By Mark Lamport-Stokes
CHASKA, Minnesota (Reuters) – Belgian Thomas Pieters fulfilled a lifelong dream by making his first Ryder Cup team but he had to endure a nervous wait before learning he had been handed a wildcard spot for Hazeltine National.
Twenty-four hours after Pieters had won his third European Tour title at last month’s Made in Denmark tournament, he received a phone call from Europe captain Darren Clarke who initially seemed to be the bearer of bad news.
“I got the call on the Monday afternoon after Denmark, and I had no idea if I was in,” Pieters told reporters at a sunny Hazeltine on Thursday. “He (Clarke) had texted me congrats on the win on Sunday, but that was it.
“So he calls me and he says, ‘I have to make some really tough phone calls today.’ In my mind I was like, ‘Damn it, I didn’t make it.’
“And he waited two or three seconds … and then he said, ‘You’re going to Hazeltine.’ There were a lot of emotions in those three seconds,” Pieters said with a broad grin.
One of the longest hitters on the European Tour, Pieters effectively secured his captain’s pick with a barnstorming run of form last month.
After placing fourth in the golf competition at the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, he finished second at the Czech Masters before winning in Denmark.
“I think that was what Darren was looking for, somebody in form,” said the 24-year-old from Geel who is one of six rookies on Clarke’s team.
“I think I handled the pressure pretty good in delivering in those last two, three weeks, and only gives me confidence going forward, as well.”
Pieters has received some helpful advice on what to expect this week from fellow Belgian Nicolas Colsaerts, who played on the triumphant European Ryder Cup team at Medinah in 2012.
“He was texting me, sending me videos for the last three weeks, every day. I was getting bored, it was so annoying — no, he has been really good with me,” Pieters laughed.
“The main piece of advice he gave me was enjoy it as much as you can, smile. You worked hard enough to get here and now it’s just a matter of enjoying it and playing good golf.”
(Editing by Tony Jimenez)