but has the edge on his Danish rival with three Ryder Cup victories in 2002, 2004 and 2006, said: “I am going to be captaining some of the most exciting talent in world golf at the moment and that is a challenge in itself.
“I am looking forward immensely to working with quality players and see where we go. I am very much going into it with an open mind because I have things to learn and I’ve never done it before.”
World Number Five Henrik Stenson of Sweden, the highest ranked player in the field, will head Björn’s side. Joining him are compatriots Robert Karlsson and Peter Hanson, Danish trio Anders Hansen, Søren Hansen and Søren Kjeldsen and Spaniards Gonzalo Fernandez-Castaño, Miguel Angel Jiménez and Alvaro Quiros, while there is a debut for Italian Francesco Molinari.
Facing Continental Europe will be Irish pair Graeme McDowell and Rory McIlroy alongside eight Englishmen; Nick Dougherty, Simon Dyson, Ross Fisher, Robert Rock, Anthony Wall, Steve Webster, Oliver Wilson and Chris Wood.
Six of Europe’s 2008 Ryder Cup Team will be part of the contest: Søren Hansen, Jiménez, Karlsson, McDowell, Stenson and Wilson. Hansen, who made his Ryder Cup debut at Valhalla in 2008, has admitted that his appetite for team golf was whetted by that experience.
He joked: “Maybe we should conduct the team meetings in Danish with Thomas there as captain and three Danes in the team! Seriously, it is going to be an exciting event, especially with The Ryder Cup next year. It is always nice to play a team event and although it is unfortunate that there is not a Frenchman playing in France, we still have a very strong European team.”
He added: “The last time we played I got right into it. You don’t want to lose no matter who you play and I am sure that feeling will come back this week. We need that. We have a Ryder Cup coming up and we need a bit of match play and the feeling you get over the last few holes and closing out your match.”
Hansen added: “I hope Seve will be able to attend as I would like to shake his hand and see how he is doing, He is a good man and we will play in his spirit. He has done so much for this Tour and we can recognise that by playing well next week.”
The contest will see the return to competition of 2008 European Number One, Karlsson, who has been absent from the Tour due to an eye problem since May while newcomers McIlroy (20) and 21 year old Wood will be the youngest competitors on show in Paris on the GB and I line-up.
England’s Nick Dougherty, who played in the event in Ireland two years ago, can’t wait to get involved again in the hope that it is a precursor to qualifying for Colin Montgomerie’s Team at The Celtic Manor Resort in Wales next October.
He insisted: “It is going to be great, although the teams are quite different this year. In the past I have always felt our GB and I team has had the edge and has been very strong compared to the Continentals, but don’t think that is the case this year.
“I think they are very strong but at the same time we also have some great players. I think it will be a very close contest and being in Europe that might help them a little.”
Montgomerie, who will watch the performances of the 20 players on show this week with a captain’s critical eye, commented: “It is shaping up to be a really strong event and it will be great for me to see so many potential 2010 European Ryder Cup Team members competing together.
“I think I will learn a lot about the players during the week. We are all delighted that Vivendi is supporting this event and it is very fitting that we will be honouring Seve, who I believe is Europe’s greatest ever match player.”
The Vivendi Trophy with Seve Ballesteros will see five fourballs on both Thursday and Friday, four greensomes on Saturday morning, four foursomes on Saturday afternoon and ten singles matches on Sunday.
In total 28 points are available with 14 ½ points required to win. In 2007 Continental Europe led 9 ½ - 8 ½ going into the last day, but Great Britain and Ireland won the singles 8-2 for a decisive 16 ½ - 11 ½ victory.
Continental Europe won the inaugural event in 2000 but Great Britain and Ireland have won each of the four subsequent matches in 2002, 2003, 2005 and 2007.