GLENEAGLES, Scotland – Europe’s Thomas Bjorn didn’t notice the chill of the autopsy room with the corpse no longer there.
Bjorn didn’t notice as he galloped through the doors with Jamie Donaldson perched on his back, with Donaldson giggling and whipping him like a racehorse. He didn’t notice with Lee Westwood popping a champagne bottle and all his teammates parading in behind him, their respective national flags wrapped around their necks like scarves.
The Europeans marched into the Gleneagles media room after Sunday’s 16½ to 11½ victory unaware that the cold, dead form of the U.S. Ryder Cup effort had just been carved open there in a most gruesome dissection of what was wrong with the American team.
They didn’t know their sixth thumping of the United States in their last seven tries had led Tom Watson’s captaincy to be carved up in front of the world’s media in that very room just minutes before. They didn’t know until European captain Paul McGinley was asked in the news conference if he could explain why he got it right and Watson got it wrong.
In fact, McGinley was told that he got his plan so right that it inspired “an extraordinary attack” on Watson by his own team in the very seats the Euros were now sitting upon.
The media watching the Euros parade in were witness to Phil Mickelson’s recitation of what was right with the ’08 U.S. team that won in Valhalla, with Mickelson’s answer not so subtly exposing what he felt was wrong with the American team under Watson’s leadership.
There was no other way to interpret Mickelson explaining how U.S. captain Paul Azinger got everyone “invested” in his plan that week and “invested” in each other, and how the United States needed to “get back to that formula” because “nobody was in on any decision” this week.
Welcome to the post-mortem, Capt. McGinley.
“I’m sorry to hear that, if that’s the case,” McGinley said. “I have huge respect for Tom Watson.”
McGinley has made no secret that Watson was his boyhood hero, and that’s what made McGinley’s leadership style so powerfully poignant this week.
McGinley’s career as a player paled in comparison to Watson’s, with Watson winning twice as many majors (8) as McGinley won European Tour titles (4). Yet McGinley proved twice the captain Watson was this week in so many people’s eyes. Without any malice intended, McGinley’s style stood in such stark contrast to Watson’s. McGinley inadvertently exposed Watson’s shortcomings in the minds of Mickelson and others.
In other words, McGinley was everything Watson wasn’t this week, with the final score dictating that final assessment.
Watson, 65, was old school, more Vince Lombardi than Norman Vincent Peale.
McGinley was, well, let Sergio Garcia explain the conversation he had with Bjorn this week: “Thomas was mentioning that he strongly feels that Paul is the new wave of captains. A lot more modern, every detail, it was right there. He thought of everything this week. It was amazing.”
Garcia, Bjorn, Rory McIlroy, Graeme McDowell, Justin Rose, Lee Westwood, Ian Poulter and all the European players took turns raving about McGinley and how he created this architectural construct for winning, an atmosphere of trust that the Euros call their “template.”
“I couldn’t criticize his captaincy at any point this week,” Westwood said.
If the Americans want a meticulous, comprehensive new American Ryder Cup plan, the PGA of America might want to start by creating a covert operations division. They might want to start by slipping a deep cover operative into Ireland to steal McGinley’s black book. It’s a compilation of notes he has kept as a player on three Ryder Cup teams, as a vice captain on two Ryder Cup teams and as a captain on two Seve Trophy teams.
“Paul McGinley has been absolutely immense this week,” McIlroy said. “He has left no stone unturned. He's just been fantastic. Everything’s been tied in, from speeches that he's made, to the people that he got in to talk to us, to the imagery in our team room.”
The Euros praised McGinley not just for his plan, but his ability to communicate it to them, to connect them all to his vision, or as McGinley keeps calling it, the “template” that makes the European Ryder Cup effort work.
How did he “invest” players in his plan?
McGinley knew very little about Frenchman Victor Dubuisson when the Frenchman cracked into the European Ryder Cup picture late last year. With Dubuisson’s reputation as enigmatic, a bit of a mystery, McGinley flew to the Eurasia Cup in March specifically to get to know him.
Once they connected, once he got a feel for Dubuisson’s personality, McGinley went to work on McDowell, because he believed McDowell would be the perfect Ryder Cup guide for the French rookie.
He shared that plan with McDowell, and the pair went 2-0 together this week.
McGinley knew Jamie Donaldson. He captained him at the Seve Trophy, and he believed Lee Westwood would be the perfect guide for the English rookie. They were 2-1 this week.
McGinley teamed Ian Poulter with Scottish rookie Stephen Gallacher this week. That pairing didn’t work, with the duo getting crushed, but McGinley let his players know he was always working contingencies, always thinking about next steps.
“You have a skeleton plan,” McGinley said earlier in the week. “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. As captain, I've been planning all week long. This is why you don't see a lot of me on the golf course. I'm plotting our next move.”
McGinley always seemed to be one step ahead of Watson.
There were also McGinley’s messages, themes built to address challenges he anticipated the Europeans facing. He shared those with players on their journey to Gleneagles and reinforced them with inspirational slogans and pictures tied to his themes.
“Everything I've been doing this week as captain has been working towards three or four key messages,” McGinley said on Saturday. “I’ll share that more on Sunday when we’re all done.”
McGinley knew Watson was selling the Americans on storming Gleneagles for redemption.
So, McGinley sold the Europeans on the virtue of being a rock, and then he followed that up posting an inspirational photograph just outside the team room, an image of rock being pounded in a storm on some European shoreline.
“We will be the rock when the storm arrives,” was the inscription on the poster.
Those themes didn’t fall on deaf ears. When asked Sunday night if he was ready to reveal what specific messages he was feeding his team all week, he asked the players to reveal them. As if on cue, they began shouting them out.
“Be the rock,” Rose said.
“Complacency,” McIlroy said.
“Wave after wave,” McDowell said.
“Concentration,” McIlroy said.
“Attitude,” they all shouted.
When McGinley invited Sir Alex Ferguson, the Manchester United soccer legend, to speak to his team this week, he didn’t do it randomly. He shaped the message with Ferguson. He shaped it with the themes he was building upon.
McGinley didn’t just invest his players in his plan. He invested his vice captains and caddies.
“He has been so methodical,” Garcia said. “Every single aspect that he needed to touch on, he did.”
It’s a winning template even the American players sounded willing to buy into, something more on the lines of what Azinger brought than what Watson did.