Golf | 09 Mar 2018 | By Michael Vlismas
How well do you know your partner?
The women’s magazines have been asking the question for years: How well do you know your partner? And it seems it’s a question that is highly relevant to professional golf as well.
As with life, the inaugural Steyn City Team Championship highlighted one critical rule of team golf – choose your partner wisely.
When it comes to the biggest team competitions in golf such as the Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup, there is always an emphasis placed on player pairings and how the respective captains need to get this mix exactly right.
Not getting it right can mean that even putting the world’s two best golfers together in a team could mean they never win a single match together.
Speaking to a few of the professionals who took part in this week’s Steyn City Team Championship at The Club at Steyn City, many agree that this is not only an important consideration, but the most important consideration.
For many of the professionals, technicalities that we as the media and fans love to highlight such as playing styles and even the different type of golf balls the players use do not weigh in nearly as heavily as how well they know their partners.
“It’s very important who you play with,” says Matthew Carvell. “That sounds silly but the energy is important. Energy is very important in this type of format.”
As Carvell points out, the success of team golf has very little to do with the actual golf (apart from the obvious point of winning or losing a hole) for one very simple reason: You are dealing with professionals, who can all play golf. Really well.
“It’s got nothing to do with golf. We can all play golf. But you’ve got to feed off each other. You have to have a situation where you’re not worried that if you hit a shot your partner is going to drop his head and kind of say, ‘Jeez, why did you put me there’. You need to be free to go out there and have fun. I didn’t feel nervous once throughout the Steyn City Team Championship.”
Again, the differences in golf balls – which often comes up as a debate point during alternate shot formats – is not something Carvell sees as a major stumbling block.
“I don’t think the technical side of the game makes a difference at all. Lyle Rowe, my partner in ths Steyn City Team Championship, plays Srixon and I play Titleist. My ball is a little bit softer. But you get used to it. It’s not a massive difference. The equipment is so good these days that you can work around it.”
Christiaan Bezuidenhout agrees. “You adapt to those things. It’s not such a big deal. For me it’s much more about how well you know your partner and whether you actually get along. Kyle (McClatchie, who was his partner in the Steyn City Team Championship) and I know each other well. We have the same coach and practice at the same golf course. We have the same kind of personalities.”
Neil Schietekat and Colin Nel chose each other as partners for one simple reason. “We’ve been playing golf together since Grade 7. Practice rounds and so on. We know each other’s games really well,” says Schietekat.
Carvell and Rowe travel together on the Sunshine Tour. And you can see that what they value in each other as travel partners off the course translates into them being a good team on the course as well.
“Lyle and I have been traveling together the last few years. There are so many different combinations you can go through when picking a partner for this type of team golf format. Lyle is more aggressive than I am and maybe that’s good for me because he pushes me a bit harder. Then there are times when I reign him in a little and convince him to maybe hit away from the flag when par is a good score.
“He’s very laid back and easy to travel with. He’s not a picky eater and doesn’t worry too much where he stays. He’s always a good laugh, whereas I can get a bit intense on the golf course, but Lyle’s laid back nature helps me keep that in check.
“Overall, I think having the confidence in your own ability and just backing your partner – that’s the big thing.”
Carvell sees that as one of the big obstacles the International team has in The Presidents Cup, where they are struggling to get the better of the Americans.
“I the Americans are so good there because they play together more. It’s a huge advantage. They have the same background and culture. At the Presidents Cup there are different cultures in the International Team and there are language barriers. It’s difficult to get a team culture going because you need to be able to have that banter and energy.”
Tony Johnstone, who has served as assistant to captain Nick Price on the International team for a few Presidents Cups, agrees that this bonding of the team is a critical element of their preparations, and something they need to constantly work at and improve.
“We have a great sense of camaraderie in the International team. But we do have to work harder than the Americans to achieve this because our players are all from different tours and different backgrounds.
“The bottom line is that the International team never has home ground advantage like the Americans because of all the countries involved. So we do a bit extra to get the guys bonded. We do everything to make sure they’re comfortable and happy by the time the Cup starts on Thursday.”
Clearly, relationships and a better understanding of them are the key to success in team golf. Perhaps it’s time to get rid of the sports magazines in the changerooms at golf’s team events and drop in a few women’s mags instead.