An Interview With: MINISTER LEO VARADKAR, PAUL McGINLEY, DES SMYTH and SAM TORRANCE
6 March 2014
SCOTT CROCKETT: Distinguished guests, it's my great pleasure to welcome you here this morning to the wonderful setting in the heart of the Irish Government Buildings in Dublin. We are here for a special announcement in relation to the 2014 Ryder Cup at the Gleneagles Hotel in Scotland, the 40th staring of that great match between Europe and the United States which is now only 204 days away.
Recognising the significance of the proceedings, we not only have full media attendance in Dublin but a live television audience in Europe and the United States, live streaming of our conference on RyderCup.com and a number of journalists who will join us on the telephone later in the proceedings.
Before we get to that, it's my pleasure to recognise a number of special guests with us here this morning. Firstly, representing the Irish government, we are delighted to welcome Leo Varadkar, Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, alongside Minister of State, Michael Ring.
Gentlemen, on behalf of George O'Grady, Chief Executive of the European Tour, and Richard Hills, Ryder Cup Director, both sitting alongside you this morning, I thank you for the warmth, the hospitality and the assistance provided by all of your staff here as we prepare for today's announcement.
The man who perhaps needs no introduction is alongside me on the stage, Europe's Ryder Cup Captain for 2014, Paul McGinley, a proud Dubliner himself of course but also a proud European whose feeling for our great continent are never brought more sharply into the focus when he's involved in the unique atmosphere only The Ryder Cup can generate.
First, we'll hear from Minister Leo Varadkar.
MINISTER LEO VARADKAR: Thank you very much, members of the press, ladies and gentlemen, I'm delighted to be here today for the announcement of the European vice captains who will take on America in the 40th Ryder Cup at Gleneagles this September.
First of all I want to offer apologies on behalf of our Taoiseach, the Prime Minister. He did want to be here. He's an enormous golf fan, as you know, and he's been looking forward to coming this for a week. He was telling me about it last Tuesday but unfortunately Vladimir Putin had other ideas, and he's had to go to Brussels today to attend an emergency summit on the situation emerging in Ukraine, but he asked me to pass on his best records and his best wishes for this event.
Ireland, as you know, has a very rich history of players competing in The Ryder Cup and it's a great honour to have an Irishman as captain for the very first time. I know that Paul McGinley is going to do a really fantastic job, and I'm also delighted that he is making this important announcement here in Dublin. We are all very proud of you, Paul.
He has made three consecutive appearances in The Ryder Cup as a player, in 2002, 2004, and in 2006, and he also served as vice captain to Colin Montgomerie in 2010 and Jose Maria Olazábal in 2012. I know The Ryder Cup has always been very close to Paul's heart, and I'm sure he's very proud to have been chosen; and the whole country and indeed the entire continent will be behind you and your team when you take on the Americans in September.
I also want to extend a very special welcome to the Chief Executive of The European Tour, George O'Grady, and the Director of the European Ryder Cup, Richard Hills. The Irish government and The European Tour have a very strong and long standing partnership, which has developed over many years at The Irish Open. We also have had the pleasure of hosting The Ryder Cup at The K Club in 2006, and today's announcement further enhances and strengthens that relationship.
It was a real honour for us to host The Ryder Cup back in 2006. It gave us an opportunity to present modern Ireland to a world audience, and as you know golf is a huge sport in Ireland, in terms of tourism,sport and also leisure, and we have some of the world's leading golfers here, including Rory McIlroy, Graeme McDowell, Padraig Harrington, and Darren Clarke.
The Ryder Cup is so exciting because the players are part of a team, one of those few occasions where Europe is united against America, and that's why it's one of the great sporting events I think in the calendar; the drama, the attention, the skill, team spirit and sportsmanship generate an audience of millions across the world and remains true to the spirit of the founder, Samuel Ryder.
This year is particularly exciting, with Europe hoping to complete a hat trick of success of wins. All of us here today and everyone watching this live broadcast from the Government Buildings in Dublin are looking for the 2014 Ryder Cup in September.
I want to wish Paul and his two vice captains all the best, and hopefully Europe will make it three in a row. Thank you.
SCOTT CROCKETT: Mr. Varadkar, thank you very much for those kind words.
Now it's my pleasure to hand the floor over to Europe's Ryder Cup Captain for 2014, Mr. Paul McGinley.
PAUL McGINLEY: Thank you, Scott. Just before I go into the vice captaincy, I'd like to extend my own personal welcome to everybody here today and particularly thank the Taoiseach for the use of the wonderful buildings here, the Government Buildings. I've never been here before, so it's quite an historic thing for me personally. I know he's busy, tied up today and I had a phone call from him this morning wishing me the best, so I appreciate that. And Minister Varadkar and Minister Ring, thank you very much for your support as well.
Also in attendance, George O'Grady from The European Tour and Richard Hills, as well, too, again, I thank you in my role as Ryder Cup Captain for your counsel, guidance and support. We have come over a few hurdles already, and we have a few more hurdles to go before September and I'm looking forward it.
The role of vice captaincy is another milestone in my term, and indeed any term that a captain has, and I'm here today to announce two men who first came to mind to me when I was put into this as Ryder Cup Captain last January in Abu Dhabi. These two men have been the sounding board for me both personally and professionally, and they have proved time and again to me with their ability, their passion, and their judgment that they are ideal for the role here of vice captain to the European Team. Both men have been vice captain before.
I'm delighted to announce my two first choices of vice captain are going to be Sam Torrance and Des Smyth.
SCOTT CROCKETT: Welcome, gentlemen. Paul, you have now officially announced who your first two vice captains are going to be. Perhaps now tell us a bit more about why you have chosen these two men specifically.
PAUL McGINLEY: Yeah, well, Sam, as everybody knows, we have got a very close relationship. Bonded very much in 2002 when Sam culminated a very successful career on the golf course with his captaincy at The Belfry. We all know that ended very well for both of us.
But it was behind the scenes that Sam made a huge impression on me as a player on that team. I felt that tactically he made so many right calls. I think he understood the players and I think he understood what the Ryder Cup was about; and his ability to motivate the players and to communicate with the players had very much a lasting impression on me.
So when the role came along for vice captain, when I was appointed last January, Sam was up there was one of the first names to came to my mind. And Sam, I officially welcome you to the European Team.
SAM TORRANCE: Thanks, Paul, glad to be here.
PAUL McGINLEY: Des is a guy I've known since I was 17 years of age, and if anybody has been a mentor for me on the professional circuit, it's been Des Smyth. In many ways he was a very natural choice for me, so very many ways.
Obviously having a very successful career himself, both as a player and a vice captain; a player on both sides of the Atlantic, America, too, and obviously the vice captain to Ian Woosnam in 2006 when we played here at The K Club. Where I personally found him to be very inspirational, astute, voice of reason with very clarity of thought are traits I've always found in Des. For me, again, he was a natural choice for a captaincy role.
Des, I officially welcome you as vice captain.
DES SMYTH: Thank you.
PAUL McGINLEY: As I've said a couple of times already, the appointment of the two guys first came to mind last January when I was appointed as Ryder Cup Captain.
I've been very fortunate, and we are very fortunate in Europe to be able to integrate Sam into the role in his position as captain of the Seve Trophy, British and Irish team, last October in Paris where he did a wonderful job.
I now have the opportunity with the upcoming EurAsia Cup in three or four weeks' time for Des Smyth, and I'm pleased to announce now that Des will be the vice captain to Miguel Jiménez in the EurAsia Cup in three or four weeks' time.
So just to finish, that completes, as I say, another milestone in the two years that a captain has, and I'm very pleased to announce the two guys. It's further evidence of the work we're doing behind the scenes and stones we are putting in place to form a strong backroom team to face what I'm sure will be a very strong and motivated American Team in September.
I'll finish by saying I will be making no further announcements regarding vice captains until the last of the team is formalised on September 2. Thank you.
SCOTT CROCKETT: Okay, Paul. Thank you for those opening comments.
Before we take some questions, I think it's right and proper that we hear from the two newly appointed vice captains. Des, let's have your thoughts on being here today alongside Paul McGinley.
DES SMYTH: First of all, I'd like to thank Paul for the invitation to be part of the team. I'm absolutely thrilled to be back as part of Paul's team to play against the Americans in September.
The Ryder Cup has meant an awful lot to my own career. I played in it quite a long time ago in '79 and '81, and it was an absolute thrill to be a player, because as a player, it's the pinnacle of team golf. And, you know, if you want to be rated among your peers, you've got to get that badge of being a Ryder Cup player. So it was one of the great thrills of my life to be a player. And then in 2006, I was invited by Ian Woosnam to be one of his vice captains, and that was a wonderful experience.
So, you know, to be back in the fold again is absolutely fantastic. I'm looking forward to the challenge. I hope I can support Paul and I'm sure I will, in all the decision making he has to, because he's a busy man now, it's a big job and he needs support and I'm really happy to be part of this team. So it's a thrill to be back, and I'm looking forward to it.
SCOTT CROCKETT: Thank you very much, Des.
Sam, I'm sure you echo those comments from Des, put into your own words.
SAM TORRANCE: Absolutely. I was never more proud in my career than when I put on this sweater, and it's no different this time. And if I can do a tenth for Paul's team what he did for my team, we'll both be very happy men.
SCOTT CROCKETT: Gentlemen, thank you very much.
Q. Paul, you talk about many hurdles in the process of being captain. How does it feel to have overcome this hurdle now and to begin pulling your team together?
PAUL McGINLEY: Yeah, maybe I used the wrong term in "hurdle" but it's a milestone. It's something that putting a team together behind the scenes is an enjoyable experience, as indeed The Ryder Cup captaincy experience is, and I've enjoyed going through all of the different ideas I've had in my head and formulating some strong ideas.
But as I said before, when I thought of vice captaincies, these two were the first two that came to mind.
Q. Your golfing mentor and your first captain in The Ryder Cup, you've learned plenty from them. What can they learn about you and your style of captaincy that you want to have for this Ryder Cup?
PAUL McGINLEY: Well, I think both of them know me extremely well at this stage, and it's not just a case of me knowing them. It's them knowing me as well, too.
As I said before, I've used both of these guys as a sounding board professionally, both as a player and as a vice captain in The Ryder Cups. So they know what I'm thinking. They are very familiar what happened the last two Ryder Cups because I've shared that information with them, and as I say, I think they are two ideal candidates to be the first two vice captains to be put into place.
Q. Sam, in terms of that personal relationship you have with Paul, how key is that for this working relationship going forward now through to September?
SAM TORRANCE: Well, even if I didn't like him, I'd still like him, if you know what I mean. We'd do anything for The Ryder Cup. But he is a great man and I'm looking forward to working with him. Just do anything we can to help, really.
Q. You mentioned obviously what he did for your team, sinking that winning putt; what do you feel you bring to his team now as a vice captain?
SAM TORRANCE: Experience. You know, our role as vice captains, it's kind of the analogy I would use is like the captain is almost like your headmaster. He's quite a daunting figure to a player. And when you've got a problem, sometimes the player would hide that problem, rather than go and speak to the captain, and that's why we're there as the vice captains. We are the buffer between the captain.
So the player will come to us with a problem; we can sort that problem 99.9 per cent of the time, and if we can't, then we'll take it to Paul. He's got enough on his mind that week. That's one of the things we can do to help there.
And just experience, I guess, and I'm a good people person, I get on well in the team room, I'll stay up as late as anybody wants to listen to their problems.
Q. Des, same thing for you, really, Paul talked about you being his golfing mentor, if you like, when he first came out on Tour. Is that a repeated role in a way, but with 12 players instead of Paul this time, you've almost got to be something of a mentor to them?
DES SMYTH: Yes, well, that's what it is. You're with them during practise, you're talking with them; you want to make sure they are happy; you want to make sure they are in good form. The captain can't be there all the time. He can't be with every practise round and watch every shot.
So we'll feed him the information he needs, and obviously, the players can feel uncomfortable. And as Sam rightly said they mightn't want to go to the captain to speak about it.
That's our role. We take on whatever issues we feel the players want to deal with, and if we feel we can't handle them ourselves, we'll get on to Paul about it.
You know, it's an exciting time, and I mean, the players are absolutely fantastic. What struck me about my time in '06 was just how professional they all are. You know, there's no bluffing, there's no you can't run and hide. If your game isn't quite right, you should talk about it and we'll try and mix it as best we can.
But I found them all amazingly professional, as I would expect, and all they want to do is to help their team.
Q. Paul talked about passion and judgment of the two vice captains as being a key thing. Can you put into words Sam said it's the proudest moment of his career, pulling The Ryder Cup jersey on. Just how much does The Ryder Cup passion run through the three of you?
DES SMYTH: I think an awful lot. I don't cry a lot but I remember crying watching Sam hold the putt and Paul hold the putt, and I often tell people my own experience the first time I played. I got to that first tee back in '79, I mean, my hands were shaking so bad. And that's the effect The Ryder Cup has.
Now, obviously when you hit your shot and you get down the fairway but I've advised anyone who wants to get the feeling of The Ryder Cup, be there a half an hour before tee off Friday morning and you can touch the tension in the atmosphere. And all the players feel like that. It's just a wonderful occasion. I'm really looking forward to getting back into it.
Q. Two 61 year olds, but in comparison to Tom Watson, you've gone to a youth policy.
PAUL McGINLEY: As I've said many times, it's like a heavyweight contest here: Tom goes into his corner and he makes his plans, and I go into mine and I make my plans.
I think I've been very fortunate to have the opportunity to have Des and Sam in, not just as a vice captain, but to reintegrate them back in with the players, the current crop of players on the Tour through the captaincy in Sam's case and the vice captaincy in Des's case. It's one of reasons why I was planning on making the announcement in early summer, but with the evolution over the last six months of the EurAsia Cup, it's given me an opportunity to get Des involved, and that's why obviously I pushed it forward to March.
Yeah, I'm really looking forward to it and I think we'll be well prepared.
SAM TORRANCE: Martin, who is 61 by the way? You? (Laughing). That's all right.
SCOTT CROCKETT: That's your one to one gone, Martin.
Q. Obviously The Ryder Cup means a great deal to you wherever it's played, but the fact that this one is going to be at Gleneagles in Scotland, does that mean something particularly special to you?
SAM TORRANCE: I don't think it's been there since Muirfield, so it's a great time for it to go back. And there's no more special place for me playing golf than in Scotland and it will be just fantastic. I mean, The Ryder Cup means everything to me, anyway, but the fact, as you say, it's in Scotland, it just puts a little bit more icing on the cake.
Q. How important was it for you to have someone representing the Home of Golf in Sam's case, on your team, for the match?
PAUL McGINLEY: Yeah, it's important. It's not essential. I didn't choose Sam because he's Scottish, although it is part of it. I chose him because of what I've experienced in my workings with Sam and how I've got to know him socially over the last ten years, and professionally, as well, when he captained.
But it's important, of course it is. I'm really pleased and honoured to be captain of The Ryder Cup in the Home of Golf in Scotland, and I think Sam is very passionate about Scotland, as he is about Europe. And yeah, I mean, I'm looking forward to a great Scottish occasion, but ultimately we are all European.
Q. Would you be disappointed if Sam was the only Scotsman part of your team?
PAUL McGINLEY: Yeah, I would be. And I've put down the challenge to the Scottish players. When we played here, when Des was vice captain in 2006, we had 25 per cent of the team Irish, and that's the challenge I've put down to the Scottish players, and I'm encouraging them all to play well and hopefully a good, strong summer is coming.
As I've said many times, the guys who may being coming late, showing form; that's one of the reasons why I have picks.
Q. How does one get a good night's sleep in the week of The Ryder Cup?
SAM TORRANCE: Whisky. (Laughter).
Q. Sleep is very hard to come by; how do you feel about that?
SAM TORRANCE: Well, I can probably help Paul on that because your day is so busy from morning to night. When you get by the time night, you are because cream crackered and you sleep like a baby honestly. I mean, The Ryder Cup when I was captain was probably the best week's sleep I had ever had because I was so tired at night when I went to bed.
PAUL McGINLEY: It's so mentally draining, as well as physically and you do fall asleep relatively quickly. When you wake up, you're a little bit sluggish in the morning. And then it hits you within five seconds that you're at a Ryder Cup, and all of a sudden the adrenaline starts going (snapping fingers) and you jump out of the bed.
Q. To follow on from that question about 25 per cent Irish when we had it at The K Club, have you set a similar challenge to the Irish players to be members of your team?
PAUL McGINLEY: Yeah, obviously I want as many Irish as possible on the team personally. But ultimately I'm captain of The European Team and I want the best 12 European players. Whatever nationality they will be, they will be.
Of course I would like a home interest and a Scottish interest, and of course I'd like an Irish interest being an Irishman, but ultimately my decisions will be based on European, not based on nationality.
SAM TORRANCE: Well said.
Q. Des, Paul just described you as inspirational, astute, the voice of reason; about the only things he didn't say about you are that you've got the patience of Job and the wisdom of Solomon; so there's no pressure on you then.
DES SMYTH: Well, it comes naturally, John, you see.
Well, we've had a long friendship, John, and we've spent many nights in restaurants during the course of touring and spoke about a lot of aspects about the game. So I suppose whatever I might have said during those periods rang a bell with Paul and maybe that's why he's offered me this role and I'm absolutely delighted to be part of his team.
Q. Just one thing, Paul was saying there that you go back to, he's known you since he was 17 years of age. I mean, can you tell us what you first remember of Paul at age 17? Did you ever envisage at any stage along the line that he would become a Ryder Cup Captain some day, and finally, how proud are you to have an Irish captain of a Ryder Cup and did you ever see that happening?
DES SMYTH: Yeah, well, I think it's well overdue, with respect to all of the other countries; the Irish have had a big involvement with The Ryder Cup and I felt this was the right time.
To the other question, Paul is the right person. Naturally, when a young player comes on Tour, you don't know what's going to happen.
But his work rate, his dedication, I could see that straightaway, his determination was obvious. And then he grew into the role as a player and a winner of tournaments, of big tournaments. You know, he got involved with the Tour on committee levels, and it seemed like the natural thing. So when the time came, as far as I was concerned, he was the right guy for the job.
And, yeah, it's wonderful we have an Irish captain. I think we deserve that.
Q. Do you think his background in Gaelic games made him more of a team player and fostered that talent that he has?
DES SMYTH: Yeah, there's no doubt about that. I any anybody who plays soccer, rugby, Gaelic, and it's part of the culture in this country with the GAA. I mean, I played Gaelic football, I played soccer, I played golf; these are all sports you play, and I would encourage I always encourage people to get kids involved in golf, any sport, any sport, because it's good for young people's character.
Because most of sports is disappointment, let's face it. These are the highlights of our career, sitting here being part of this team. You know, if you're involved with professional sport, 99 per cent of the time, it's a failure.
So you enjoy the moments when they come, and in Paul's case, he was a wonderful GAA player, good Gaelic player, ended up a wonderful golfer, and now he's a great leader. So I think it's a great tribute to him that he's got this position.
Q. Can you just talk us through your thought processes about naming the rest of your assistant captains and how many you'll end up with?
PAUL McGINLEY: Well, it's quite clear, and I don't think it's fair to say otherwise, that a lot of my potential vice captains that we'll be adding, in all likelihood, probably two, but I'm not sure yet, a lot of them I'd like to see on the team.
And I think a lot of them are going to make a good shot at making the team and I don't want to distract them by talking to them about vice captaincy roles, because I want them to be focused on one thing only and that's their golf over the summer period.
So I want to put it on the table to everybody that there's no more announcements coming, and it's important for everybody to focus on their golf and keep their head down and run as fast as they can over the next whatever period we have until the second of September.
Q. Just following up on the team sport aspect, I think Sam at the time mentioned speaking to Alex Ferguson when you were involved as a captain and I know Paul, you're big into soccer, as well, and GAA. Do you have any you have great experience there now but do you have any ideas of talking to him or do you have any plans to talking to any other team managers in sports for advice?
PAUL McGINLEY: Well, I have a great interest, like we all do in all kinds of sports. We talk about all sports, not just golf. Of course I'm watching and I'm meeting, and I'm fortunate to be in a position to meet a lot of very successful people in terms of managing teams over the years in all sports and all nationalities.
As it gets closer to The Ryder Cup, I don't know, I'll make some decisions regarding that. I mean, at this moment in time, there's time to worry about that down the road. At the moment I'm getting the vice captaincy announcement done, and then I'll go ahead; there will be another milestone down the road. Communication with the players is starting to increase as the team is evolving and some players look to be pretty solid on the team.
So that's my case in point at the moment and I'll deal with that nearer the time and down the road. But I'm constantly got my ears open and I'm constantly interested in people's opinions and interested in their interviews and how they position themselves and where they tactically go.
Q. Would you fancy bringing that trophy back to Croke Park the week afterwards and parading it in front of Hill 16?
PAUL McGINLEY: Well, yeah, the hurling final is before The Ryder Cup this year. I was at the football final last year, and I intend going to the hurling this year, fingers crossed, but we'll have to wait and see. At the moment my diary is obviously very busy as you can imagine, but I have pencilled in provisionally to go to the hurling final this year.
Q. Just going back to the national aspect, how does it feel making this announcement in your hometown, and as a young boy is this something you dreamed of?
PAUL McGINLEY: Yeah, it's a great honour for me. I'm a very proud Irishman, but ultimately I'm sitting here as European captain. As much as I'm Irish, this is the the timing of this and the availability of all the people involved was good and I happened to be in Dublin at this time and it suited.
I'm very proud to announce it here, and again, I'll thank the Taoiseach for lending us the wonderful facilities here at the Government Buildings. This is a building I've never been in before, but studied it a lot through history in school, and it's great to walk through the corridors and see the photographs on the wall and listen to the history of it.
I'm very proud obviously to be Irish but this is not about being Irish; this is about being European.
Q. Obviously as you said, a lot of water to pass under the bridge before you pick your other captains. Given the nationality of the guys beside you, will those people be more likely to be from the continent?
PAUL McGINLEY: We'll have to see. Again, there's probably 15 guys who will be very good as vice captains and to be honest I haven't firmed up any ideas where I'm going but it will be down the road. I want to see the team evolve. I want to talk to some more people. I want to garner some opinion from players as they make the team and confirm themselves on the team, and obviously talk to Des and Sam, as well, too.
You know, we'll cross that bridge when we come to them; mindful of not going too far down the road. I'm dealing with what I have at this moment in time, and then one time I'll deal with what I have then, and I'll eventually get towards the vice captaincy decision.
But the first thing before that is obviously making my three picks, and these two guys will be very important in who those three picks will be.
SCOTT CROCKETT: I thank you all very much for your attendance this morning, particularly thank the three men at the top table; it's obvious you have our best wishes as we go forward to September. Thank you very much.
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