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The Captain Myth The Ryder Cup & Sport’s Great Leadership Delusion By Richard Gillis

Release date: 26th August, 2016
Publisher: Bloomsbury

List Price: 19.99
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A couple of years ago, your correspondent played in a pro-am golf tournament in front of a sizeable crowd and Sky Sports TV cameras. Ordinarily, I don’t suffer from nerves, but when your name is announced by a man with a microphone and you step up to the first tee to a ripple of polite applause, believe me, your sole objective in life is to look as calm as possible, strike the ball cleanly and pray it goes straight.

Thankfully it did, but the experience ensured I had a different perspective when watching professionals tee-off in the Ryder Cup. Anyone observing the thousands of fans milling around the first tee at Gleneagles two years ago would surely be of similar mind because the pressure on the individuals who walk, smiling, towards the opening tee, is enormous.

Granted, pro golfers are used to such pressure, but as Richard Gillis asks in The Captain Myth, do they benefit from the presence of an experienced team captain, a man well versed in golfing strategy and man-management, or are they capable of dealing with the vagaries of a Ryder Cup competition unaccompanied? It makes for a fascinating read, even if you’re not a golf enthusiast.

Modern sport is graced by (mostly) men capable of getting the best out of their charges. Dave Brailsford, Eddie Jones and Sir Alex Ferguson are three such characters, each renowned for their ability to motivate and employ strategies and tactics in a timely and effective manner.

In his most recent book, Leading, Sir Alex defines his leadership style as “having control without dissent,” not an approach universally welcomed by those under him, but it undoubtedly worked. Gillis wonders whether professional golfers require the same type of leadership by suggesting that while a Ryder Cup captain can make a decision and his team wins, it doesn’t necessarily follow that the team is successful because of his decision.

Ryder Cup captains can occasionally look foolish – American Hal Sutton has never lived down pairing Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods together, striding around the golf course wearing a cowboy hat and ending the opening day five points adrift of Europe. Conversely, the appointment of Paul McGinley to lead Europe at Gleneagles in 2014 caused some eyebrows to be raised, yet his team trounced the USA, led by Tom Watson no less, by an impressive five-point margin.

The next Ryder Cup starts at Hazeltine in Minnesota on 30th September with Darren Clarke and David Love III at the helm of their respective teams; reading The Captain Myth before then is highly recommended.


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