GLENEAGLES, Scotland — Paul McGinley is not trying to reinvent the wheel at the Ryder Cup. He just wants to keep Europe rolling.
The European captain spoke in mysterious terms Tuesday about a “template” his team has followed toward dominance in these matches. He didn’t offer many details, though the recent record should be all the evidence he needs.
Even though the teams are evenly matched, the powerful Americans have won only twice in the past 21 years.
“I don’t see myself as a maverick,” McGinley said. “I see myself as a guy who has been very lucky to ride shotgun on a lot of success, both as a player and vice captain. I’ve learned a lot from the captains. This is not a time for me or Europe to have a maverick captain. It’s a time for me to go in, identify the template, enhance it and try to make it better, roll it out again and hopefully you hand it over to the next captain.”
McGinley speaks from experience.
The Irishman has played a part in five of the past six Ryder Cup matches, all of them European victories dating to 2002 when McGinley made his debut by holing the winning putt at The Belfry.
So what’s the secret?
Matt Kuchar, one of nine American players who have only posed with the prized trophy during team photos, doesn’t think there is one. Asked whether too much is made of European dominance because all but two of those victories came down to the wire, Kuchar suggested it was a coincidence.
“I can’t put my finger on anything, so that would be random,” Kuchar said.
Even more aggravating for the Americans is that they have won the majority of the five sessions the past two times.
“Why do they keep winning? I don’t know yet,” Zach Johnson said. “Other than the fact that they’ve played well and won the tournament, I can’t answer.”
Players from both teams got in a full round of practice at Gleneagles in the long week leading to the opening tee shot Friday, which sets off three days of relentless action. U.S. captain Tom Watson began to tip his hand with some of the groupings, such as Kuchar playing with 21-year-old Jordan Spieth, and Jim Furyk with Ryder Cup rookie Patrick Reed, who attended University High in Baton Rouge.
McGinley sent his players out in threesomes, a sign that he has plenty of options to mix and match.
Watson has not been at any Ryder Cup since 1993, when he was captain of the last U.S. team to win on European soil, though he was quick to point out that I’ve been there every time watching intently on TV.”
It has looked like a horror show at times, especially two years ago at Medinah when the Americans squandered a 10-6 lead on the last day. Sergio Garcia, Justin Rose and Ian Poulter won the last two holes for 1-up victories in three pivotal matches.
From Watson’s viewpoint, that’s why Europe keeps winning.
“They have been able to pull it out a little better at the end than we have. That’s what I’ve seen,” Watson said. “They have pulled it out. I can’t explain why. I have to give credit to the Europeans. They have played better at the end.”
Told about McGinley’s secret template, Watson smiled and said, “Can you tell me what his template is?”
The Europeans always have been able to rally around some cause. They were regarded as underdogs even when they were winning regularly. The Ryder Cup was a chance for them to show their tour should not be portrayed as a second-class citizen in the world of golf, even though most players are joint members of the PGA Tour. One year, the Europeans were put off by promotional chatter that the Nationwide Tour (now the Web.com Tour) was the second-best tour in golf.
Now they go into this Ryder Cup as favorites, and that has only emboldened the Europeans.
“We believe in each other. Twelve becomes one,” said Thomas Bjorn, on the European team for the first time in 12 years after three stints as a vice captain. “And I think that’s the importance of the European team, that we have a strong belief in each other. We stand by each other all the way through the week, and we have that camaraderie throughout the year that’s done us good when we’ve come in here.
“We believe in having fun and keeping it light, and we never underestimate what we’re up against.”
They kept it light during practice. From the back end of the 18th green, Rory McIlroy putted down a ridge and up the other side to the front pin position. Sergio Garcia pulled out his sand wedge to show him another way — he clipped the ball perfectly so as not to remove a divot, the ball checking up near the hole. McIlroy went down into a collection area and tried to chip between two golf bags to where Garcia was hitting.
It was fun. It was light.
Is that part of this “template?”
McGinley only laughed when asked why Europe keeps winning.
“There’s a number of reasons, and obviously I can’t go into those,” McGinley said. “I have views. I’m not privy to what goes on in the American team room. I’m only privy to what goes on in the European team room. And I’m really concerned about getting that template right again this time. It’s not about changing it. It’s about doing what we’ve always done.”