AFTER biting his lip for more than a year, Sam Torrance was finally able to share his secret yesterday as another chapter was added to an illustrious Ryder Cup career.
“It’s like getting an honour from The Queen – I’d known for bloody months but couldn’t tell anyone,” said the 60-year-old after being named along with Irishman Des Smyth as one of Paul McGinley’s vice-captains for September’s match at Gleneagles. His wife, Suzanne, knew but was sworn to secrecy in the Sunningdale stockbroker belt. So, too, were his parents, Bob and June, back in Largs. “Four bookies that would take my bet also knew,” he joked.
Others had to be kept in the dark. “I couldn’t tell my best friend Queeny (former European Tour player Michael King) as you might as well have put it in the newspapers if he’d known,” he revealed. “It’s been a bloody nightmare!”
Following yesterday’s ann-ouncement in the Irish Government Buildings in the heart of Dublin, it has turned into a dream scenario for Torrance.
The man who played in eight Ryder Cups, providing one of the event’s most iconic moments with his arms raised in celebration on the 18th green at The Belfry in 1985, then captained a winning European team at the same venue in 2002, is rolling up his sleeves again in preparation to fight the US.
“This is a different one for me as I’ve been brought in for a reason – my knowledge,” he said. “There’s nothing like being told you are the Ryder Cup captain – it was the highlight of my career by a billion miles – but this is a great honour for me, too.”
It was in the offing from the moment McGinley appointed Torrance as one of the captains for the Seve Trophy in Paris last October, though, even before that, you didn’t have to be a genius to work it out.
The pair are close friends, play regular “money matches” at Sunningdale and have the greatest respect for each other. Even before his appointment in Abu Dhabi last January, the event’s first Irish captain had eulogised about Torrance’s leadership skills in 2002, revealing how the Scot had helped him feel at ease for a match that saw McGinley hole the winning putt – in particular, by making a special journey up to the Midlands in the build-up to the event and over a bottle or two of champagne in the back of a chauffeur-driven car on the journey back home, listening to Torrance tell his Ryder Cup tales.
“Paul says I drank all the champagne on that journey – but he’s a lying git,” said Torrance in jest. “Seriously, though, there was nothing premeditated about that at all. It was just a case of me going up there with a couple of players and having a laugh with them. I did explain a lot of things to Paul on the way back and he obviously soaked that up, which was great.”
McGinley, making the first of his three playing appearances in the event before serving as an assistant to both Colin Montgomerie in 2010 and Jose Maria Olazabal two years later, duly delivered for Torrance, who now wants to repay the favour. “If I can do a tenth for Paul’s team what he did for my team, we’ll both be very happy men,” he admitted.
Torrance said he expects to be an “errand boy” in Perthshire. He knows, however, that he’ll have a bigger role than that in the European team. “I’ll try and inspire them,” he said. “There’s no question that playing in a Ryder Cup was the most nervous thing in my career. If you’ve come off the last green having three-putted as an individual, even to lose a tournament, you get it over it pretty quickly.
“But, in a Ryder Cup, when you’ve got to walk into a team room where the others have been heroes that day but you’ve lost is a terrible feeling – and they know you’ve lost as soon as you walk in there.”
McGinley had originally intended hanging off until the BMW PGA Championship, the European Tour’s flagship event, in May before officially unveiling both Torrance and Smyth, the man who mentored him in the early part of his career.
The reason he brought that forward, though, was more down to him also appointing Smyth as assistant captain to Miguel Angel Jimenez for the new EurAsia Cup in Malaysia later this month than responding to opposite number Tom Watson opting for experience in the shape of Raymond Floyd and Andy North as his assistants.
“Absolutely not,” replied Torrance to the latter. “Once Paul made me a Seve Trophy captain, I thought it was brilliant and now it’s the same with Des for the EurAsia Cup. It gives us experience of seeing the players again and getting involved.
“Paul has a gameplan. I have looked at the Ryder Cup and asked ‘Is there anything that he can’t handle’ and there is nothing about the Ryder Cup that he won’t do 100 per cent well. He is meticulous, he thinks about everything, he gets the right people in, he takes his time about things. He’ll be fantastic.”
There were a couple of instances yesterday when Torrance showed the wit that McGinley will be looking for in that home team room in September. First, he jokingly pulled up this correspondent for wrongly suggesting he was 61 in a live TV broadcast. “Who is 61, by the way? You?” he jokingly replied, revealing afterwards that he’d have made his point in more colourful fashion if it hadn’t been in such a public setting.
Then, as all three protagonists took part in a series of interviews in a nearby hotel, he walked past McGinley to hear the Irishman singing his praises and declared, with that cheeky smile on his face: “Bollocks!”