Too close to call says Gallacher
Bernard Gallacher believes this week’s Ryder Cup match is so close to call it could easily become only the third tie in the 85 year history of the iconic transatlantic golfing battle, writes John Whitbread.
Gallacher, the former Wentworth Club Professional and Captain, led Europe three times against the United States and is among just three men who have captained a winning side in America when he triumphed at Oak Hill in 1995.
This year's action begins at Medinah Country Club, just outside of Chicago, on Friday morning, with legendary Spaniard José María Olazábal at the helm of the European side.
"I am sure José María will do a great job and he has a tremendous bunch of players to work with," said Gallacher at a Sports Journalists Association lunch. "We have three of the world's current top four in Rory McIlroy, Luke Donald and Lee Westwood, and nine other truly internationally-hardened competitors.
"But we all know it will be a hell of hard job to hold on to the trophy we won at Celtic Manor two years ago. The Americans have an incredibly strong team who are really aching to win it back – and the Chicago sports fans are notorious for being a bit raucous and partisan.
"The level of ability and experience is so high no that it is bound to be extremely close come the 12 singles on Sunday and I can quite easily see it ending in a tie."
One key attribute to a successful Ryder Cup Captain, says Gallacher, is to believe completely in your players.
"I just had to make all my players know I had total faith in them," he added, "and that's why I told all 12 that no matter what happened, every one of them would get at least one round before the singles."
In the Fourball and Foursomes matches he insists it is crucial to pick partnerships who will gel well together.
Gallacher said: "I made a big mistake putting Nick Faldo and David Gilford together because they were both such straight drivers. But the chemistry was clearly not there and they lost heavily.
"Natural partners this weekend will clearly be Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell and Ian Poulter and Justin Rose."
He also explained that there's a lot of psychology in where you put your strongest player in the singles.
"I would always put [the strongest player] first, to go for the jugular, or sixth to hopefully turn things around if we had not started well. I would never make him last man out as the match could easily be over before he gets a chance to get a point."
When Gallacher's team won in 1995 Seve Ballesteros led the team out in the singles despite having been struggling somewhat at the time.
"He did not hit a fairway in the first nine holes, but such was his incredible fighting spirit he was still level with Tom Lehman after nine holes. Seve eventually lost his match but his courage inspired his team mates behind to go and claim victory."
And Gallacher is sure Olazábal will "carry the torch" of his late, great friend and mentor, Ballesteros, this weekend.
"There will never be another Seve in terms of a talisman," he said. “The next best thing is to have Olazábal as the Captain. He will deliver the Seve message.
"This is the first Ryder Cup we can remember since it became a European team in 1979 that Seve will not play some sort of part.
"Even from his sick bed two years ago, Monty (2010 Captain Colin Montgomerie) phoned him and he gave a telephone message to the players who were apparently overcome by this. Olazábal will carry Seve's torch there this time and that will be very significant."