Paul McGinley, last September’s winning European captain, may be reluctant to step on successor Darren Clarke’s toes, but he has delivered an interesting assessment of the scenario that has been created in the American camp heading into next year’s Ryder Cup.
On the back of both a 16½-11½ defeat at Gleneagles and Phil Mickelson’s subsequent stinging attack on captain Tom Watson, no stone appears to have been left unturned by the US in preparation for the next clash at Hazeltine in September.
A task force set up by the PGA of America has brought back Davis Love III, an unlucky losing captain at Medinah in 2012, for a second stint as skipper and also changed the qualifying process to take account of the key PGA Tour events rather than its entire wraparound schedule.
Couple those factors with the emergence of Jordan Spieth, the world No 1 and a two-time major winner this year, as well as players like Rickie Fowler and Patrick Reed also having a real hunger for the Ryder Cup, and there’s a growing belief that the Americans will be the favourites next autumn despite losing eight of the last ten biennial bouts.
Speaking in Glasgow, where he was guest of honour at the PGA in Scotland annual lunch, McGinley – on the day he celebrated his 49th birthday – delivered his verdict on how he felt things were shaping up for the clash between a home team led by Love and a European side that will have Clarke at the helm.
“They are under massive, massive pressure,” said the Dubliner of the task facing the Americans in Minnesota. “They’ve put things in place that, they think, puts all the odds in their favour.
“You travel around America and everyone there thinks this will be a walkover for them. But, playing with expectation on your shoulders is a difficult position to be in – because you’ve got nowhere to go from there.
“I think Europe are going to be very strong because the usual suspects are going to be playing – Rory [McIlroy], Henrik [Stenson] and Justin [Rose], they’ll all be there. Darren has got three picks and it’s quite clear that he’ll probably go with experience.
“So I will be very surprised if there are more than three rookies in the team. All this talk of four or five rookies is rubbish, I don’t buy it. I think there may be even fewer than three. So we are going to be very strong.
“Post-task force and with the Americans playing at home, there is a massive, massive expectation now on them to produce and win. That’s a very interesting dynamic and it will be interesting to see how America deal with that, how Europe deal with that. It’s certainly a dynamic that we can take advantage of.”
Love has already appointed Tiger Woods as a vice-captain, though the 14-times major winner is hoping to return from his current injury lay-off with sufficient gusto to secure a playing role. It’s thought Love’s last spot on his backroom team, having also named Tom Lehman, Jim Furyk and Steve Stricker, is earmarked for Mickelson should he fail to merit a spot on the team.
Having been helped enormously by Sam Torrance, Des Smyth, Padraig Harrington, Jose Maria Olazabal and Miguel Angel Jimenez at Gleneagles, McGinley will always be an advocate of the roles played by vice-captains and believes Love has been shrewd so far in that respect.
“If anybody calls any of the vice-captains at Gleneagles cart drivers or sandwich makers, that really drives me mad – because they played a massive role,” he said. “It’s disrespectful to the role and the importance they played in our win. I’m so grateful to all five of them for what they did and how much they contributed. I think their role was underplayed, not overplayed.
“I can’t say that I know Tiger very well personally, but what I can say looking from the outside in is that he’s got one hell of a story to tell.
“He has positioned himself very differently in the media recently. He’s talking a lot more openly, he’s giving a lot more. But what he can bring to the team is a question that Davis can answer, he’s making the decision based on knowing Tiger as well as he does.
“But I’d certainly love to hear Tiger’s story. I hope he continues down the road he’s is going down of opening up to the media and giving an insight because he’s got one hell of a story to tell. I’m talking about golf only!
“His appointment as a vice-captain is an interesting dynamic, as is the role Phil might play at Hazeltine.
“It [Mickelson’s outburst at Watson] hasn’t affected anything, quite clearly, because he was a big voice in that task force and a big presence at the President’s Cup this year,” added McGinley.
“I worked for the Golf Channel that week and he was a huge voice, a huge personality and performed very well on the course along with it.
“So he seemed to relish that responsibility of being that guy, being a leader.
“I’d be very surprised if he comes relatively close to making the team if he’s not a pick. I mean he was 30-odd in the President’s Cup rankings and he was still a pick. It will be interesting to see how that all evolves and how Davis deals with that.
“Now I’m on the outside these are all the things I’m looking at knowing what it’s like being there, knowing the pressure that Davis is going to be under and what would I do if I was in the captain’s shoes.
“I don’t want to give too much away because that wouldn’t be fair to Darren and the last thing I want is to be a shadow overlooking Darren as a captain.
“It’s important that Darren does what he believes in and doesn’t copy me or Jose-Maria or Monty [Colin Montgomerie] or anyone who’s won before.
“What’s important is that a captain leads through his eyes and his experiences.
“Darren has played a lot of Ryder Cups, he’s got a lot of experience, he’s been a vice-captain twice and he’s going to have the Eurasia Cup captaincy in January, which is going to give him more.
“So he’s going to be very well prepared by the time September comes and it will be very interesting to see how he approaches it all.”