Dave Alred is in good spirits. He’s at the Ryder Cup in Paris with Francesco Molinari. Which means a good year is only getting better. As well as helping Francesco achieve his most successful year to date, he’s coached Jamie Cooke to World Pentathlon gold and ensured Jonny Sexton maintains one of the most lethal kicking boots in world rugby. That’s not to mention an imminent coaching sojourn with the Queensland Reds sandwiched by speaking engagements in the States and Europe.

Although Dave is obviously relishing the Ryder Cup experience I know the last thing either he or Francesco will do is rest on their laurels. I ask him how he adapts his approach to this most special of sporting occasions,

“We’ve spoken. We want to test some mindset strategies in the white heat and chaos of the Ryder Cup. If we can do it here do it anywhere. At Carnoustie, walking the last 4 with Tiger – can we get even more used to that? It would be crazy not to use Ryder cup as an opportunity to improve”.

“It would be crazy not to use Ryder cup as an opportunity to improve”.

That last line perhaps best sums up Dave’s approach to coaching. I remember him telling me that the joy of winning the World Cup with England only lasted a matter of seconds before his brain kicked into ‘how can we improve’ mode. Dave explains,

“It’s all just a journey and we’re going through a particular part of it. There must be a gain to it somehow, despite the limited amount of time to practice. That gain will be an emotional discipline: to enhance performance and feed off it”.

Perhaps there’s no better place to test Dave’s theory than Paris. Normally a couple of days out from a major tournament, in any sport, represents the calm before the storm. Not so the Ryder Cup. Fans arrive early and in their numbers to see their heroes, party hard and cheer any practice ball that vaguely threatens the green. When the ball gets close to the hole they erupt with delirium.

Dave and Francesco at the Ryder Cup

“It’s definitely something special. For me it presents a bit of dilemma. There’s so much else that goes on as well as the golf: the dinners and the traditions. It’s a toxic mixture of celebration, exhibition and then intense competition. They’re not great bedfellows for performance but that’s why it’s so popular”.

“How does the Ryder Cup compare to other major events, say the rugby World Cup?”.

“It’s a different atmosphere. The crowds here are partisan but with tongue in cheek. When you’re in the Rugby World Cup final there’s more meaning for both sets of supporters. The Rugby World Cup may be a celebration of rugby but the final is not – and certainly not for the participants. Here everyone knows each other from playing on tour. The entire Ryder Cup is a celebration of golf”.

I ask him to explain,

“Golf etiquette still remains throughout. The Europeans always bring a choir. This time the Americans have too. It’s fun with some great golf. You actually feel that crowd just want to cheer, sing, yell and just enjoy themselves. When Fran happened to hit a par three from 198ms to 5 feet the crowd went bananas. It was a just a practice round and they almost created an earthquake! By Friday it’ll be like Bedlam”.

Maybe this is why Dave is so revved up himself. The type of pressure that can make others wince and wilt he relishes. In many ways it makes it easier for him to deliver his own coaching practices; practices that place the type of demands on the player that most only ever experience in competition. In the past I’ve seen him use a wind machine, a giant set of speakers blasting out music (The Rolling Stones if you must know) and a dustbin full of flying crisp packets to prepare a goal kicker for match day. Cheering crowds on practice days are like manna from heaven for him. Conversation turns to Francesco’s preparation. Dave sheds some light on his approach,

“A big part has been recovery from the previous week. He flew in from Atlanta on Monday and played 18 holes on Tuesday. It was pretty relaxed. On Wednesday we upped the intensity slightly which today we’ve further ramped up – hitting targets”.

Dave uses a computer (Trackman) that both randomly selects the target and assesses the accuracy of the shot, distance from the pin and the landing spot. Dave explains,

“People have specific distances with specific clubs. The computer provides random distances. You then have to make ugly decisions between clubs and that’s tough to do. You don’t know what the distance will be, but you have to choose your club and hit the target anyway. No second chances. It’s Match intensity. You can’t do it again”.

You have to choose your club and hit the target anyway. No second chances.

Anyone who has read or listened to anything we’ve done with Dave will understand that one of the foundations of his coaching philosophy is effective practice: practice that is unpredictable, forces you to make tough decisions and turns the heat up time and time again. Dave is really pleased with Francesco’s responses so far,

“His driver and three wood practice was intense but he was outstanding today. He responded brilliantly. He tapped into a hint of the mindset he’ll need when the bullets fly on Friday”.

Let battle commence.