Except that you don't decide matters of war and peace or orchestrate bank bailouts, being a Ryder Cup captain is pretty much like being president of the United States or prime minister of Great Britain. Some big job like that. By day, you glad-hand corporate chieftains, give speeches, sip ginger ale from fluted glasses. Then comes the real work, late at night, huddled with your assistant captains. You plot, you fill out mock lineup cards, you do your strategery. Before you know it, the single most intense week of your life is over and it's not coming back.
Colin Montgomerie, the European Ryder Cup captain, played the Tony Blair role in last week's matches at Celtic Manor, in squishy Wales. You know: the grandiose talking, the overthinking, the wildly expressive face. (If you want to see some classic Tony Blair, check out Charlie Rose's September interview with the former British prime minister.) Montgomerie is inscrutable. He can be charming, dismissive and combative in the space of 10 minutes. Whatever his mood, though, he's a plus-4 talker.
After the longest and most amazing Saturday in Ryder Cup history, Montgomerie opened an evening press conference with a 778-word monologue about walkie-talkie battery capacity, José María Olazábal's rheumatoid arthritis, player passion and the redesign for the large on-course electronic scoreboards he ordered for Sunday's play. He exhausted himself.
And then there was the captain of Team USA, as Corey Pavin liked to call his club. He brought to mind George W. Bush (who was a member of Ben Crenshaw's kitchen cabinet at the 1999 Ryder Cup). Pavin, like 43, came off as impassive, fit, terse, secretive. Whenever he spoke, his head, impressively, remained amazingly still. Asked about the U.S. team room, Pavin said, "We have the room decorated a certain way for the team, but that's private."
Pavin's team room, you eventually learned, was no man cave, as the Hal Sutton team room was in 2004. It was not a place for self-revelation, as the Crenshaw team room was in Boston. It was more like a homey living room. The players' parents were invited in. Grandparents, in the case of 21-year-old Rickie Fowler, were invited in. Pavin was looking for the '79 Pittsburgh Pirates vibe. We are family.
The Corey Pavin who drove a four-seat buggy up and down a Welsh valley last week was not the Corey Pavin you might remember from the '91 Ryder Cup, the War by the Shore. That's when Bulldog, his nickname then, wore a camouflage cap to honor the American troops in the first gulf war. He won his one major, the '95 U.S. Open, with a gunslinger's mustache. He was a superb golfer and a lone wolf. He had the dismissive thing down cold.
Over the past decade Pavin lost the 'stache and the nickname, and moved himself off golf's edgy shoulder and into the safety of the middle. Ringo crossing Abbey Road. From there he could lobby for a job previously held by Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus years ago, and Sutton and Tom Lehman more recently.
Last week Pavin brought an Air Force major, Dan Rooney, an F-16 fighter pilot, in to talk to the team. The move raised many sets of those imposing British eyebrows. One newspaper headline read GOLF WAR. But Pavin had it all figured out. "I want these guys to be accountable to each other and have each other's backs, that's what happens in the military," the captain said, explaining his invitation to Major Rooney. Very measured, very reasonable. Back in the day he would have said, "I want these guys to kick ass and take no prisoners." "I've mellowed" has been a mantra of Pavin interviews for months now. His ability to stay on message last week was right out of the Karl Rove playbook. And this was the message: "There's not much to say. These guys know what they need to do." If he said that once, and he did, he said it four or five times.
His counterpart was all over the place. MON-tay, in the singsong Welsh accent, was stirring, sensible, funny and a little nutty. Explaining the coupling of Ross Fisher and Padraig Harrington, a rookie-veteran better-ball team, Montgomerie said, "I think that's why that pairing was put together. Well, I know it was. [Beat.] Because I did it." Privately and publicly he made repeated, emotional references to Seve Ballesteros, patron saint of European golf. He ordered team waterproofs that actually repelled water.
Montgomerie allowed his players to tweet, but Pavin did not. There were withdrawal symptoms, surely, for Stewart Cink's 1.2 million followers. The English golfer Ian Poulter, who has 1.05 million followers of his own, posted this early one morning: "Bubba Watson throwing USA badges out from there [sic] balcony as we are all signing. He can't tweet so I will."