Ryder Cup 2014: Captains log plans for success

Tom Watson and Paul McGinley will both be leading from the front. Picture: PA

Tom Watson and Paul McGinley will both be leading from the front. Picture: PA

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BOTH men took centre stage for one last time before their players assumed the starring roles. One seemed unflappable as he strolled through the formalities with the kind of ease one would assume he usually reserves for a Sunday morning round with his mates.

The other, as might be expected, was more jittery. Less experienced and almost certainly trying to silence the internal dialogue between self-doubt and excitement. Like Pinocchio dealing with Jiminy Cricket, Paul McGinley has the weight of European expectations strapped to one shoulder, while ill-contained excitement enthusiastically jumps up and down on the other.

In his opening ceremony speech, the lines were scripted, the sentiment and the message sincere, but they were delivered haltingly. The hope is that it wasn’t an omen of what is to come. After all, the preparation has been thorough. McGinley is a man for templates, he talks of them often. He also talks about plans and there seems to be plenty of them. The Irishman, who is famous for his dunk in the pond when he holed the putt to give Europe victory at the Belfry in 2002, now insists all his ducks are in a row, the statistics have been compiled, the team dynamics assessed and the opening partnerships have been sent out. That is what really matters.

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The pageantry of the opening ceremony is a small and, let’s be honest, insignificant part of it all and McGinley was honest afterwards. Addressing the media, he revealed that he expects he will make mistakes this weekend but he is seemingly at peace with that and, if his hesitant public speaking constitutes the worst of it, he will be extremely relieved.

“Tom is a strong captain with a strong, very strong, golfing CV behind him and he will be making really good decisions this week. Like I say, I’m going to get some decisions wrong. That’s what happens. You can’t get every decision right. Provided I get more decisions right than wrong, I’ll be happy.

“I’m watching, evolving, I’m communicating and hopefully my experience will help me make more better decisions than worse ones. I have a lot of decisions to make over the next two days. I always worry about everything but, like the players, I will go out with no fear. This is not a perfect science. People make mistakes. But I’m confident.”

He will be a man relieved to get the action underway, though, to move things on before his planning and over-planning start to overwhelm. Over the past few days he has plenty of decisions still to make but the players now assume so much of the responsibility and their play will help determine the choices he makes. A man who has the heart for the tussle and the mental strength to see him through to the most decisive putt, of all the Ryder Cup pairings this weekend, he knows he is up against the most formidable foe.

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Throughout the opening ceremony and in the press conference that followed, his American counterpart, Tom Watson, looked completely at home. Relaxed in Scotland, comfortable in the spotlight and a seasoned veteran when it comes to Ryder Cup duty, he tapped into every ounce of experience squeezed from a lifetime carving out his legendary status. There’s the four times he has played in this event, amassing an impressive tally of 10½ points from a possible 15. And, even as a leader of men, Watson has been here and done it all before. As captain, he guided the USA to victory on British soil in 1993. That was 21 years ago and it was the last time the Europeans suffered defeat in their own backyard.

His speech was assured, his answers to the media’s questions were equally so. He knows what he wants, he now needs his players to deliver and, given the way he has continued to remind everyone of the misery of Medinah all week, none of his players can be in any doubt about the need for redemption. If “template” features prominently in McGinley’s vocabulary, redemption vies with process for dominance in Watson’s utterings. Let no-one be in any doubt he hated seeing Europe overhaul USA two years ago and he wasn’t even part of the team. It still sent him into a “grand funk” for three or four days and, the way he tells it, in his mind it fell only marginally shy of a national disgrace. He has piled on the guilt as a way of reminding his charges that a repeat won’t be acceptable.

The Americans have spent this week trying to convince everyone that they are underdogs, but on the basis of average world rankings they are not. In terms of the experience brought to the party by the captains, they also have an advantage. “Where legends are forged”, is a motto etched large around this PGA Centenary Course, but Watson has that moniker already, as a player and as a captain. Rookie captain McGinley has to hope that he and his men keep their mistakes to a minimum if he is to elevate his status.

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