SIR Alex Ferguson delivered an inspirational speech to Europe’s Ryder Cup team last night as Paul McGinley tapped into the former Manchester United manager’s wealth of motivational skills.
Having listened to Gareth Edwards, the Welsh rugby legend, give a rousing talk to the home players before the match at Celtic Manor four years ago, McGinley opted to do something similar with Ferguson.
The Irishman tried to keep the football legend’s role as a surprise for his players after their first practice round at Gleneagles yesterday, but the cat was let out of the bag when Ferguson, a keen golfer, was spotted among the spectators.
“He’s a guy that I played with in the JP McManus Pro-Am about 15 years ago, have seen now and again over that time and, when I became captain, for a number of reasons I asked him,” said McGinley of a move that is in keeping with the successful European template from recent Ryder Cups that he is working from in Perthshire.
“He was more than willing to help and I’ve met him a number of times over the last few months.
“The more I’ve met him, the more there was just such a natural fit.
“Gareth came in with Monty [Colin Montgomerie] in 2010 and he was terrific. A lot of the Europeans then weren’t as familiar with rugby as we are but I thought he was brilliant.”
While admitting that having a Scot was fitting for the event’s first staging in the home of golf for more than 40 years, McGinley said an even bigger factor in asking Ferguson was his trophy-laden spell at Old Trafford before his retiral at the end of the 2012-13 season.
“Although I’m not a Man United fan – I’m a West Ham fan – I’ve always loved the way his teams played,” he added. “There were a number of things that he was good at dealing with that made me think he’ll be a particularly good fit for this as there are a lot of similarities.
“He’s a big golf fan and I know he’s looking forward to tonight. He knows Rory [McIlroy] very well obviously as Rory is a big Man United fan. Not everybody in the room is a Man United fan, so that should be a bit of fun.
“But this is not about him being a schoolteacher. This is about some fun.
“The areas that I’ll be talking to the players about, him relating it to football and getting some football stories, I very much like to think that we’re both coming from the same direction and he’s talking along the lines that I’ll be talking this week,” added McGinley.
While Corey Pavin, the American captain at Celtic Manor, flew in Major Dan Rooney, a US Navy pilot, to address his players in Wales, it appears Tom Watson is content to do the motivating himself this time around.
“Me,” he replied to being asked who’d be filling that role in Perthshire. “I’ve already given them some talks – and will be continuing to do so.”
The two captains were speaking as their respective teams got a first glimpse of the PGA Centenary Course, with McGinley opting to send his players out in threeballs – Stephen Gallacher was with Ian Poulter and Justin Rose – while Watson went with fourballs.
At his press conference, Watson tried to defuse the comments he had made the previous day about McIlroy and Poulter being the two Europeans his players would be “targeting” in their bid to record a first win on this side of the Atlantic since 1993, when he was also the captain. The five-times Open champion said: “I don’t want to make too much of targets.
“It boils down to 12 players playing against 12 players. But, if you knock off the big dog, as I said yesterday, that gives your team a boost. The number one player in the world right now is Rory McIlroy and he’s somebody we’d like to see on the losing end of a match.”
Steering well clear of target talk, McGinley said he was mainly pulling the strings in the same way as recent European captains, stressing there is no need for him to tamper with a formula that has produced seven wins in the last nine matches.
“This is not a time for Europe to have a maverick captain,” he said. “We have a wide template and my job is to roll it out again while, at the same time, trying to enhance it and then hand it over to the next captain hopefully with a cherry on top.”
On a day when Gleneagles was turned into a sea of tartan by spectators on “Tartan Tuesday”, McGinley heaped praise on the condition of the PGA Centenary Course but admitted the rough is a touch heavier than he’d expected.
“We wanted to get the rough up, but I think down to a warm Scottish September it’s a little bit thicker and longer than we wanted. But it’s not something we are disappointed with.”
After finishing his practice round, however, American Jim Furyk said he believed the rough was too long, which suggests it was less penal when he paid a renaissance visit to Gleneagles along with Keegan Bradley in the summer. “I didn’t expect to see eight-inch rough in spots out there,” said the former US Open champion. “It is overly thick and overly long in spots. They had to have put some fertiliser or something on.”
With winds forecast to gust up to 30mph for Friday’s start, it means the premium will be on accuracy.
Meanwhile, following Rickie Fowler getting “USA” shaved into his hair before making the journey to Scotland, PGA of America president Ted Bishop has now followed suit.