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No mercy as McGinley makes hard call to leave Donald out

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Europe's Ryder Cup captain Paul McGinley says he was hugely impressed with the dignified, selfless response of Luke Donald when he told him his wild card would go elsewhere. Photo: AP

Europe's Ryder Cup captain Paul McGinley says he was hugely impressed with the dignified, selfless response of Luke Donald when he told him his wild card would go elsewhere. Photo: AP

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Europe's Ryder Cup captain Paul McGinley says he was hugely impressed with the dignified, selfless response of Luke Donald when he told him his wild card would go elsewhere. Photo: AP

What on earth is it about Ian Poulter and the Ryder Cup?

As ever, the Englishman came to Europe's rescue at Wentworth yesterday just when it seemed as insurmountable forces had won the day.

All was going swimmingly at Ryder Cup captain Paul McGinley's announcement of his three wild cards for Gleneagles.

Until it came to establishing telephone contact with the recipients, Poulter and Lee Westwood in Florida and Stephen Gallacher, however, proceedings began to sound like a poorly organised seance.

After several fruitless moments of enquiring plaintively if "anyone out there can hear us", our European Tour host added in resignation: "Ladies and gentlemen, it looks as if we might have to concede defeat to technology."

At that precise moment, an unmistakable English voice came in loud and clear from the other side (of the Atlantic): "Good morning guys, I can hear you."

"You see," quipped a delighted McGinley: "Poults is never beaten!"

There it was in a nutshell, why the decision to give the miracle-maker of Medinah his third wild card in five Ryder Cup appearances was so simple and straightforward, while Scot Stevie Gallacher's heroic performance last weekend under the cosh in Italy rendered his selection inevitable.

After a long, tense vigil by his phone at home in Linlithgow on Monday, the 39-year-old Scot was thrilled to get McGinley's call and at last join his uncle Bernard, a three-time European captain, in the Ryder Cup annals … and in his homeland to boot.

"That's brilliant, wee man," he blurted down the phone to McGinley.

Deciding between Westwood and Luke Donald required much agonising and analysis by the captain and his two assistants, Sam Torrance and Des Smyth, during 10 hours of deliberation at nearby Queenwood Golf Club on Monday.

The first and by far the hardest of the phone calls McGinley then had to make that night was to Donald, with whom he has forged a close personal bond at five Ryder Cup spanning 10 years. The Dubliner knew how deeply wounding the bad tidings would be to the 33-year-old.

Was it the most difficult call of his life? "Listen, let's get things in perspective, there are bigger things in life than making a phone call regarding sport but it was a very, very difficult thing for me to do because of my personal relationship with Luke, because of what I think of him as a person and because we've shared so much at the Ryder Cup."

McGinley was paired with Donald when the Englishman made his first steps into this arena at Oakland Hills in 2004 and, as a vice-captain, was charged with keeping an eye out for him by Colin Montgomerie in Wales in 2010 and Chicago two years ago

"There are so many emotions we've shared together in extreme situations at the Ryder Cup," McGinley explained.

"Things went on at Medinah that people aren't even aware of, while in his first Ryder Cup, the first six holes Luke played in Detroit, he didn't hit a shot, he was so nervous.

"Yet, as ever, he came through on that occasion. We were all square on 18, I drove it in the rough and he hit a two-iron onto the middle of the green when he really needed to so we could earn half a point. He came through in the end and when you have that kind of experience with someone, you have a bond, a connection, you never forget.

"I have that bond with Philip Price, Pierre Fulke, Niclas Fasth and I have a very strong feeling with Luke and it's going to be tough when I see him the next time."

Dignified

Still, McGinley was hugely impressed with the dignified, selfless response of Donald and, indeed, Italian Francesco Molinari when he told them the wild cards would go elsewhere.

"The words they said in that moment of incredible disappointment will stay with me for the rest of my life," said the skipper.

"Luke was very, very disappointed and rightly so and he said: 'You know, Paul, I publicly backed you to be the captain. Even though you've not picked me, I still believe you'll be a great captain'.

"His last two words were 'Go Europe', which says it all about Luke."

If the decision was tough, it also was inevitable. While Poulter's outstanding record at and passion for the Ryder Cup outweighs his poor form in a season blighted by niggling injuries, McGinley required either Westwood or Donald to show at least some of the acumen which took both men to the top of the world and underpinned their exemplary careers at the Ryder Cup.

That's precisely where Westwood scored. After a nightmarish stretch of four missed cuts in mid-summer, including the US and British Opens, the 41-year-old showed green shoots of recovery with a final round 63 at The Bridgestone World Golf Championship; tied-15th at the US PGA after leading with a first-round 65.

"It was a very close call," McGinley said of the decision to award Westwood his ninth straight appearance and the grateful and relieved Worksop man plans to reciprocate not just by playing well but by becoming a leader on the course.

"Ultimately, that form Lee showed around the PGA and Firestone was a flourish Luke wasn't able to show. I informed through the media that I needed to see some form from him, that he wasn't going to get in on past records alone, and he stepped up to the plate. He produced.

"Luke played very well and very consistently but he didn't have those green shoots of real form that I saw from Lee and ultimately that saw him through by a short head."

Though McGinley took counsel from Smyth and Torrance and all three pored over reams of statistics, this first and most painful of many tough calls McGinley's going to have to make between now and Ryder Cup Sunday show how tough captains must be.

Irish Independent