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February 1, 2017

Thomas Bjorn

Dubai, United Arab Emirates

MICHAEL GIBBONS: Thank you, as always, for joining us. I hope you take this the right way but let's go down memory lane to start. Come on, 2001, taking down Mr. Woods.

THOMAS BJÖRN: It was a long time ago.

MICHAEL GIBBONS: What are your memories of it?

THOMAS BJÖRN: Well, it was just a wonderful week. I had my base here and my family and friends and it was home for me at the time, which was -- that made it extra special and we were witnessing something in golf we might never see again. Somebody dominating the game like Tiger did, and every time anybody went up against him, it was -- you were bound to fall short and that week I didn't. That was something to be proud of.

But it was just the way we played and the way we just went at each other, but also that respect that we grew for each other that week; that's carried through another 16 years after.

And the respect is very much there today and has grown into a friendship and I think that's more what I take away from it; that one week can mean so much to me, but I think it also meant something to Tiger, and that friendship grew from there. And every time we see each other, it's more than two golfers just meeting, that's for sure.

MICHAEL GIBBONS: Bet you enjoy reminding him about it.

THOMAS BJÖRN: Not really (laughs). I'm sure he has plenty he can remind me about. I wouldn't go down that road. I think I'll do that battle very quickly. But it's a nice thing to have. It certainly is; as a player, to have gone up against him at his best and when he played the best of his career, was very special. So it's a nice thing to have.

MICHAEL GIBBONS: Fast-forward 16 years, here we are. You did all right in Qatar last week. Game in good shape for this week?

THOMAS BJÖRN: Well, as I said to somebody yesterday, it was a bit surprising to be honest because I was pretty much out for most of last season and I haven't been able to do anything, and after three months, completely away from the game, I started hitting balls six days before Abu Dhabi, and then played quite all right in Abu Dhabi and played so-so last week.

But still managed to put a couple of decent scores in. So I'm quite pleased with the way the start has gone to the season but I'm not getting ahead of myself. I also know very well that I have a lot of other things going on at the moment, but I'm enjoying playing them here; always do.

I enjoy coming down here, and I've said that I want to try and play golf, certainly, for the next 12 months and focus, and have that as my main focus, and then I've got other things going on with The Ryder Cup that I have obviously got to keep an eye on and get wheels in motion on.

But I feel that I can manage those two things quite well playing. Still think I can draw a lot on my ten years as the Chairman where I've done so many things away from the golf course, as well. I still want to play and coming to this place which is home to me away from home; I've got so many friends here and I've got great memories, but also lived a big part of my life in the region, and seeing my kids grow up here. It's a special place to me and I enjoy coming here and a golf course that I enjoy playing on. So you never know.

Q. What does it do for this event to have Tiger back in the field, and what do you expect him to achieve this week?
THOMAS BJÖRN: Any time he plays, it obviously does -- we all know what it does. It puts focus on the event, and what he is, he's the biggest draw in the game, no matter how he plays.

Expectations? I think expectations are probably, people get too high expectations. You look at how long he was out of the game and what he's done through surgery-wise and to come back and he has to re-model his swing to adapt to the injuries that he's had.

So I don't think you can expect too much of him playing-wise, but that doesn't mean -- that guy can win golf tournaments with his head and he's always been capable, and he can do that this week. But I think you just -- I think people get ahead of themselves and think that he's just going to come out and play great and do things, and then they get very critical when he doesn't. I think it's very unfair. Any sportsman who has been out for that amount of time needs some time to find their way, because practicing and doing all those things at home is a different thing than when you are out.

And golf has changed, as well. Some of the dominant things in his game, you know, there's a lot of those guys that have those things in his game. But the most dominant thing he had was his head. He was fantastic at working his way around the golf course, and he would beat you just mentally.

I think that's one thing that he's still got. I think if he can find that way of playing golf again, then he's very capable of winning a lot of golf tournaments from here on.

Q. Whether it's a player or a vice captain, do you see Tiger being a danger to you becoming a winning Ryder Cup Captain in Paris?
THOMAS BJÖRN: No, I think I see 12 American players being a danger for me to be successful in Paris. But I have a strong belief in what we have, and that's all I need to do is work with the 12 we've got.

I can't do anything about what's on the other side, and I've got to prepare myself and our players as good as I can to go in on a golf course that we feel confident about. And that's what I'm looking at.

What Tiger brings: We know what he brings in golf, and he'll bring something to the American Team if he's there as a player or if he's there in a role outside the ropes. But he, like anybody that comes into that role, you can bring so much; it's down to the 12 players that are playing to deliver. And as people outside, you can only try and prepare them as well as you think you can do.

Q. Have you spoke to Jon Rahm yet? Is he filling out his membership form?
THOMAS BJÖRN: I had a nice text message back and forth on my own. Any player that's not European born and they are not a member of the Tour, I encourage them to become members, obviously I do. But people have got to make their own choices about how they want to live their lives. I'm in no position to deal with players and when it comes to family and how they want to live and what they want to do. That's up to every single person to live their lives that way. But I encourage every European-born player to become a Member of The European Tour, so we can get the possible best team.

I knew of Jon, and we saw what happened last weekend. He's very, very talented. Speaking to a couple of the Spanish lads, as well, we hear very good things. And now it's time to, as he says in these text messages, it's time to get our heads together at some stage and have a chat and then we'll see where he is.

But I'm not sending the membership forms to him because that's a decision he has to make from what he thinks is right for him, but I encourage him to be a member.

Q. He did make some positive sounds; that he wants to get high enough. That win must have come as a boost to you.
THOMAS BJÖRN: Doesn't get much higher than that. He has made those sounds, and if he does become a member, you know, that's a great thing. I think that's a great thing for him. And as any young player, that should be a big part of your goal is to play in The Ryder Cup. It's a great event, and I always say, legends are formed on the performance of major championships, but public legends, they are very much formed in The Ryder Cup.

I've said, when people ask me about Seve, and what I remember about Seve, I remember five major championships, but I remember more him and Ollie walking down fairways in Ryder Cups. I remember that more.

So if you want to have it all, you've got to perform and do both well. And I think that you if you want to have the whole package, you've got to be able to do both. Ryder Cup is a massive event and it can do a lot for your career and your persona, and I think that's something that you can encourage anybody to be a part of.

Q. You touched on it earlier about the buildup over the next 18 months. I just wondered if you thought about, for your own game, is there a point over the next 18 months where you kind of have to sacrifice your own game from this point onwards for a few months?
THOMAS BJÖRN: It will definitely be sacrificed on the route, that's for sure. I think the balance is for me to accept it's going to be a period of time I can't -- where performance for me is not important. But then there's got to be times where I can still focus on my game and try and play.

I think one of the greatest things, if I can, is to be somewhat competitive and be out on the golf course, because you learn a lot more with them inside the ropes than you do watching them on TV. So I still think that could be a big asset, if you can still compete and play; I think there's nothing like being inside those ropes and hear the conversation and see what goes on. You learn a lot more that way.

Q. As captain now on the range, these last couple of weeks, have you noticed a difference in the way players approach you and talk to you?
THOMAS BJÖRN: They are nice to me (laughter). They never used to be that nice to me. You know, Tour life goes on. It's a non-Ryder Cup year, and I, from my own playing years, I remember what that was like. It was a non-Ryder Cup year; their minds are on completely different things and so it should be.

I was speaking to some of the top players, I said, win your major championships. That's what you're out to do. I'll speak to you in a year and a half's time and we'll start putting together a plan.

But for the players now, their focus needs to be on Augusta and it needs to be on the big championships that they want to win. That's what they are in the game for. They are not in the game for walking around thinking about Ryder Cups.

That's my job. But yeah, life on Tour, you know, conversations happen, and I spend a lot of time with these players as friends and I have done over many years and these conversations happen. But I don't need to shout their ears full of Ryder Cup stuff. They will hate me before we get to The Ryder Cup; so I might as well keep away from that.

Q. Russell Knox was obviously disappointed to miss out at Hazeltine. Is there anything he can do going forward, and what relationship do you have with him?
THOMAS BJÖRN: I mean, you've got to be careful being too blunt, but there's the obvious answer. There's eight spots up for grabs and I can't do anything about those eight. So if you want to make sure you're on the team or get one of the eight, the four picks are there for a reason. They are to mix-and-match the team.

And it's not always maybe the best four players, you know, on how they are performing; sometimes to get the team, and the balance of the team right. Hopefully you can get everybody in.

But as any player and as I've done all my career, I've set out when I wanted to make -- having an idea about Ryder Cup, you've got to make it on paper because then you're certain, and if you don't, well, you know, then you are at the mercy of somebody else. As a sportsman, that's never a great place to be.

Q. Just going back to what you said about Jon Rahm, and as you said, you're not going to tell people how to live their lives, have you spoken to Paul Casey? That was obviously a big dilemma with him last time.
THOMAS BJÖRN: I've been very clear, and I said that in my press conference in Abu Dhabi, as well; I've been very clear that getting the qualification criteria and getting everything in place, for what I believe and the Tour believes is the right thing was the most important thing. No individual player was going to affect that.

I have a long list of names on my phone of all the people that are members in America and there's certain people that are not members in Europe. And I'll encourage all of them, including Paul, to be a Member of The European Tour, because that gives me an opportunity to get the best possible team.

But what decision he makes, that's Paul's decision, and that's his right to make that decision and I can't do anything about that. But I'll encourage him, and of course I'll have a chat with him as I'll have a chat with -- there's a lot of names on there that can play great golf.

You've got Freddie Jacobson, you've got a Carl Pettersen, you've got an Alex Cejka; you've got people that -- and you never know. You never know who is going to come out and going to good get a resurgence of their career and they are going to lay great, and they are all as much entitled to have that conversation as anybody else, and I will have that conversation with him when I'm on the ground in America.

So I won't look at any player differently. Obviously as we look at them, you're going, well, he's our player in the World Rankings, he's our player in the World Ranking, and they are doing things and you think they are the most important. No, every single player that is European born that plays on these tours is of equal importance to me right now, because I don't know where those 12 are going to come, from I really don't.

Might have an idea of a couple of them that's going to make the team, but I have no idea if they are, because injuries can get in the way, things, stranger things has happened that somebody falls off the planet of the earth. I've got to be certain that I keep a level with every single player and give them all an opportunity to make this team. Because it's about who plays the best golf and not what you've done in the past.

Q. Just on Tiger, the kids seem especially in awe of him, the young players. Amateurs are going up to him asking to sign things, and Southgate writing the open letter to him being the inspiration to get through his troubles. Knowing Tiger as you do, he is here to compete and he's not here as a ceremonial comfortable golfer. Is he comfortable with that? He's there to be a rival, not a ceremonial golfer.
THOMAS BJÖRN: Yeah, he will, because there's only one thing you -- Tiger will very much understand you only get in that position if you've done something that's extraordinary. And as much as he focuses and is determined to get his own career back on track and winning golf tournaments, he will also understand what he is to a lot of people.

And I always said about him when I played with him: Best seat in the house. I so enjoyed playing golf with him because it was the best seat in the house and all these people outside the ropes running around trying to get a look at him and there I was next to him watching him play. And for all these guys that are out here that haven't played with him, when he's in the field, you know, they watch him on TV, he has been an inspiration to what they are as players today, and he will understand.

He will understand all of that; which Jack has been, which Arnie was, which Seve was. Tiger is a great story of the history of the game and of players of the game, and he will appreciate that he has touched so many, not just people, but also professional golfers the way he played the game.

So I would see him as a guy that would appreciate that kind of respect. I think he would find it worse if he came out here and nobody cared. That would be a bit more like, what's what happened in the couple of years I've been gone. I think he really appreciates it.

MICHAEL GIBBONS: Thomas, we appreciate your time as always.

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