Karl MacGinty: 'McGinley can be Bob Paisley of Ryder Cup'
Hansen gives clubmate backing for glory
IT wasn't so much 'Strangers on a Train' as celebrities crowding the carriages as Scotland yesterday went back to the age of steam to mark 'One Year To Go' before the Ryder Cup's return to the home of golf.
After breakfast with Scottish First Minister Alex Sammond in Edinburgh Castle, US and European team captains Tom Watson and Paul McGinley were whisked to platform 11 at nearby Waverly Station for an extra-special service to Gleneagles, venue for next September's matches.
Prominent among many well-known faces on the train were actor James Nesbitt, model Jodie Kidd, JLS singer Marvin Humes and former football stars Ruud Gullit and Alan Hansen.
Former Liverpool and Scotland defender Hansen, who continues to indulge daily in his other sporting passion – golf, offered fascinating insight into the merits McGinley, his clubmate at Queenwood in Surrey, will bring to the captaincy.
Hansen has been besotted by the Ryder Cup since 1969. As a 14-year-old schoolboy, he was entranced by TV coverage of the matches at Royal Birkdale, an occasion best remembered for the extraordinary sportsmanship of Jack Nicklaus in conceding a missable putt on 18 to Tony Jacklin for the half that tied the match 16-16.
"Watching the Majors is phenomenal for a big golf fan like me, but the Ryder Cup is something else," he explained. "It's so nerve-wracking, just watching it on TV reminds me of sitting in a dressing-room before a big game."
As the huge 1927 steam locomotive, Scots Guardsman – a celebrity itself – huffed and puffed across rural Perthshire, Hansen cited Bob Paisley as "the best manager I ever played for".
"Bob was everybody's favourite uncle," Hansen explained.
"But he was ruthless. When decisions had to be made, he made them."
That he spoke yesterday of McGinley in the same breath is tribute indeed to the Dubliner, who has a terrific reputation as a team player and builder.
"Golf's an individual sport but the Ryder Cup is all about the team and that is why McGinley will shine as a captain," Hansen said. "You would imagine that in a team environment he'll do great.
"I know him pretty well. We're members at the same club and we've played together a few times, though I've never played well with him," added the Scot, a four handicap. "I don't play well with professionals because I always try too hard to impress them.
"Every time you meet Paul, he's the same," added Hansen (pictured right). "He can mix with anybody. He'll have everybody on his side, which is a big thing in the Ryder Cup. If you have somebody in charge who can come across as a nice guy, it helps.
"You need somebody who can bring everybody together when the chips are down. That's a special talent some people have and McGinley's one of them.
"You can sense just by speaking to him that he can be hard when required. He's affable and his strength as a leader will be bringing the team together ... but there's a will to win in him and his toughness will shine through as well.
"I've never been in a team environment with him but people who have, speak very highly of him as a leader," said Hansen, laughing out loud when asked if McGinley sought his advice, saying: "Nobody would pick my brains about anything."
While Watson yesterday played down the role of the Ryder Cup captain, saying, "we are like stage managers in the theatre, merely helping prepare the stage upon which the actors perform," Hansen's stellar football career leads him, respectfully, to disagree.
"With Ryder Cups over the years we've seen how important team selections are," he explained. "The best captains don't go on reputations, and that's the same as football managers. They take advice but they make the decisions themselves.
"With more and more guys playing on the US Tour, the wildcards are going to be very important. They always are. But when it comes to wildcards, Paul won't go on reputation or friendship. You can guarantee that.
"That's where being single-minded comes into it. He's there to win the Ryder Cup, not friends. Sometimes you look at the fourballs they put out in the Ryder Cup and you think the captain's off his head, but he always stands or falls by his own decisions.
"And so much comes down to the singles line-up – who he puts out first and trying to second-guess the other captain. You can have four-point swings on that alone.
"Captains aren't there to just shake hands. They're an integral part of the competition and there's a lot of pressure to get it right – 90pc is the golf but 10pc is the captain."
Purists will argue it's as incongruous for Scotland as it was for Ireland in 2006 to stage the Ryder Cup on an 'American-style' resort course with so many fabled links around its coast. Yet reality requires the European Tour to bring the sport's greatest cash-cow to the most fertile field financially.
Still, on yesterday's evidence, Scotland will put on a show at Gleneagles worthy of the 'Home of Golf'.