RYDER CUP SPECIAL: 'Our job was to beat our opponent... seeing as it was Tiger Woods it was a bigger scalp' (From This Is Wiltshire)
RYDER CUP SPECIAL: 'Our job was to beat our opponent... seeing as it was Tiger Woods it was a bigger scalp'
DANCING on tables with the world’s best golfers, holding off Tiger Woods to claim Ryder Cup victory across the Atlantic, dealing with vulgar abuse from American fans - it’s all in a week’s work for Swindon caddie Jason Hempleman.
His may not be the first name on people’s lips when discussion turns to the region’s most prominent sportsmen and women but Hempleman, the former Commonweal School pupil turned top bagman, last week realised what most who follow golf can only dream of – a major part in one of the greatest sporting spectacles on earth.
The ex-Broome Manor course record holder carried the clubs of Italian Francesco Molinari down the 18th fairway at the Medinah Country Club in Illinois on Sunday, safe in the knowledge that the European team had retained the famous trophy following one of the most astonishing comebacks in the history of the sport.
As if that wasn’t satisfying enough, Hempleman watched on as Molinari claimed a half-point off perhaps the greatest golfer of all time to ensure Europe returned across the pond outright winners.
It’s the kind of adventure his cousin, explorer David Hempleman-Adams, would be proud of.
For Hempleman it was the culmination of 17 years of hard graft as a caddie, after he quit playing to become Swindon pro David Howell’s sidekick on the European Tour.
A fine golfer himself – Hempleman represented both Wiltshire and the South West – switching to carrying the clubs secured him a constant association with the game he loves.
The Old Town resident stayed with Howell for eight-and-a-half years, winning the Australian PGA title in 1998 and the Dubai Desert Classic in 1999, before moving on to accompany – amongst others – Justin Rose, Colin Montgomerie and now Molinari around some of the world’s most famous golf courses.
But until last week the Holy Grail had eluded Hempleman – an active part in a Ryder Cup team.
As Montgomerie’s caddie he had been involved in the victory at Celtic Manor in 2010, but being right in the thick of the action in the suburbs of Chicago has left an indelible impression.
“Since watching the Ryder Cup in 95, when Sam Torrance holed the putt to win it, it’s always been the big ambition to be involved,” he told the Advertiser.
“I was involved in the last one at Celtic Manor because Colin Montgomerie was captain and I was caddie captain, but actually being part of the action and experience it was something different – especially to do it in America.
“We were getting shouted at and hounded at but we had to put that to the back of our minds and concentrate on the job.”
Going into the singles matches on the final day of the event, Europe trailed their hosts 10-6.
It needed a shift of seismic proportions, equalling the Ryder Cup record comeback set by the United States at Brookline in 1999, to turn the match in the visitors’ favour.
However, Hempleman was privy to a European team room confident in their own ability.
“The feeling in the team room was good,” he said. “Everyone knew we still had a chance. They needed four-and-a-half points and when you’re up against a good team getting that back is going to be hard.
“They did well in the pairs on Friday and Saturday, but when it comes down to the singles there’s no one to fall back on, your partners not there and it’s just you and your caddie.
“Our job going last was to beat our opponent, whoever that was going to be. I guess seeing as it was Tiger Woods it was a bigger scalp.
“We just had to concentrate on what we had to do and, although Fran didn’t beat him, we still got the half-point that meant we won the Cup outright rather than just retaining.
“That was a big thing for us. Ninety-five per cent of the American press had written us off going into the Sunday, they never thought we could win.”
A win on foreign soil, in its loosest sense given the continental nature of the European team, meant even more to Hempleman because, in his words, “it shut up” the American audience.
While viewers back home may have been slightly peeved by the whooping and hollering and “get-in-the-hole-ing” from tee to green across Medinah, Hempleman revealed a darker side to the home support.
“The United States spectators do not appreciate golf in the way the British and the Europeans do, they treat it in a way totally different to how we do,” he said.
“There were a lot of insults coming and a lot of coughing on the backswing. I had a lad thrown out on Saturday because he was coughing deliberately, twice, on the backswing.
“Some of the stuff that was being said and shouted was unrepeatable. Clever, sarcastic, stupid comments, them saying we were chokers; that we’d lost it. In some ways it inspired us to shut them up.”
Shut them up they did, with Europe’s 14.5-13.5 victory perhaps the greatest success matchplay golf has ever seen.
And the visitors knew how to celebrate it.
“The party was fantastic. It was like being 20 years old again. There was plenty of alcohol, music, dancing on tables,” said Hempleman.
“There weren’t many on the charter plane home. Fran and Nicolas Colsaerts were going on it but Fran was there at 4.30 in the morning waiting for his bus.
“It was great to see them allowing themselves to relax and have fun. You see them practise all year round and dedicate themselves to the sport and then to see them letting their hair down was great.”
Hempleman’s thoughts now turn to the future, and the former Wiltshire captain is targeting as many more Ryder Cup appearances as possible before he calls time on his career. But in the meantime he took a moment to reflect on how he got to where he is right now.
“The programme run by Barry Sandry at Broome Manor was fantastic and we spent years there, every day on the golf course,” he said.
“It’s fair to say that the members and everyone involved at Broome Manor are to credit for the success of Swindon golf.”