Eamonn Darcy was part of Tony Jacklin’s Ryder Cup revolution 30 years ago but the Irishman believes Paul McGinley raised the bar to a new level when he led Europe to victory in the biennial event at Gleneagles.
Speaking in Glasgow, where he was the guest of honour at the annual PGA in Scotland lunch, Darcy recalled his own memories from the golf’s biggest team event, which included being part of the first European side to win on US soil in 1987 at Muirfield Village.
“The years have slipped by, but it doesn’t seem like 30 years ago,” said the 65-year-old, who still has a twinkle in his eye when he talks about holing a putt on the 18th green to beat Ben Crenshaw in the last-day singles. “I think a lot about the week and good old Seve [Ballesteros] and how well the team bonded. They were so close.”
Europe won that encounter 15-13 in what was a seminal moment in the event’s history, but it was the 2014 match at Gleneagles, which resulted in a 16½-11½ triumph for the home side, that Darcy reckons has set the new standard in terms of leadership.
“No, no, Paul McGinley will never be topped as captain,” said the man who played four times against the Americans and also recorded the same number of European Tour wins, the first of which came 40 years ago when he claimed the Greater Manchester Open.
“It is so important that we get the right captains. I’m not saying this just because he is Irish, but Paul was a fantastic captain. Tony lifted it up another level, there’s no doubt about that. He took the team over to the US on Concorde. He started to change the image of the Ryder Cup. But he didn’t have the detail that McGinley had.
“Maybe it was because Paul was a very good player, but he wasn’t a superstar. He wanted it to work. A lot of captains, they are probably great players. They want to win, but it’s not the end of the world. Nick Faldo for instance, was probably one of the worst. He felt he could win it on his own.”
Unlike Faldo, who ended up as a losing captain at Valhalla in 2008, McGinley knew the players on his team inside out and, consequently, got the best out of them as they swept aside an American side with an out-of-touch Tom Watson at the helm.
“I’ve had so many conversations with him about things he did behind the scenes,” added Darcy, who had one of the most idiosyncratic swings in the game. “He left no stone unturned. [Padraig] Harrington and [Sergio] Garcia, for instance, didn’t get on and Harrington, in his role as one of Paul’s vice-captains, wasn’t to go within two holes of Garcia on the course.
“Victor Dubuisson, too. He had a hard upbringing as a kid and he was allowed to have dinner with two friends every night provided he went to all the team meetings. He just kept them really happy and that showed in Dubuisson as he played great. There was an also an issue at that time between Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell after Rory had left the management group they had both been with. They weren’t going to play together that week as a result of that.
“A captain not having his finger on the pulse might have got that wrong. His pairings were great. Paul made it a full-time job. He could talk to people. If he had a grudge, he wouldn’t show it. It was his life at that time.”
Darcy said McGinley pulled off a “masterstroke” by getting Sir Alex Ferguson to speak at one of his team meetings in the build up to the match. “Alex was so successful,” he said. “He’d forgotten more about football than a lot of managers knew about it. To bring that on board was huge. The players respected Alex because, when someone has done it at the top, you listen.”
Like many others, Darcy believes it’s a sin that Sandy Lyle missed out on a chance to be European captain. “How unfair was that?” he asked, shaking his head. “All the players respected him and he was not above the players. He would have been a great captain.”
It seems certain that Harrington, a three-time major winner, will join McGinley and Darren Clarke in leading Europe into Ryder Cup battle, probably at Whistling Straits in 2020 or in Italy two years later. How does Darcy see him shaping up in the role? “Harrington would be a very good captain as long as he doesn’t over-analyse,” he said, smiling.