GLENEAGLES, Scotland – Throughout this week, Europe captain Paul McGinley has spoken about the template he’s employed toward managing his team. He’s insisted that there exists a prevalent philosophy within his roster. He’s even suggested that there’s a secret formula which he’ll reveal when – not if – the team wins on Sunday night.
It’s taken some dutiful undercover work and hours of eavesdropping with an ear to the door of the European team room, but I think I’ve finally figured it out. I believe I’ve stolen the plan. And I can now reveal the confidential information.
Drumroll please …
… and the answer is …
Play much better golf than the United States team.
How else to explain Europe’s commanding 10-6 lead entering the final session? How else to explain how the team has once again looked dominant in the team matches? How else to explain how McGinley’s squad seems prepared to win the Ryder Cup for the seventh time in the last eight editions of the event?
Alright, so maybe it goes deeper than simply outplaying the opponent.
Maybe the secret formula also consists of accurate driving off the tee. Consistently hitting clutch approach shots. Often chipping to within gimme range. And – this is an important one – making just about every putt between here and Glasgow.
That must be it, right? Isn’t that all there is to the game?
Well, not if you’re McGinley. Not if you’re building yet another Ryder Cup champion.
“When you're a captain, you go in with a plan,” he explained Saturday evening after his team posted a 3-0-1 record in the final foursomes session. “You have a skeleton plan. Nothing is written in stone. You don't ever write things in stone and you have to react and if you're not able to react, you've got a problem. And me as captain, what I've done, and what I've been planning all week long is this is why you don't see a lot of me on the golf course. I'm plotting our next move.”
Every single player on the roster has bought into the captain’s concepts.
Justin Rose is one of the world’s best players, a major champion who’s good for a couple of worldwide wins each year. Get him between the ropes at this event, though, and it’s as if he’s armed with Ben Hogan’s swing and Bobby Jones’ putting stroke. So far this week, he’s undefeated in four matches. If there was such a thing as Ryder Cup MVP, they’d be engraving his name already.
Lee Westwood is, to put it bluntly, a fairly mediocre putter when compared with his peers for 103 weeks. Every two years, though, it’s as if his ball is magnetized to the bottom of the cup. He simply wills himself into being better on the greens during these weeks.
Sergio Garcia has been known to sulk at times. He can be pouty when things aren’t going his way. And then he arrives here and he’s smiling and back-slapping and shot-making like the second coming of Seve Ballesteros.
Henrik Stenson hasn’t played in this competition since 2008. In the time since, his game hit rock-bottom, only to rise from the abyss. There have been no signs of those struggles this week, though. Even slightly hampered by a balky back, he’s won each of his three team matches so far.
Victor Dubuisson may not become a superstar, but he will be the latest young European to be labeled a budding superstar for the way he played in this event. It remains to be seen whether he’ll be the next Colin Montgomerie or Nicolas Colsaerts, but the guy called “enigmatic” entering this week has been nothing but consistently impressive.
That list isn’t even including world No. 1 Rory McIlroy, who’s only looked very good instead of his usual great this week. Or Ian Poulter, who has played just two matches and only given his best crazy-eyed Poulter reaction a couple of times. Or Graeme McDowell, or Jamie Donaldson, or Martin Kaymer, or Thomas Bjorn, each of whom has made important contributions during the first four sessions of the week.
During this entire week – and, really, even before this week started – McGinley’s theme has centered around complacency. More to the point, trying to keep from a lack of complacency. The team is playing on home turf, it’s gotten used to winning and it has a handful of team members who have already enjoyed bountiful individual campaigns this year.
With one session remaining, McGinley still has to keep his players from getting too relaxed. They already know all too well that a 10-6 lead isn’t insurmountable, because that’s the exact deficit they overcame two years ago.
And so they understand what the captain is preaching.
“We were there two years ago,” McDowell said. “We know what can happen. Complacency is a word that's been the buzzword in our team room this week. We've worked hard to avoid complacency, and believe us, we'll be working hard on that tonight again.”
That could be the secret to winning the Ryder Cup once again. And hey, it doesn’t hurt to play much better golf than the United States team, too.