By Will Pearson, europeantour.com
in Kuala Lumpur
Ahead of the inaugural EurAsia Cup presented by DRB-HICOM, europeantour.com delved deep inside the unique theatre of team match play golf with the help of Europe’s Joost Luiten and Thorbjørn Olesen…
This week at Glenmarie Golf and Country Club in Kuala Lumpur, a ten-man European side led by ever-popular Spaniard Miguel Angel Jiménez will take on Thongchai Jaidee’s Team Asia in a Ryder Cup-style match play showdown consisting of five fourball matches on Thursday, five foursomes the following day and a thrilling finale of ten singles contests to close on Saturday.
Complementing the vast experience of Captain Jiménez and Ryder Cup stalwarts Thomas Björn and Graeme McDowell is a crop of burgeoning talent such as Race to Dubai leader Jamie Donaldson, flourishing Frenchman Victor Dubuisson plus European Tour winners Olesen and Luiten.
The latter of those has had plenty of success in the format in the past, having starred in the Seve Trophy by Golf+ last year, where the Dutchman accrued four points out of five in helping Continental Europe to their first win in seven attempts at Saint-Nom-La-Bretèche.
Luiten, who also represented the Netherlands in the 2011 World Cup of Golf, also revelled in a team environment during his days as an amateur, driving his country to a surprise win in the 2006 Eisenhower Trophy.
Olesen was also part of the same winning Continental Europe side at the 2013 Seve Trophy, while later last year he also helped mentor and compatriot Björn take Denmark to a tied third place finish at the World Cup of Golf in Australia.
Safe to say, then, that both men are well placed to pass judgement on the inimitable allure of match play golf and the rare and cherished team environment…
Head To Head
In a sport as inherently individualistic as golf, the old mantra has always been one of a contest against the course, the elements and moreover a psychological battle with oneself.
Not so in match play, says Luiten: “It’s a totally different game than stroke play. You can look more towards your opponent and what he’s doing and just try to make sure you do one less than him every hole.
“You can change your approach on the course more. In normal events you decide on a game plan beforehand and try to keep to it but with match play, if your opponent sticks two balls in the water then there is no point in taking risks, you can play it safer.
“It’s a different attitude. You try to play your opponent instead of the course.”
Match Play golf inevitably seems to inspire some of the most memorable, dramatic moments of sporting theatre and raw passion – think of an eyeball-bulging Ian Poulter at The Ryder Cup, for example – and that is often reflected in the more aggressive approach the format encourages.
Olesen observes: “I tend to think with a different mind-set, especially with the putting where you can generally be a bit more aggressive in match play. Also, as soon as you go down in a game you know you need to really start attacking the pins, even on holes or with flag positions where you would not normally.”
“I think especially in fourballs, when you are playing together and you have your partner to fall back on, you can really try to go for the pins,” Luiten agrees. “You have to do that, birdies win holes in that form of the game so you need to get aggressive.”
It’s a special bond in the team environment but it’s also a different kind of pressure too.
Back To Basics
Most professional golfers grew up playing head to head golf throughout their amateur lives, however the match play format is a little harder to come by in the paid ranks.
Events like the EurAsia Cup, then, come as a welcome intervention from regular stroke play tournaments.
“I think all the guys – myself included – played a lot of match play golf when we were younger as amateurs,” Olesen reflects, “so it’s nice having been playing professionally on Tour for a few years to get back into the format where you began, to put it that way.
“I’ve played a number of these events now like the Seve Trophy, the Royal Trophy and they tend to inspire the best out of you. I feel like I have an experience in the format and am looking forward to getting out there again this week.”
A lot of stock is put on pairings in team match play golf with chemistry between playing partnerships playing a crucial part.
Nowhere is this exemplified more compellingly than in the foursomes with its alternate shot format.
Luiten explains: “In foursomes and singles you have to be a bit more careful in going for pins because it is just you. You don’t want to be hitting your birdie putt six feet by the hole and then handing over to your playing partner and saying, ‘Over to you’.
“You need to be careful and considered. It is one of the most difficult forms of the game there is.”
For The Team
For large portions of the year professional golf is very much a solitary pursuit, making events such as the EurAsia Cup and The Ryder Cup a unique and valued exception to the rule.
“It’s a lot of fun playing in a team,” says Olesen. “I played a lot of football growing up and used to love the team spirit and it is the same here.
“All the ten guys here are great so it’s easy to get along and that will hopefully translate in the scores.
“In professional golf, you are on your own most of the time so having that bond and camaraderie and a team around you is very special.”
"I played a lot of football growing up and used to love the team spirit and it is the same here."
While the benefits of team golf are undeniable, conversely the anguish of every missed putt or wayward drive is accentuated as each player attempts to not only win for themselves but for the team.
“It’s a special bond in the team environment but it’s also a different kind of pressure too,” Luiten continues. “I played the Seve Trophy and you are very aware of playing for your team-mates, for your continent.
“When you play on your own in stroke play there is nobody else to let down except yourself. Here, though, you really don’t want to lose because you feel like you are letting your team down. It makes it very interesting.”
Olesen, meanwhile, says for him the greatest pressure comes on the final day of the contest.
“I think especially when you get into the singles when you are out there on your own, but knowing you are playing for your team, you feel the heat,” says the Dane.
“I find it easier to be calm in the foursomes, the fourballs, as you have your partner out there with you. But the pressure is still there; you always want to win for the team.”
For many, tournaments such as the EurAsia Cup are seen as a decent barometer of Ryder Cup suitability and for those yet to experience that specific cauldron, the chance to draw on the knowledge of veteran campaigners such as Jiménez and Björn is unrivalled.
“It is always a great experience, as a professional golfer, to play in team golf,” Luiten concludes. “You learn a lot from just spending time with the boys, talking golf, asking experienced guys like Miguel how they might play certain shots, how they might prepare for different situations, just picking their brains on all matters.
“It’s unique, fun, and I love playing under the pressure of a team event.”