Martin Morbey: 'Being at the Ryder Cup is great, being involved in it takes it to another level'

Martin Morbey: 'Being at the Ryder Cup is great, being involved in it takes it to another level'


Frilford Heath's Martin Morbey had a front-row seat at Marco Simone Country Club as he joined the refereeing team at the 44th Ryder Cup in September.

When Morbey got the phone call in April that he would be part of the refereeing set-up in Rome his reply was 'do you want me to walk there?' Over the course of the week he would observe Ludvig Aberg's debut, watch Viktor Hovland chip in (from the putting surface) on the very first hole and then be involved in a key ruling as Europe closed in on regathering the famous trophy. Here, in his own words, he explains how he got into refereeing and reflects on his week in Italy.

“I played in a Senior PGA Championship and there was an instance when one of my playing partners hit a ball into what we thought was a relief situation and the senior referee denied him a drop. At that moment I thought that half of us were playing by a different set of rules and that I should know a bit more.

“I did exams through The PGA, and, after that, I was playing in another PGA event, and I hit the ball into a bush. The referee asked if I was happy with what I could do, I explained my options and he said they could do with someone like me as a referee! I got accepted onto the referees’ panel and started doing PGA EuroPro Tour events. Ever since then, I’ve made myself available to do more. I’ve done it for the past 18 years and I’ve always really enjoyed it.

“I’ve done the Dunhill Links, Open Championship Qualifying, the PGA Cup and, in 2018, I worked at the US PGA Championship.

“Nothing compares to the Ryder Cup. Being at the event is great, being involved in it takes it to another level. All the leading referees say that it’s special and I have to say that it is both exciting and terrifying all in the same bundle. You are out of your comfort zone, even the referees on Tour will say that. They’re normally doing 72-hole tournaments but every shot at the Ryder Cup is watched and anything controversial is picked up as there’s not that much golf to watch.

“The whole week was above and beyond. On the Thursday I also got to referee the singles of the Junior Ryder Cup where Stephen Gallacher captained Europe to a record win and that was a marvellous experience. Then on the Friday morning, walking on that 1st tee you are sort of prepared but you’re not. Thousands of people are singing, it's a phenomenal event and something that the PGA should be incredibly proud to be a part of.'

“Beforehand, the Chief Referee on the DP World Tour, Mark Litton, said that if you needed a rule book then you shouldn’t really be there. The players don’t want to see you with a rule book. I had read it so many times and I focused on the rules in foursomes and matchplay. As a referee you don’t get called on all the time, but you have to be ready when needed and it’s about being confident and a little bit authoritative. You have to introduce yourself to the players and tell them that, whatever they might need, to just let you know.

“You usually do two observing roles and one refereeing. So I observed the foursomes match between Viktor Hovland and Ludvig Aberg and Max Homa and Brian Harman and then the fourball between Justin Rose and Bob MacIntyre versus Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas. Then I refereed the singles match between Matt Fitzpatrick and Max Homa. I was the person on the TV doing the ruling when Homa dropped it on the 18th.

“Homa was one up going down the 18th and, if Fitzpatrick could get a half, then it looked like that might secure the Ryder Cup. They both hit good tee shots and we all thought Homa had hit his second into the bunker. But he hit it into a piece of grass that was about three inches to the right. His caddie convinced him to drop it, explaining that he could pitch it on to 10 feet and then hole it.

“So he took an unplayable and dropped it back online. His caddie was pretty clear in his thinking, he asked me if he could drop it where he did and I explained that, as long as it stays within a circle, then he would be fine. He then pitched it on and holed it for a par five to win the match.

“As a referee, to a certain extent the last thing you want is for a player to pick it up as it means that you have to get involved. You know that the world is watching, so I was aware of the gravity of the situation, and I was quite pleased that I didn’t turn into a gibbering wreck. But I was quite happy when he got the ball back on the ground.

“As a referee you just want the player to get back to playing golf. You don’t want to be on the TV, the players are the stars – we just ensure that the game is played properly and within the rules.

“To watch the players from so close up you would have to say that Rory McIlroy is just different. If you had a difficult shot to play, especially a long-game shot, then you would have to pick Rory.

"He has the ability to hit a few shots that other players can’t. Hovland is also outstanding and the way that he plays the game will stand him in very good stead. Europe’s star players truly starred with Jon Rahm, McIlroy and Hovland only missing one match between them, and they delivered.”


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