With just a week to go until the Ryder Cup tees off the eyes of the golfing world are now fixed firmly on Gleneagles. The teams have been selected and over the coming days the US Team will jet in to begin their preparations. Likewise the Europeans will soon gather in Scotland and everything will be in place for golf’s premier tournament. The ‘Miracle at Medinah’ two years ago acts as an intriguing backdrop to this year’s Cup, with the Americans keen to make up for what they rightly see as something of a meltdown and it remains to be seen whether they will suffer any kind of psychological hangover.
Currently embarked on a Theatre Tour of the UK and Ireland, Tony Jacklin CBE took time out from his schedule to tell us how he sees the 2014 Ryder Cup playing out. First, we asked him whether there were any players missing from the tournament that he felt deserved a place.
Tony told us, “From the point of view of Europe, I think Paul McGinley can be rightly contented with his team. All appears to be well in the European camp and the presence of the World No.1 will give confidence to the team. The inclusion of Ian Poulter was an absolute no-brainer and Stephen Gallacher has done enough recently to stake his claim. In a similar vein, Lee Westwood’s numbers have been low lately and he has wonderful Ryder Cup know-how. You’ll always have questions about first-timers but you have to blood promising players like Gallacher and the Welshman Donaldson at some stage. McGinley has good back-up from experienced vice-captains and that’s always important.”
“As for the Americans, Tom Watson’s preparations could have been better. He’s had a rough month perhaps. Jordan Spieth form has been poor of late, for example, and Dustin Johnson’s absence is a cause for debate. Jason Dufner’s neck injury couldn’t have happened at a worse time and Watson doesn’t have the talents of Billy Horschel at his disposal. He’s possibly the hottest player in the world at present, in my opinion. Chris Kirk would have been a great inclusion too. They have experience in the team and Watson can always hide players over the first two days, if he wants, but that’s not ideal in any way.”
The question of home advantage comes up every two years but Tony is unconvinced that it will be decisive. “Paul McGinley can certainly set up the course to his liking and, if he sees it as advantageous, he can always dictate fairway widths and the green cutting heights to suit the Europeans but I believe those factors only have a marginal effect. Some might say that, were the weather to be inclement, Europe stands to gain. It is often said that Americans don’t tend to grow up playing in as unpredictable conditions as we do over here, especially in Scotland, but that’s in the lap of the gods. We’ll have to wait and see.”
“My main concern about the weather is that it doesn’t stop the whole event being fitted into the allotted three days. It’s a tight schedule and daylight may also be an obstacle to getting through the programme but I don’t see it as key in deciding the destiny of the Cup. The reality is that this is matchplay golf and absolutely anything can happen – it might swing one way, it may swing the other.”
We pressed Tony further on who he thought would come out on top. He has seen enough, however, not to rush to judgment. “On paper the Europeans are favourites but I wouldn’t make them hot favourites. A lot can, and does, happen over those three days, as the Americans found out to their misfortune last time out. Europe must guard against complacency and the experienced players need to keep an eye on the debutants. It’s very much a team effort.”
Tony played at Gleneagles many times during his stellar career but things there have changed. “I used to play on the King’s Course at Gleneagles and always loved the challenge it posed. I’ve not actually played on the Centenary Course but I know that, with Jack Nicklaus having designed it, it is top quality. I’ve looked at hundreds of photos of it and the design is a classic American one, particularly the bunkers and I like the general layout. The course should add to what looks set be a wonderful exhibition of golf.”
“I always look forward to the Ryder Cup. Having been heavily involved in it myself, I always loved it and gave it my best shot, as did the teams I captained. My experience means I have an appreciation of, and indeed sympathy for, what lies in store for Paul McGinley and I wish him and his team the very best of luck. I enjoy seeing the players’ reactions and I love everything about the Ryder Cup, so the sooner it gets started the better.”
Tony is currently half way through a tour of Britain and Ireland with his good friend, snooker legend Willie Thorne. Their ‘Question & Answer’ sessions are filling theatres up and down the country with Willie, as question master, the perfect foil for Tony. We asked the two-time Major winner for his thoughts on the Theatre Tour.
“It’s a really enjoyable thing to do, to be honest. The questions coming in from the audiences have been great and many of them are bringing up some fantastic memories. At times there’s a lot of nostalgia in the air. Willie’s having a whale of a time, as ever, and the whole thing’s been very relaxed. We had Belfast last night - there was a big turnout and happily we were on our game. Tonight we’re off to Basildon, before a short break, and after that we’re doing pretty much all four corners of these isles in just over a week. The schedule’s busy but it has been lovely so far and both Willie and I have met some wonderful people.”
The tour continues in venues around Britain and Ireland until 16th October, so for more information on tickets see Tony Jacklin's theatre tour dates.