Ryder Cup: Captain prays preparation pays off

AS meticulous as they come, Paul McGinley hopes he has every base covered in his bid to become a winning Ryder Cup captain at Gleneagles on Sunday week. As an example of his attention to detail, the four European team members competing in the ISPS Handa Wales Open starting today were presented with a specially-prepared booklet on the host venue by the Irishman over dinner at Celtic Manor last night to, essentially, get their juices flowing for next week.

Paul McGinley talks to the media ahead of the Wales Open where four of his European team. Picture: Getty

On paper, McGinley is heading into the event’s 40th staging with a stronger team than his opposite number, Tom Watson. The European side contains three players from the world’s top five, while the Americans are without Tiger Woods, Jason Dufner and Dustin Johnson, as well as the two hottest players on the PGA Tour, Billy Horschel and Chris Kirk.

Europe, of course, have also come out on top in seven of the last nine matches but, while confident his team are in “good shape”, McGinley used a flying visit to Celtic Manor – scene of a narrow victory in the last contest held on this side of the Atlantic – to reveal that he’d been handed a timely reminder about how sport can have a real knack of seeing perfect preparation count for nothing in the heat of battle.

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“You’re at the very pinnacle of world sport here,” he said of the transatlantic tussle, which is being held in the home of golf for the first time since the 1973 match at Muirfield. “You’ve got 12 of the best players from Europe playing 12 of the best players from America. This is top-level sport, where, as we all know, anything can happen. That’s my one big worry.

“There was a big Gaelic football match in Dublin last week, where Dublin were 1-10 playing at home against Donegal. Dublin, a great team, were incredibly well-prepared and have a brilliant manager who is very cutting edge whereas Donegal had a bad year last year, going down to Division Two, and were heavy underdogs.

“I know Jim Gavin, the Dublin manager, would have got so many of his strategies right and used his man-management on top of that, but they went out and they got beaten comfortably. My job as captain is to minimise the chances of that happening to the best of my ability, but that’s just an illustration about what can happen in top-level sport.”

With eight days to go until the match tees off in Perthshire, McGinley’s charges are scattered to the wind and preparing differently. As mentioned, four – Stephen Gallacher, Lee Westwood, Thomas Bjorn and Jamie Donaldson – are getting one final competitive outing under their belts. Another four – Rory McIlroy, Martin Kaymer, Justin Rose and Sergio Garcia – are putting their feet up after an exhausting month-long run in the FedEx Cup Play-Offs. And the final four – Henrik Stenson, Victor Dubuisson, Graeme McDowell and Ian Poulter – are practising hard.

Both McDowell and Dubuisson had also been due to be here. McDowell, who clinched that victory for Colin Montgomerie’s side four years ago, had McGinley’s full blessing when he changed his mind in order to spend a bit more time at home in Florida with his wife and their new baby before crossing the Atlantic later in the week.

The captain also insisted he had no problems with Dubuisson’s decision to stay at home to prepare for his Ryder Cup debut rather than joining the other two rookies – Gallacher and Donaldson – in Newport.

“Victor is Victor,” said McGinley of the enigmatic Frenchman. “He decided at a very late stage to prepare in France, but the one thing that makes me feel happy and secure in terms of his preparation is the fact that he is a guy who disappears then all of a sudden comes out of nowhere and plays well.

“We saw that when he had a sustained time off at the BMW PGA Championship when he was injured and missed a lot of tournaments having played so well in the WGC Match Play. The whole world is like, ‘where’s Victor?’ and then he comes out and wins the Scandinavian Masters.”

While the full team will not congregate at Gleneagles until Monday – the Americans are due to fly into Edinburgh the same day – McGinley used his dinner date with Gallacher, Westwood, Bjorn and Donaldson last night to start preparing them for the contest in Perthshire.

“It is just a little chitchat,” he said of a gathering that also included the players’ caddies. “I won’t be taxing them too much, but I’ll be giving each of them a small folder that includes photographs of what it looks like at Gleneagles at the moment.”

It’s a moot point because, just as spectators who are regulars there for the Johnnie Walker Championship are in for a shock when they see how different the place is when all the infrastructure that comes with a modern Ryder Cup is in place, the same goes for the players. For example, the practice range they normally use is the site for a huge tented village, with the first hole on the King’s Course being used for them to warm up next week.

“The photographs are of places like the first tee while there are also maps of the golf course and where the practice ground is,” he added. “It also shows them where the media centre is so they don’t get lost going there and the section of the hotel that we’ll be staying in. There’s nothing in there that’s secretive – it’s just sharing of information to a level that’s enough for them to take on board at the moment.”

As for pairings, McGinley admitted he had a “skeleton plan” in mind and also hinted that he could toss his three rookies into the opening fourballs session, stressing they would definitely all play at least once before the singles.