In years to come the 2014 Ryder Cup is likely to be viewed as a major turning point in the history of the competition. Europe clinically dispatched a toothless American side 16.5- 11.5 at Glengeales in Scotland to claim an eighth victory in 10 meetings.
The captaincy of Ryder Cup veteran Paul McGinley was hailed as a triumph, leading Lee Westwood to label it as blueprint for other captains going forward. Meticulous attention to detail, solid preparation and excellent man-management characterised McGinley’s leadership.
In contrast, the captaincy of American skipper Tom Watson came under scrutiny and was publicly questioned by Phil Mickelson in the post tournament press conference.
The decision to drop Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed, the youngest American pairing in Ryder Cup history, from the afternoon fourballs after they hammered Stephen Gallacher and Ian Poulter in the morning left many perplexed.
Watson also left out one of his star players, Phil Mickelson, from Saturday’s action completely. The disarray in the American camp in 2014 is likely to leave a lasting legacy.
In the wake of the defeat, an 11-man task force was charged with analysing all aspects of the United States’ approach to the Ryder Cup. Davis Love’s 2016 side looks set to be a completely different prospect for the Europeans at Hazeltine.
Des Smyth, one of McGinely’s trusted vice captains at Gleneagles, discusses Watson’s captaincy, Europe’s strategy and having five vice-captains…
How did it come about that Paul McGinley picked you as one of his vice-captains?
I suppose it started a long time ago because when Paul first came on tour, naturally being an Irish chap we kind of gravitated towards each other.
We used to play practice rounds together and the fact that Paul was a member of the same club as me back home, County Louth Golf Club, so we had connections.
What do the vice-captains do at the tournament? What are your responsibilities?
I came on board fairly early. Paul asked me and Sam Torrance around about the same time to be part of his team. He only picked his other vice-captains closer to the time.
I was in constant contact with Paul discussing the possibilities of who was going to be his selections, generally talking about how things were shaping up with regards to the team.
I would says I was kind of someone who he rang to throw his ideas on and look for opinions. I am sure he used Sam in the same way.
It was the first time there was a fifth vice-captain… I think Paul saw a bit of weakness when he was at Medinah, even though they had a fantastic win there.
Paul, as one of the vice captains there, identified there was a bit of weakness in the communications and he decided he needed one more person to fill a slot while there were players on the course and players sitting on the sidelines that probably needed someone with them.
From the outside it seems that McGinley was quite meticulous?
I think that is the personality Paul has. He is a meticulous sort of guy. I think Paul didn’t have ambitions to be a pro from the outset.
I think it was circumstances and he turned pro late. In that period, he went to college and worked in an office in Brussels, so I think he gained all that meticulous preparation from his earlier life.
Paul informed everybody. He seemed to be everywhere too, whether it was six o’clock in the morning or 11 o’clock at night. Paul seemed to be and on the phone making contact with the people that were relevant. He is just that type of person, I think.
What do you think went wrong for the American side?
They seemed to be in a little bit of disarray. Sadly, it became quite public afterwards. Their communications weren’t as good as ours. Getting information to their players wasn’t as good as ours.
It would appear that there was some disagreement behind the scenes there. When you look at it, obviously they made some errors because they cut out Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed who played fantastic.
They were rookies but they played wonderful golf and are two great players. And then they were dropped in the afternoon.
That didn’t make any sense and I think some of the players on the American side weren’t too pleased with that and made it known. I don’t know exactly what was going on and, from our point of view, we just heard there was a problem in their camp but we were focused on what we were doing.
It didn’t all go smooth for us either. Some of the players when we got there just weren’t firing and we had to move. We weren’t set in our ways, we just moved situations as we saw it.
We would just have a quick discussion – ‘he is playing well, he is not playing so well. Look, we will take him out and put someone else in who is in good form’. That is how it worked and I think it worked well for us.
What do you make of the criticism of Tom Watson?
That’s not something you want but the players felt a bit aggrieved and that’s not a bad thing to get that out of the way. I don’t think anyone fell out with each other, it’s nothing personal.
Team sport is nothing personal, it’s about trying to get your best players onto the pitch or field in the best frame of mind and let them produce what they can.
That’s what management is really about. You have to make a decison, some players aren’t comfortable with the decisions.
If you get good team players they understand that management are there to make decisions in the best interests of the team and that’s what the players expect you to do – good or bad.