30 Mar 2022

Thomas Bjørn on the Ryder Cup, Phil Mickelson and much more

Widely regarded as one of Europe’s greatest ever golfers, Thomas Bjørn is a man who has ticked almost every box in the game.

Twenty-seven years after graduating from the Challenge Tour, the Dane has won 15 DP World Tour titles – including two in the Middle East – led out Team Europe to an emphatic Ryder Cup victory at Le Golf National in 2018, served as Vice Captain on multiple occasions in the biennial showpiece and held the position of Chairman on the Tour’s Tournament Committee for a decade before becoming a member of the Board of Directors.  That wealth of experience has helped him become the man he is today – wise, straight-talking and firm but fair.

We caught up with the 51-year-old at last month’s DP World Golf Day to get his views on a range of subjects from his passion to help the next generation of talent to his true thoughts on Phil Mickelson and a breakaway league.

Bjørn on the European Tour evolving into the DP World Tour

It’s a very important relationship, it was important that we did elevate the Tour. The relationship between Dubai and the DP World Tour is obviously a relationship that’s been there for a long, long time, and it’s steadily grown over the years. To now associate ourselves that strongly with one of Dubai strongest brands in DP World is very key for the growth of the Tour.

In any strong relationship it’s obviously give and take, and then there’s got to be something in it for both parties and hopefully, our brand, what we stand for, and where we go in the world will help elevate DP World as well in their relationships around the globe. So, it becomes a constant two-way thing where both parties grow together and I think the size of this relationship, it needs to be like that, you know, it really does. We need to elevate each other for it to be successful, and then go from strength to strength.

Bjørn on making his debut on the Legends Tour last year and his hunger to help the next generation of talent

Yeah, I think it’s nice, mostly because you see guys that you grew up with playing the game. It’s a nice change of environment and obviously from a golfing perspective, you feel a lot more competitive in the sense of there’s not as much pressure on you in golfing terms. When you play on the DP World Tour with the youngsters, if you have a couple of bad holes you fall through the ranks very quickly and it is extremely competitive at the top, it’s very driven. But that’s the way it should be for professional sport at the highest level.

They’re still very competitive on the Legends Tour and they still want it very much but there’s just a different vibe about the place and it is a bit more relaxed. It’s just that nice change of pace when you get to that age where you kind of fall in between being one of the older guys and one of the really young guys.

I still enjoy being around the youngsters. I think there’s a huge amount of talent in European golf today. There’s a lot of young guys that I feel I have a great relationship with and I have some great conversations trying to guide them in the right direction. They have to make their own decisions and own choices about what they do but I just try and help them along the way to make good decisions and prepare them for what the world stage is going to bring to them.

So, I enjoy being out on the main tour and from my own playing perspective also because I feel like that’s where my whole life has been. I love the Tour as a Tour to be on, I love it for what we stand for and I love the players on the Tour. I see new generations coming through all making the same mistakes that we made and getting ahead of themselves, thinking they’re better than they are too soon and not quite learning their trade in the way they should. Sometimes they come back with their tails between their legs and it’s interesting to see all the things that you kind of were guilty of yourself. So many players have made the mistakes and now you have the experience to help the ones that want to be helped and some don’t and that’s okay. There’s a lot of talent on Tour today that is very enjoyable to watch play golf.

Bjørn on Europe’s record-breaking loss at the 2020 Ryder Cup

I think you always have to look back and say, ‘could we do something different?’ Is the model that we’ve relied on for so long efficient? Do we need to change things or do we just change little things here and there in how we do it?

I think a lot of things were against the Europeans – they didn’t get off to a fast start and things just piled up very quickly and it became a very uphill task. We’ve been on the giving end of that in the past where it became an uphill task for the Americans and once the ball rolls against you a bit, it becomes a very difficult match to turn around.

We don’t like getting beat in record-breaking fashion, but speaking to the players, speaking to Padriag, there’s just not that much that any of them said they could have done differently.

The Americans were extremely strong, not just with their players, but on form as well and sometimes it just happens like that. That’s been in our favour in the past and it was against us last year. Looking forward, maybe we do change little things, but we won’t change it massively. We have a very successful formula and we’ve been very successful in the Ryder Cup. Hopefully, this was a one off, where things went against us pretty much from the get go.

Bjørn on the formula for being a successful Ryder Cup Captain

I think commitment and time is something that you have to put into it. I feel like sometimes people think that is more an honorary position than an actual job – I know how much time and effort I put into it.

You’ve got to be willing to give that time and prepare yourself and your team for the situation that they’re going into. The Captain has to actually be a captain and manage the team, it’s not a case of coming in and just doing it for the week that the tournament takes place. That might have been the case in the past but I think that’s changing. You’ll see captains of the future being a lot more involved in the build-up going into the Ryder Cup.

Bjørn on his admiration for compatriots Rasmus and Nicolai Højgaard

They both have all the talent in the world. In my time there’s been three or four guys that have really stood out talent wise and these two comes close to them. It’s difficult to put them in that category with the very best, but they come in close and they have all the potential to go all the way in the world of golf.

I’m talking about them being Major champions, reaching World No.1 and playing in the Ryder Cup, but things have to develop in the right direction. They are just 20 years old and have five DP World Tour wins between them – they’re setting themselves up for all the success but also for all the scrutiny that comes with having a big talent.

It’s how you deal with that scrutiny and it’s how you work through the bad times and develop yourself even in the good times that split the best from the rest. There’s a lot of things that they need to learn but with their talent and potential, they can go all the way.

They’re wonderful kids, both of them. They really are and I love being around them mostly for the reason that they have big ears. They want to listen, they want to learn and then they kind of sort it out themselves. I love young players that come out and really want to take everything they can from all the players that have been through it. I go back to my own career when I was spending time with Langer, Seve and Woosy – I would just sit and listen and try and understand their way of thinking just to make myself better. I see so much of that in these two.

Bjørn on the one piece of equipment that changed golf forever

The Big Bertha changed the game. It was a driver that changed the looks of a club from small headed ones to a big driver head. Golf became completely different from that day on. It was a remarkable piece of engineering and development and from that day on golf balls started to change because the heads were bigger.

It completely changed the way you hit the golf ball, you started hitting the ball in a different way and you started seeing people hitting it longer. Obviously going from wooden clubs to metal clubs was a big thing, but I think when the Big Bertha came along it left the guys stuck with the wooden clubs way behind. They had no chance of competing once that driver was introduced to the game. So, for me, that’s the piece of equipment that really took the game to the next level.

Bjørn on Phil Mickelson’s comments on a breakaway league

I find it all a little bit sad. I’ve known Phil for close to 30 years and he has a lot of great thoughts about the game and he’s hugely popular with the fans, he’s a great ambassador for golf. The game has just gone into a place that has been quite uncomfortable.

We want golf to keep growing. We want golf to keep doing the right things. We want golf to keep producing new things. We have a CEO on the DP World Tour who has been very much at the forefront of innovation in trying to do different things and trying to develop the game.

You have to try new things and they might work and they might not. We’ve certainly been down that route with certain things with six-hole golf, Shot Clock Masters and many more – they’ve been okay, but they haven’t been the things that really revolutionise the game.

But I always come back my feelings and I don’t think golf needs revolutionising. I think golf is quite good the way it is and comfortable the way it is. There’s a lot of people that think that they can revolutionise it, but at the end of the day, golf’s four biggest events in the world are played over 72 holes and that’s what you want golf to be.

That’s the historic offering and you don’t want to change that. So, why do you want to change all sorts of different things around it? I believe in the Tours. I believe in the PGA Tour. I believe in the DP World Tour. I believe in the Asian Tour. I believe that we could all work closer together to make a schedule that works better for the top players. I think there’s a lot more demand on the top players today than there used to be.

A closer relationship with other Tours is something that you want to see. I don’t necessarily think that new styles of the game are something that you want to see and I think Phil got caught himself caught in a situation and I think he got it wrong.

I hope he sits somewhere and thinks ‘well, I did get that wrong’ and is big enough to admit that – that’s his easiest way back to the PGA Tour. On a personal level, I have a lot of time for Phil Mickelson for what he’s done for the game. Aside from Tiger Woods, Phil’s been in my era by far the best player. He’s been exceptional to watch. Fantastic to be around. Great opponent and I want to see him back. Watching him win the PGA Championship last year was phenomenal. I thought it was one of the greatest moments in golf and that’s what you want to see. You want him to be in those situations and be an ambassador for the game.

DP World to redistribute unwanted golf balls

DP WORLD has created a unique shipping container that will collect and redistribute used golf balls during the 2022 DP World Tour season, giving them a second life.

Travelling through DP World’s global logistics infrastructure and network, the container will visit six DP World Tour events. Fans will be invited to donate used and unwanted golf balls, which will be redistributed to organisations that are championing golf from the grassroots up, to help grow the game globally.

“It’s quite remarkable that nobody’s come up with the idea before,” said Bjorn. “I was honoured to be part of the launch and it’s a very cool thing to see. I hope this is something that will send a message around the world that we have a responsibility to take care of the planet. We send a lot of golf balls into the world, which is probably not great for the environment, so let’s start taking care of our home a bit more. All over the world plastic is one of our biggest enemies and we must take steps to protect it.”

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