IF THERE is one man who should feel confident about Lee Westwood vindicating his selection ahead of fellow former world No 1 Luke Donald for the Ryder Cup at Gleneagles, then it is undoubtedly Sam Torrance.
Twelve years ago, when he was the European captain at The Belfry, the Scot coaxed Westwood, whose game was in disarray before the match, into picking up three points for him in a 15 ½-12 ½ victory.
Yet, the week before, Torrance and Westwood played together on the Brabazon Course and the way the Englishman performed on the front nine provided evidence why that contribution seemed improbable. “Lee was terrible,” admitted his manager, Andrew “Chubby” Chandler, at the time. “So Sam took him aside at the turn, where they had a bit of a chat. Sam told him, ‘Just remember how good you once were’. The advice worked. In fact, he shot 63 at Lindrick the next day.”
Coincidentally, that was also the score Westwood carded in the final round of the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational in Akron last month, an effort he followed up with an opening 65 in the US PGA Championship at Valhalla. Combined, they provided Paul McGinley, the European captain, with the glimpses of form he’d been looking for from Westwood, who is now set to make his ninth Ryder Cup appearance at the end of the month after pipping Donald in a selection process in which Stephen Gallacher and Ian Poulter also earned wild cards.
As one of the Irishman’s vice-captains, Torrance was involved in the discussions that led to the trio named getting the nod and he is confident the right decision has been made as far as Westwood and Donald are concerned.
“After Stevie and Ian, the third pick was the hard one and it came down to Westwood, Donald and Francesco Molinari,” said Torrance, who was speaking on behalf of Standard Life Investments, worldwide partner of The Ryder Cup. “Statistically, Molinari was up there with any of the others on the team tee to green and fairways hit.
“Luke Donald is a former world No 1, but it’s no secret that he’s changed his swing. It looks much better, but it’s not bedded in yet. Maybe it could have bedded in completely between now and the start of the Ryder Cup, but we couldn’t take that risk. If you had someone with a swing not bedded in at Gleneagles, especially with the conditions we may have there, that could be very difficult.
“In the end, it came down to the bedrock of our team – Lee Westwood. He’s been a huge part of our team for 16 years. He’s what I’d regard as being like Monty [Colin Montgomerie] when it comes to the Ryder Cup ie a floater. He can play with anyone in any format – foursomes or fourballs. He’s a fantastic addition to the team.”
Asked about how he’d managed to bring out the best in Westwood at The Belfry, Torrance added: “All I said to Lee was, ‘Class is forever, form is only current’, and that is such a true thing. When it comes to standing on the first tee in the Ryder Cup, it doesn’t really matter if you’ve won your last five tournaments. It’s how you are feeling on that day and I know Lee is well capable of standing on that tee feeling strong and good about himself.”
Backing up what McGinley said at Wentworth earlier in the week, Torrance insisted Gallacher had earned his pick on merit after coming within a shot of qualifying automatically while he reckons Poulter will be a man inspired once again in the Ryder Cup arena.
“He didn’t need much shoving from me, let me tell you,” said the Largs man of Gallacher. “He was the first one in. He wasn’t even a pick, if you ask me. He was a certainty after that performance in Italy (where the Scot came home in 30 in his second round then closed with a 65 to fall just short of the top-two finish he needed), which was amazing.
“Jamie Donaldson did it a week earlier when, incredibly with 2.5 million (points), he wasn’t in the top four. He was 38,000 behind Sergio Garcia with two tournaments to make up that and he did it in magnificent style in the first week (by winning the Czech Masters).
“Stevie was told by Paul at the beginning of the week in Italy that he really needed to get into the first two and to go on the first tee in the second round 15 shots off the lead and come as close as he did to finishing second was absolutely incredible.
“It was what you are looking for in your picks, so he was a shoe-in. Did he surprise me by what he did in the Italian Open? No, I knew what he had. My dad taught him for all those years, so I knew he was of good stock. I also saw how strong he was at the Seve Trophy last year.
“He brings his Scottish blood to the team and his presence in the team will be great for the supporters. He also brings a great game of golf. What I also like about him is that he doesn’t take any s**t from anyone. He’s a strong-minded character and he is so ready for this. It’s been a lifelong ambition of his to play in the Ryder Cup, especially with the family’s tradition in the event through his uncle Bernard. It really is fantastic for him.
“As for Poulter, leave him out at your bloody peril. He’s the ‘Ryder Cup King’ and I don’t think we could have left him out unless he was 180th on the list. He was only just outside the list and is a fantastic pick in what I really believe is as strong a team as we’ve ever had.”
Having named both Torrance and Des Smyth earlier in the year, McGinley completed his backroom team on Wednesday by adding three more vice-captains – Spanish duo Miguel Angel Jimenez and Jose Maria Olazabal along with Irishman Padraig Harrington.
“It’s fantastic,” said Torrance. “When Jimenez and Olazabal walk on to the tee, the crowd will be lifted by them as well so I think Paul has done a great job. No-one gives more to a Ryder Cup than Olazabal. He’s a fantastic character and an inspiration in the team room.”
• Sam Torrance was speaking on behalf of Standard Life Investments, worldwide partner of The Ryder Cup. For more information visit standardlifeinvestments.com/rydercup