How old photos and a fish tank helped win the Ryder Cup

On every wall in the Dormy House at Gleneagles hangs a memory from the 2014 Ryder Cup, the vast majority depicting joyous scenes sparked by a resounding five-point European victory. Up in the hotel, too, traces remain, including remnants from the meticulous plan drawn up by Paul McGinley, the home captain, that helped make the event's first visit to Scotland in more than 40 years such a memorable occasion. The team rooms may have long returned to normal use, but the fish tank installed by the Irishman in the European one is still a feature at the plush Perthshire resort. 'They're still there, and living well and happy and content,' reported McGinley, laughing, of the (European) blue and gold fish.

Paul McGinley plants a kiss on the trophy after overseeing Europes five-point win at Gleneagles.
 Picture: Jane Barlow
Paul McGinley plants a kiss on the trophy after overseeing Europes five-point win at Gleneagles. Picture: Jane Barlow

The aquatic touch was an example of the detail poured into the captaincy by McGinley. Two years on, he doesn’t need to think twice when asked about his over-riding emotion in the final weekend before he locked horns with one of the game’s legendary figures, Tom Watson, in an event that, arguably, is only overshadowed these days on the sporting calendar by the Olympics and the World Cup. “Excitement. It was excitement,” he replied.

By then, of course, McGinley had already nailed down his pairings, but there was still some hammering to be done in the team room. “Everything was in place at this point in terms of Gleneagles and the rooms,” he recalled, “but I was working a little bit with the interior design team to make sure the pictures (they included images of John Jacobs, the first European captain, one of the first Britain and Ireland team in 1927 and big ones of Seve Ballesteros and Bob Torrance) were in the right place and the images and messages were going to be hung in the right places.”

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To a man, those images and messages inspired every single European player as they pulled off a third straight success. Similar ones were on display in the US team room but, as it emerged afterwards, the harmony in there was in stark contrast to the opposition one. “I really mean this when I say it, I was pretty much unconcerned with what America were doing,” insisted McGinley. “I was consumed with what we were doing, and having our house in order, leaving no stone unturned, having real communication of clarity with the players and what needed to be done.

“I knew Tom Watson was an iconic figure. I knew there would be a lot of talk about his playing record and winning four of his five Opens in Scotland. I didn’t even watch when he made his picks. I just knew that it would be a strong team and that we needed to have our house in order. I wasn’t that concerned about his pairings, I was more concerned with us and what order we were going to play, who we would put out first and so on.”

The 41st tussle in the biennial contest sees McGinley’s successor, Darren Clarke, pictured below, come up against Davis Love, a returning Team USA captain after steering the home side into a winning position following two days at Medinah in 2012 before Europe equalled the biggest last-day fightback to claim a dramatic victory. Like many others, McGinley finds it a fascinating match-up in Minnesota.

“I think Darren is certainly going to bring a lot of emotion to it, and bring a lot of personality to it,” he said. “It’s quite clear we’re going to have a good atmosphere behind the scenes and, by all accounts, he’s also done a huge amount of work on statistics and pairings. This ‘15th Club’ statistics team that he used in the EurAsia Cup (which Europe won 18.5-5.5 in Malaysia with Clarke at the helm in January) are going to have a big influence.

“As for Davis, I think he is captaining very much by consensus from what I understand and from what I read. He’s not a lone ranger, he’s not a maverick. He’s working very closely with a number of top players on his team and vice captains. To such an extent, in fact, he’s letting them decide who the picks are going to be. So it’s very much a management by consensus from Davis, and again I’m intrigued to see how it all pans out. I think every Ryder Cup poses a lot of questions and I’m looking forward to seeing a lot of answers when we get to Hazeltine.”

More than ever, part of the spotlight on this occasion, before the event and during it, will be on the vice-captains. Tiger Woods, after all, is in Love’s backroom team while the opposition camp includes Ian Poulter, Europe’s talisman in Chicago four years ago but, like Woods, filling a new role on this occasion due to injury. How Clarke and Love choose to utilise their respective vice-captains – Paul Lawrie and Sam Torrance are also among Clarke’s right-hand men – is another aspect that fascinates McGinley.

“I gave a lot of responsibility to the vice-captains,” he said. “I based a lot of my decisions on their readings of games. I didn’t feel that I needed to be on the front line. I saw myself as a third line of attack. The first line is the players and the caddies, the second is the vice-captains. As one roll of the dice was under way, I was off preparing for the next one. I did that through my conversations with the vice-captains who were reading the games for me. I didn’t see myself like a Seve [Ballesteros], tearing around in a cart and trying to see as much of the golf and support the players as much as he did [at Valderrama in 1997]. I felt that they were very strong on their own with their own caddies, and didn’t need my interfering. That was just the way I saw it. Seve was a very different captain and a very successful one. It will be interesting to see how Darren does it. Will he be front-line like Seve or a bit more withdrawn? There are different ways of doing it. No-one is right and no-one is wrong.”

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