News & Opinion

Europeans give their captain the needle

KAPALUA, Hawaii – Well, it was the first round of the year for the PGA Tour on Thursday, and Kevin Tway shot 7-under 66 to lead the Sentry Tournament of Champions by one shot over Gary Woodland, Justin Thomas and defending champion Dustin Johnson.

But it’s only Round 1, and those names or others could be on the top of the leaderboard at the end of the week, so I figured there’s no need to spend too much time on that news.

I could pivot to the rule changes that took effect Jan. 1 and the fact that Bryson DeChambeau kept the flagstick in when putting at Kapalua Resort’s Plantation Course, but I really consider that to be much to do about nothing.

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In the wake of the Europeans' victory in the recent Ryder Cup, captain Thomas Bjorn emerges as the butt of some good-natured joking among his players. Unlike the laughter, though, the ink is permanent.

So instead, I’m going to talk about tattoos, specifically the reaction to Thomas Bjorn’s “17½-10½” artwork that sits on his upper left buttock. The incident was beautifully covered by the European Tour on its Twitter feed.

With four of the 12 winning European Ryder Cup players in action this week, the team captain’s tattoo has been a major point of discussion. The four – Paul Casey, Rory McIlroy, Francesco Molinari and Ian Poulter – were convinced that Bjorn would go through with it.

The group also thought that the tattoo of the winning score and image of the Ryder Cup trophy was not large enough for the area with which the tattoo artist had to work.

“I thought it was beautiful,” Poulter said. “Really nice. I mean, it could have been a little bit bigger. He's got plenty of space.”

Others thought that the score and trophy were not enough.

“The only disappointment is that he didn't make it 12 players' faces all the way around, as well,” Casey said. “And Alex [Noren]'s putt was the greatest part because I got the half with Brooks [Koepka] because Alex Noren made that amazing bomb on 18. That kept the half point. Otherwise, it would have been 17-11. It ended up being 17½-10½. So, Alex making that huge bomb kept the added pain of the needle on Thomas' skin.”

McIlroy believed the other cheek should have been part of the fun.

“I didn't know what the design was going to be,” he said. “I was disappointed that he didn't put all of our names on the other cheek. I thought that's what he was going to do, but he's a man of his word. He said he would do it, and he did.”

None of the four could remember how the wager came about, but they said that though extra motivation was unnecessary during a Ryder Cup week, the Bjorn tattoo came up, including in the team room on Saturday night.

Molinari saw Bjorn in London a couple of days before the captain was planning to visit Frith Street Tattoo in the Soho district and said Bjorn seemed apprehensive when discussing his plans.

“He said the they're coming to film me, so you'll have a laugh when you see the video,” Molinari said of his discussion with Bjorn. “I think it was just funny a way to finish the year.”

McIlroy received a message from Bjorn days before and knew what was coming, as well.

Interestingly, the tattoo has been discussed in a group text among the European Ryder Cup players numerous times since their victory Sept. 30. In fact, the group still has the text feed up and running long after the final result in Paris, highlighting the team camaraderie.

“It should have been the 12 names or the 12 faces of the players and assistant captains,” Casey said. “Maybe even wives' names. We have got little texts that goes backwards and forwards in our group, and that's what we said: There's more than enough area there for Thomas to print it on.”

Alex Miceli is the founder and publisher of Morning Read. Email: alex@morningread.com; Twitter: @AlexMiceli