PAUL McGinley still feels he let Stephen Gallacher down in the Ryder Cup at Gleneagles by not getting the chance to work on his partnership with Ian Poulter in the same meticulous way he did with the other European pairings in Perthshire.
It’s the one “mistake” McGinley believes he made as captain during the home team’s 16½-11½ victory last September, and the Irishman is going out of his way to try to help Gallacher get back on golf’s biggest stage.
If I was doing it again, I certainly wouldn’t have put Stevie and Poulter together. It was not fair on either of them”PAUL McGINLEY
Having watched the Scot suffer a disappointing 2015 campaign, McGinley has been using his own dips in form that followed Ryder Cup highs to try to galvanise Gallacher, a friend of the European captain long before he earned one of his wild cards on home soil.
“When I made my first Ryder Cup team in 2002 [at The Belfry], I holed the winning putt and everything was great, but 2003 was a poor year for me,” recalled McGinley. “It happens a lot. You see a lot of guys achieving a goal and then they fall off.
“I fell off again in 2006 after making my home Ryder Cup at the K Club. It’s understandable and that seems to be exactly what has happened with Stevie. It’s important he galvanises himself now and not be known as Stevie Gallacher, who played one Ryder Cup.
“That’s a huge motivation and was for me in 2004. I made a dash for the line and that’s Stevie’s challenge now. He’s got the game, he’s got the heart, he’s been there before. He has to galvanise himself and go forward again.”
McGinley got it spot on at Gleneagles by pairing Henrik Stenson and Justin Rose together, sending out Rory McIlroy with Sergio Garcia and picking Lee Westwood and Graeme McDowell as the senior partners for Jamie Donaldson and Victor Dubuisson respectively.
The one that didn’t come off was Gallacher and Poulter in the opening fourballs, in which the European pair never really clicked as they fell to a heavy defeat by Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed.
“There is no such thing as a perfect captaincy,” said McGinley as he looked back on his one-off crack at the post. “You do make mistakes. I feel I let Stevie down a bit – and I’ve told him this. And I let Poulter down, as well.
“But I didn’t have time to pair them up and get them more comfortable as a partnership. Having fallen out of things, Stevie burst back on to the radar in Turin with a sensational performance.”
In finishing third there, just missing out on automatic qualification, Gallacher earned a wild card from the European captain along with Poulter and Westwood.
“Stevie was a very important part of our team from a personality point of view and a popularity point of view,” added McGinley. “I texted all the nine players who made the team and said your three new team-mates are A, B and C before I announced them.
“I didn’t consult those nine players on who they would be. I didn’t want to consult the players on the basis that if they said A, B and C and I picked C, D E they would have said why did you ask me? I immediately got a text back from Rory McIlroy saying ‘delighted you picked Stevie’.
“People then said he was overawed and didn’t play well. I didn’t see that at all. If I was doing it again, I certainly wouldn’t have put Stevie and Poulter together. It was not fair on either of them.
“Stevie then didn’t play until the Sunday, when, of the 24 players on the course that day, he was in the top five under-par. Unfortunately he came up against a highly-motivated – as we soon found out [by his stinging attack on US captain Tom Watson afterwards] – Phil Mickelson, who played some of the best golf of the day. Stevie was unfortunate.”
With the qualifying race for next September’s match at Hazeltine well underway, Gallacher faces a tough task to retain his spot for the trip to Minnesota after dropping out of the world’s top 100.
After climbing into the top 30 on the back of his WGC-HSBC Champions win in Shanghai in November, Russell Knox looks likely to be the best bet among the Scots to get into contention for Darren Clarke’s 2016 European Ryder Cup side, though Gallacher, Marc Warren and Richie Ramsay will all be hoping to come flying out of the blocks in 2016 to get themselves in the mix, too.
“Russell Knox is a welcome addition to the European Tour,” said McGinley. “He’s Mr Consistency in terms of how he plays the game. He looks like a Luke Donald kind of player who fits easily into foursomes and fourballs the way Luke has done. Consistency is a very underrated value in Ryder Cups.
“Marc Warren has made great progress this year. It petered out a bit at the end of the year, but he had some big performances in there and hopefully he can use that as a big platform to launch himself forward in 2016.
“I’d love nothing more than for Stevie to be in that team at Hazeltine. I am very fond of him. We have a lot in common, including football teams. I love catching up with him.”