“We’ve got Ian Poulter.”
With one simple statement European Ryder Cup Captain Paul McGinley threw down the gauntlet to US Captain Tom Watson in front of a packed conference at the Gleneagles Hotel at the end of the 2014 Ryder Cup Year to Go celebrations.
McGinley and Watson were giving their first joint conference to mark the end of two days of events which swept from the historic heart of Edinburgh Castle and onto Gleneagles, via steam train, with a wonderful fusion of the past, present and future.
When questioned about what Tiger Woods brings to the team, Watson was quick to point out the benefits of having the World Number One on your side, just as he had Jack Nicklaus at his side when he played, saying “He's had the most remarkable career probably of almost any professional golfer in the history of your game. To have him on your team….when I played in The Ryder Cup, I stood on the tee several times, "And now on the tee, Tom Watson and Jack Nicklaus." You don't think that was kind of a moment.”
But McGinley immediately countered with Europe’s Ryder Cup talisman – Ian Poulter.
The reality is there is very little to separate the two teams, a point here or there with both captains drawing comparisons with boxing heavyweight contests and neither wanting to claim the favourite tag.
“The margin between the two teams is so slight,” said McGinley. “It has been for a number of years. And Lady Luck has shone on us at the right times in the last two Ryder Cups, and we have been fortunate to come out on the right side.
“There has been some wonderful play and great heart from our team at the right moments in time, but Lady Luck has always played a factor and we have been on the right side of Lady Luck.
“I think it's going to be a very closely fought contest, and that's what makes The Ryder Cup so special. We know it's going to be, in boxing terms, a heavyweight contest toe to toe from start to finish.”
Watson feels that the US team will however be the underdogs: “The way I'm looking at it, we have an away game. Traditional sport, the home team has an advantage from a crowd standpoint and familiarity standpoint. I think we are going to go in as the underdogs, because of the past records of The Ryder Cup.
“But don't tell that to my players. I said in 1993, I hope the players are all playing well going into the matches. If you're lucky enough to be a captain on a team like that, then you have no worries at all. Where you have worries are where some of the players are not playing very well.
“You know, The Ryder Cup pressure does a lot of things to players and their ability sometimes. That's where picking the right players for the team comes into play for me. I've said a number of times, I want players with heart. I want people who can make that 5 footer when they have to make that 5 footer. That's what I'll be looking for and those are the types of players that win Ryder Cups.”
The conference was the final act in two days of activities that started with breakfast in Edinburgh Castle, hosted by the First Minister, before a steam train journey on a 1927 Scots Guardsman, built in the year of the first Ryder Cup, took the Captains and VIPs to Gleneagles. There the captains took part in a challenge match with 16 juniors who have come though the ClubGolf scheme and the evening was rounded off with an Q&A in front of a packed audience at the Perth Concert Hall. This morning the captains launched a ground-breaking Ryder Cup educational resource at the Community School of Auchterarder.
Looking back on the two days, Watson said: “It was wonderful experience to be part of the ClubGolf junior golf programme and that culminated in 16 of them playing with Paul and myself yesterday. Added to that the Auchterader School and their programme of getting kids involved in the Ryder Cup in all sorts of ways, I was very, very impressed by what I saw over there with the young people and the people who are teaching them.”
McGinley added: “We are here in the home of golf in Scotland. It is an honour to be Ryder Cup captain anywhere but especially here in the home of golf. It has been a wonderful two days, starting in Edinburgh Castle and then the steam strain, seeing the history of Scotland then the future through the wonderful programme of ClubGolf and the launch of the education resource at the school in Auchterader today. As much as we want to see the most magnificent golf tournament every staged next year we also want to leave a legacy behind us and that has been very much part of the last few days.”
For full transcript click here