The challenge of leading Europe’s Ryder Cup team requires the captain to wrestle with important issues of teambuilding and leadership. Here, Europe’s current captain, Paul McGinley, and some previous captains offer their personal perspectives. They give a flavor of the role’s demands, describe some of their experiences and offer their views on what it takes to build a Ryder Cup team.
European Ryder Cup captain, reveals his nine rules for success
Posted: 15 December 2014
From clear communication to effective meetings, Paul McGinley shares his leadership lessons for both the golf course and the boardroom.
A team is made up of many different individuals.
You need to understand each individual and appreciate that there’s no right or wrong in terms of where people are coming from.
2 Team building
Some people love responsibility, some love the opportunity to lead, some like to be down at the end and some like the pressure at the top.
It is important as a captain to identify the personalities in the team and have an understanding of the player, not just as a golfer, but as a human being.
3 Handling pressure
When you’re performing at an elite level, the pressure is enormous.
Think back to the plans you have in place. They were the plans you made in the cold light of day, when the pressure was off, so trust that they are right.
4 Keep it simple
As a captain, I have to step away and see things in a clinical way.
Under pressure, the tendency is to complicate things as your mind races. It is very important to make the decisions based on simplicity.
5 The importance of meetings
Our most successful team meetings have been short, to-the-point and with a consistent message.
The real captaining of a Ryder Cup is done on a one-to-one basis over a coffee in the morning, or an arm on the shoulder during a practice round.
6 Managing change
Change is sometimes forced upon you, and sometimes it’s something you have to force. In elite-level sport, things change all the time.
When conditions are thrust upon you, that’s when you have to show your adaptability and it is essential to have a plan – a flexible plan.
7 The power of the underdog
Despite our victories, we still feel like the underdog and that can be a very powerful force.
We have used it in the past when we are playing against the might of the US – and that’s a huge motivation for all of our players.
8 The importance of data
Collecting data is important for any decision. Professional golfers have form, just like the stock market, and that can go up or down.
I have a full-time statistics team collecting data on all European-based players and their performance.
I have seen how Europe has won Ryder Cups.
I have seen the template of success. I see my job as taking that template and enhancing it.
Building a Ryder Cup team
Posted: 5 September 2014
Colin Montgomerie has never lost a Ryder Cup singles match. And as Europe’s captain in 2010, he led the team to victory at Celtic Manor. Here, he reflects on his experiences as a player and a leader.
When looking at players, I wouldn’t be studying data and saying: “He has hit 16 greens in regulation in the practice round, therefore I’m going to pick him.”
I would think: “How is this guy feeling? Are he and his caddie having fun?”
Say I was interviewing as a manager in a business. I wouldn’t necessarily take the guy who came in with four As. In 2010, Paul Casey was a four-A golfer.
I left him out and picked Edoardo Molinari, who was more of a two As, two Bs player. I picked someone ranked 40 in the world, compared with someone at number 8, because I was thinking about the team.
Managing high performers
I will never forget what happened at the 17th hole during practice, ahead of the 1997 Ryder Cup. I was with Bernhard Langer, Nick Faldo and Ian Woosnam. I was playing in my fourth Ryder Cup, and we were all experienced players.
We played the hole quite badly, and we were going on to the 18th hole to finish the practice round. Then Seve Ballesteros, the captain that year, came to us and said: “I am not happy with this. I want you all to go back to the 17th hole and play it properly.”
I looked at Faldo and he looked at me, Woosnam and Langer and we were thinking: “What has he just told us to do?” It was like schoolboy stuff. But Seve was dead right.
And I remembered this when I was captain. There were a lot of big characters in that team of mine. It contained Major winners and stars of past and future.
I said to them: “I’m very glad, lads, that you have left your egos at the door of Celtic Manor. You can pick them up on the way out.” And there weren’t any egos in there at all.
“You’ve all got a job to do,” I said. “I want to get 14.5 points. I don’t care who does it, and neither should you. We are all helping each other for the same cause.”
Building a team culture
There are only 12 players on the team, but my first speech as captain was in front of about 80 people.
I got together the players’ wives and partners, the caddies, the caddies’ wives and partners, the Tour referees, the media team and the scoreboard operators. So my team knew exactly who everybody was.
The physiotherapists were in there, the chefs who were cooking the meals were in there. I introduced everybody to everybody.
It was a team to start with. There was never “these are the players, they’re not talking to the chefs.”
I was very aware of the fact that I wanted everybody around the players to feel that they were part of a winning team.
Finding your own voice at The Ryder Cup
Posted: 9 July 2014
Sam Torrance, European Ryder Cup captain in 2002, reflects on the challenges of being a Ryder Cup captain.
I was a vice-captain in 1999 at Brookline under Mark James. I learned so much more about Ryder Cup captaincy in that week than I did in the eight Ryder Cups in which I played. So much goes on in the background that the players have no idea about.
I loved being captain. It was just amazing. Selecting the rooms in the hotel, the outfits, what we would wear in the morning, in the afternoon, what they would eat at lunch, the pairings, the flights, the baggage, the preparation of the course. I loved it all. But the opening and closing ceremonies terrified me. Ian Woosnam and I played in eight Ryder Cups together and every time, at the opening ceremony, we would be sitting there, among our teammates, with the Americans on the other side of the podium. We’d be relaxed as the teams were introduced then, all of a sudden, they’d announce the captain, and your captain gets up and walks to the podium. We’d be nudging each other, saying “I could never do that, in a million years – not a chance.”
You look at them at that moment with such awe. And none of our captains through the years ever let us down. When they spoke, they just made you feel so strong and so glad to be part of that team. When I was captain, the scariest part was the fear of letting them down at that moment. Getting it right is imperative, especially at the opening ceremony, when the tone is set.
For me, the hardest thing about being Ryder Cup captain was the speeches for the opening and closing ceremonies. I had specific text drafted for each. Actually, I had a third speech. I had a winning speech and a losing speech prepared for the closing ceremony. I read the winning speech 200 times. I never read the losing speech. If I had to make a losing speech, it was going be made. But it wasn’t going to be practised. And I think that’s key. Never, ever, have negative thoughts.
Paul McGinley will be his own man. And a very strong man he’ll be too. He’ll leave no stone unturned. In the build up to The 2014 Ryder Cup, Paul may ask me to go and visit the course, to check that what he’s asked to be done to the course is done, and it looks like it suits us.
I never phoned any previous Ryder Cup captains for advice when I was captain – and no subsequent ones have phoned me. It’s not what you do. It’s not necessary. You learn so much from your predecessors, you have your own experiences and you have your own view of the captaincy. You make it what you want it to be.
Chemistry on the course at The Ryder Cup
Posted: 30 June 2014
Sam Torrance, European Ryder Cup captain in 2002, explains the thinking behind his selection of the pairings.
Working out the pairings was very interesting. You have two formats: foursomes and fourballs. For the foursomes, you are looking for steady players; for the fourballs, you are looking for birdie machines. You pretty much know your team well in advance. There’s going be the odd change at the end, but I just didn’t think about the uncertainties.
It was great fun making the pairings. When I was captain, The 2001 Ryder Cup was postponed for a year due to the 9/11 terrorist attacks. I had some pairings in my mind prior to 2001 and they were still there a year later.
When The Ryder Cup finally arrived, I played my intended pairings together in the practice rounds. You are looking at them, thinking: “Yeah, that’s perfect for foursomes, that’s perfect for fourballs.”
But my best pairing of the week never played a practice round together. Garcia and Westwood. That partnership was never in my mind until the night before the match got under way. It just came to me. I put them together and they were magnificent. That pairing just came out of the blue.
It was instinct. You have to trust your instincts.
A good team golfer is a guy who will play with anyone. I had four or five in my team. Colin Montgomerie was one who I would describe as a floater. I could pair him in foursomes or fourballs with anyone. Being a good team golfer means being congenial, being able to look at your partner and lift him when he’s down, and hit a good shot when he’s hit a bad shot.
With the year’s postponement, my team in 2002 was exactly the same as the one picked a year earlier. But by then, many of the guys were out of form. Months before play began, many were low on confidence. Some were panicking in their minds because they knew that they were in the team, but that their game wasn’t right.
But in every negative, there’s a positive. I told them that the Americans were in exactly the same position, if not worse. And it didn’t bother me at all. One of my key players was Lee Westwood. I felt that he was one of those who were most out of form at that point. What I said to Lee was “form is temporary, but class is permanent.” He took that to heart and he played well.
Continental shift at The Ryder Cup
Posted: 19 June 2014
Sam Torrance, European Ryder Cup captain in 2002, explores the importance of leadership and the factors that give Europe such a strong team culture.
How did Europe change from all those losing years to winning? It was really down to Tony Jacklin. He was a wonderful captain, and a lovely, great man. Tony was different. When he became captain, he gave us first-class everything; he made us all feel very important. We flew Concorde, had leather golf bags and wore cashmere jumpers. We felt special.
In 1983, at West Palm Beach, we lost The Ryder Cup by a point. It was Tony’s first captaincy. We all swore on that Sunday night that we would come back and win it. We did, and that was down to Tony. He made the difference. He made us feel special – and I took a lot of that into my captaincy years later.
Europe has a special team culture. If you go and play in an American event, say the Houston Open, there are a hundred hotels you can stay in. In Europe, if you play in the Madrid Open, just two hotels are used, and half the players are in one and half in the other. We are always together, always meeting for dinner at night. We’re from different countries, and we’re all inquisitive about each other’s cultures. If you are all from one place, you just get on with your own life. But with, for example, Spaniards in our team, I wanted to know about their way of life. As a Scotsman, it was great to get to know how people from other countries live.
When we arrive at The Ryder Cup, everything is left at the door: egos, personal glory – everything. When you go through that door, you are part of a team. Having players from different countries benefits the team.
As a vice-captain, you act as a kind of buffer between the captain and the players. Sometimes a player may have a problem, but he won’t approach the captain because he knows how busy he is and doesn’t want to bother him. There’s a danger that the player may leave that problem unresolved. We are there to make sure that doesn’t happen.
The players can come and speak to us. Whatever it is, we’ll listen and sort it. And if we can’t sort it, then we’ll take it to the captain and he’ll sort it. A vice-captain is not there to interfere. Great golfers are going to be in this team. You don’t need to interfere in their preparation. You just need to be there for them and make sure they get what they need.