IAN COLE reports from the latest SJA Ladbrokes Lunch, where former captain Bernard Gallacher explained what it takes to win the Ryder Cup in America. Photographs by 2009 SJA Sports Photographer of the Year SCOTT HEAVEY of Getty Images
Bernard Gallacher believes Jose Maria Olazabal will call on the spirit and memory of Seve Ballesteros when he takes the European team to the United States next week to defend the Ryder Cup.
Ballesteros, who died last year, played in eight Ryder Cups and was non-playing captain when Europe retained the trophy in the first tournament to be held in Spain in 1997, was a legend of the biennial event and Gallacher, who himself holds a rich pedigree of eight tournaments and three stints as captain, is certain Seve’s presence will be with the European team in Medinah, Illinois.
Gallacher, speaking at the latest SJA Ladbrokes Sports Lunch in Fleet Street, said: “I have no doubt that Olazabal will carry Seve’s torch into the tournament. He will give the Seve speech in the locker room before the start.
“Two years ago before Celtic Manor Colin Montgomerie phoned Seve on his sick bed and his words to the team were inspirational.
“Seve was a great Ryder Cup player. He was so passionate about it. He gave you points, but much, much more. Even when he wasn’t playing he could inspire the team.
“Olazabal will draw on that memory and in the team room the players will realise they’ve got a great captain.”
That’s not to say a European victory in the States is a foregone conclusion, of course, and Gallacher admitted: “If ever a match looked like a draw it’s this one. There’s no doubt Europe have one of their strongest ever sides, with so many players recent tournament winners – including in America.
“Rory McIlroy will be their talisman, but everyone is on form. Against that, of course, they must expect the partisan American crowds to lift their side and that will be a factor.”
It is known that Davis Love, the United States captain, has made alterations to the course at Medinah to suit his players, with reportedly hundred of trees felled to widen the fairways to suit the long drivers in the US team.
“Once a captain starts doctoring the course I think that’s a bad sign,” said Gallacher. “Our team will enjoy the wide fairways. Our team will love playing on fast greens.”
Gallacher said he had spoken to Olazabal at Crans recently and the captain said he had not made any firm decisions about pairings for the foursomes and fourballs. “I don’t believe that,” said Gallacher. “I told Olly that I didn’t think Northern Ireland would let him not pair McIlroy and Graeme McDowell, for instance.
“And I’ll be surprised if Justin Rose and Ian Poulter don’t play together. A captain has to think about the chemistry between two players, not just how good they are. I remember pairing Nick Faldo with David Gilford and the chemistry just wasn’t right.
“Lee Westwood has been successful playing with Sergio Garcia and also with Luke Donald. In fact, Sergio might be the one the captain has difficulty in placing. Whatever pairings he chooses, what you don’t want is the situation we had at Valhalla, where we were four matches down straight away and unable to catch up.”
At every Ryder Cup there is much discussion about the order the captain chooses to send out his singles players on the final day. Gallacher believes the better players should be at the top of the order – with your very best player at one or six.
“I’d send out McIlroy first. He’s a great player, playing quality golf and you want him to lead from the front. I certainly wouldn’t put my best player last – as has been done! You want your best player leading the charge . The only alternative is to have him at six, where he is in a position to turn the match around if necessary.”
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