Saturday 20 January 2018

Paul Kimmage: Watson's burning desire for redemption

There were signs that the usually measured US captain is let his heart rule his head at Gleneagles, writes Paul Kimmage

Rory McIlroy plays his first shot of the day during the morning Fourball Match against Jimmy Walker and Rickie Fowler. Matt Browne / SPORTSFILE
Rory McIlroy plays his first shot of the day during the morning Fourball Match against Jimmy Walker and Rickie Fowler. Matt Browne / SPORTSFILE
'The Ryder Cup may be Tom Watson's last hurrah, but it's McGinley's first.' Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images)
Paul Kimmage

Paul Kimmage

He remembers the drive from Turnberry that afternoon and the commentary on the radio.

He had shot a final round 75 and had left the golf course early to catch a flight home to London but already there was a part of Paul McGinley that wished he had stayed. At the age of 59, Tom Watson was standing on the 18th fairway at Turnberry needing a par to win his sixth Open Championship.

"He has 187 yards to the pin."

"Is that an 8-iron?"

"It looks good."

"It is good."

"Tom Watson has two putts to win the Open!"

"What we are witnessing here is the greatest story in the history of sport."

Two days later, Watson was in Sunningdale for the British Senior Open. McGinley's home is a five-minute drive and he felt compelled to seek him out. Watson had just started a practice round when he spotted the friendly Irishman.

"Hi Paul, how are you doing?" he smiled. "How are you playing?"

"I'm good Tom but what about you?" McGinley replied. "That was hard luck on Sunday. We were all really pulling for you."

"Yeah, nearly got him," Watson sighed, "nearly got him."

McGinley spent his boyhood pulling for Tom Watson and has spent most of his sporting life trying to emulate him, but for the last two years they've had their eyes on the same prize. The Ryder Cup may be Watson's last hurrah, but it's McGinley's first hurrah, and the first time in his life when he's not pulling for Tom.

Monday, September 22:

Stage Fright

It's 1.10 in the afternoon when Ian Poulter arrives on the first tee at Gleneagles with his caddie, Terry Mundy. It's the Ryder Cup but not as he knows it - the gates are closed, the grandstands are empty and the fairways are deserted. A Sky camera crew have been scrambled from a studio to follow him. He pulls a driver from his bag, tees-up a ball and prepares to take aim.

It's a huge week for Poulter. Two years ago, playing with Rory McIlroy on Saturday evening at Medinah, he finished with five straight birdies to beat Jason Dufner and Zach Johnson. It was one of the greatest displays ever seen at the Ryder Cup and cemented his status as the new 'Seve' - Europe's best and most influential player.

Can he repeat the dose at Gleneagles? Can he produce the magic again for McGinley and his team?

He drives the ball down the left side of the hole and watches as it runs out of fairway into the second cut. He strides from the tee, expecting to find it easily but spends the next ten minutes thrashing the thick and stringy grass. A police officer and some workers are enlisted to join the search. "I can't believe it's lost," Poulter says.

It is not the start he was looking for.

Fifty minutes later, McGinley arrives on a buggy with Sam Torrance to examine the scene of the crime. An Indian summer has left the rough a bit lusher than they expected and they are discussing having it topped when McGinley spots a familiar face observing them from the ropes. He walks across and extends a hand.

"Did you watch the match (the All-Ireland football final)?" I enquire.

"No," he replies.

"You didn't go?"

"No, I had too much to do. I saw 20 minutes of it but Jim (McGuinness) is coming over this week and I'll be talking to him about it."

"How's your father?"

"Heartbroken."

"Is he here yet?"

"Tomorrow."

"Give me his mobile number?"

"No."

"Why not?"

"I don't want him talking to you."

"Why?"

"No."

"But he was on with Sean O'Rourke last week and was really good."

"I know, but I don't want him talking this week."

"Ah Jaysus Paul!"

"No."

An hour later, he ambles into the Media Centre for the captains' press conference. It is the first and only time this week he will share a microphone with Tom Watson. The chemistry is interesting. McGinley, so calm and assured in everything he has done to now, seems nervous and a little uncertain in the presence of his God.

He's talking fast, peppering his thoughts with 'oohs' and 'ahhs' and being noticeably deferential:

"I echo everything Tom said."

"I understand totally where Tom is coming from."

"I concur with Tom."

Watson, a brilliant orator, assumes control and leaves nobody in any doubt that he's the Chief.

"I'll answer that first."

"The captain is the person who inspires the team."

"We believe that we can win."

Captain Watson doesn't do kid gloves. "I made it very clear to them (my players) that this is a redemption trip," he says. "Those players that played on that team (Medinah), if any players are on this team, it's time to make amends and try to redeem yourselves from what happened in 2012."

Later, as he greets Victor Dubuisson at the entrance to the team hotel, McGinley is advised that he lost the opening session.

"You seemed nervous."

"Did I?"

"Yeah."

"I thought I did okay."

"You did okay but you can do better."

'Yeah."

"Talk slower."

"Yeah."

"You're Paul McGinley."

"Yeah."

"Be yourself."

"Yeah."

Tuesday, September 23:

'Pas comme les autres'

Two months ago, Victor Dubuisson touched down for the Bridgestone Invitational in Ohio and was vetted by an officer at immigration control: "What is the purpose of your visit?"

"I'm a professional golfer," Dubuisson replied. "I'm playing in a tournament in Akron."

"Do you have a visa? Any loose papers?"

"No."

But when the officer opened the passport, a visa fell out.

"What's this?" he barked. "You said you had no loose papers?"

"I thought you said newspapers," Dubuisson replied. "What are you? Some kind of FBI guy?"

"Okay smart ass, I'm sending you back to the end of the queue."

"Don't bother monsieur," Dubuisson replied. "I'm taking the next flight to France."

And if it hadn't been for the fact that he couldn't get home that evening, Dubuisson would have left.

There wasn't quite the same drama at his press conference this morning but there were a lot of scratched heads when he left the room: "Victor n'est pas comme les autres," a French journalist smiled.

Last July, another French journalist - Philippe Chasserot from L'Equipe - followed Dubuisson at the British Open and wrote a piece about "an ordinary week in the life of Victor Dubuisson".

"Tuesday, we searched high and low for him without success. Wednesday, we followed him for a couple of holes during his practice round but failed to make contact again. Thursday, after a frustrating +2, he told us to 'have a good day' and took off. Yesterday, he was ready to take off again when Benoit Ducoulombier (his coach) talked some sense into him. He greeted us with: 'Go ahead, ask your useless questions.' Up until that, it was mostly fun."

Chasserot then described how Dubuisson had lit on them and insisted he was only going to deal with American journalists. It prompted an editorial: "He (Dubuisson) should stop complaining about a French press who are anything but unfair to him and have never gone down the British tabloid route and published the dark sides of a personality that has plenty of them.

"Why are we so magnanimous? Because this is a man with a very complicated personal life and we don't want to hurt him by telling stories that are nobody's business but his own."

From the moment Dubuisson made the team, McGinley made it a priority to try and build a bridge to him. It started in March at the EurAsia Cup in Malaysia: "I went out for that reason, to get to know Victor," McGinley says. "I had dinner with him every night and watched his game during the practice rounds and we had some big conversations that week.

"One of the things to come out of it was how much he loves Formula One, so I immediately started thinking, 'I need (Eddie) Jordan to get me some leverage here'. I rang Eddie and asked if he would meet us in Monaco: 'Yeah, no problem,' he says. 'We'll take him out in the new boat and I'll get the staff on!' So we had dinner on the boat and Eddie rolled everything out and we got on great.

"So I've got to know him a bit and I like him; I like him because he is different - he doesn't care what anybody thinks. Victor does what Victor wants to do - he's a maverick, and an incredible golfer. And he's going to play a big role in the Ryder Cup."

The key was finding the right man to pair him with. "I translated a lot of what I know about him to Graeme (McDowell)," McGinley says, "so Graeme could hit the ground running with him. I've been able to draw the two of them together during the summer on the European Tour and they have got to know each other."

But there was still some work to be done.

They're on the sixth tee now, playing a practice round with Henrik Stenson. "Hey Victor," McDowell says. "How come a Frenchman hasn't won the Tour de France since 1985?" And Victor, being Victor, smiles and gives him a look that needs no translation: 'How the fuck would I know?'

Wednesday, September 24:

The problem with redemption

Webb Simpson has come to the Media Centre and is telling the story of how he convinced Tom Watson to select him for the team. It starts with a sleepless night in Denver and a text he sent the captain at 4:30 in the morning on the same day Watson was due to announce his picks.

"I couldn't sleep," Simpson says. "I can't ever sleep after the final round of tournaments and I was laying there and I thought, I had not heard from him. I texted him, something like: 'I know it's a really tough decision for you. I know Chris (Kirk) has just won and I know Bill (Horschel) is playing well, and you even have other options than that. But I really, really, really want to be on the team and I really want to represent the United States'."

He was sure Watson was sleeping and wasn't expecting a reply but after a couple of minutes his phone beeped: 'This is a tough decision Webb.' The response was surprising and confirmed his worse fears: he had not made the team. Then, 30 minutes later, Watson called: "Why do you think I should put you on the team?"

And Simpson pushed the right button: "I told him I wanted revenge for what happened in 2012."

Redemption has been a key message from Watson this week: "For three or four days (after Medinah) I was in a grand funk," he says. Watson has always been judgemental but from the moment he mentioned redemption, there were eyebrows raised.

"He has come out with some harsh love for his team," a European player observed, "and if they don't fire there could be friction. This stuff about redemption - it's not like those guys weren't trying the last time; it's not like they took it easy or were out on the drink, things just didn't go for them. The big thing for us would be a row in their camp. And the way things are going, that's a strong possibility."

This morning, at Watson's press conference, the pressure was starting to show.

Q: "Do you feel it's a disadvantage that you haven't actually been to a Ryder Cup personally since 1993?"

A: "No."

Q: "Why not?"

A: "Because I've played in the Ryder Cup four times, and I've been captain once. That's experience."

Q: "That was a long time ago, though."

A: "It's the same thing. The only thing different here, as I've said, is the media responsibilities I've had, the extra time I've had to spend with the media. Everything else is the same."

And for the first time, we wondered about him.

Thursday, September 25:

Game on

There were things Paul McGinley couldn't expand on when he was interviewed on these pages three weeks ago; his reasons for inviting Alex Ferguson into the team room; his reasons for selecting a fifth vice-captain; the pairings in his head and his faith in Dubuisson.

"I don't want to give Watson a heads up," he said.

It's opening ceremony time. They are on the same stage again and about to deliver their speeches. Watson is first to the dais and delivers his words with the authority and fluency that have long been his trademark. It's a speech that ticks all the boxes - his love for the game, the importance of its traditions and a tip of the hat to Captain McGinley: "You have embodied the true class in the game all your sporting life."

McGinley plays it safe and doesn't take him on. The dutiful father at a wedding, he thanks everyone in the audience - players, vice-captains, caddies and the hotel and golf course staff - before veering from the script with a lovely reference to his wife, Allison: "I'm not the captain in our house."

Later, at their press conferences, both men were ready to go.

Captain Watson: "This has been a great ride. It's been a joy to be able to be the captain of the team. It's been a great ride to meet and get to know these players on my team and be part of the process of trying to win the Ryder Cup. I've been there before and I enjoyed the process before, and I hope I enjoy it as much this time.

"I'm 65 years old; I don't have a lot of years left. This is a very special moment in my life to be able to be Ryder Cup Captain. I hope it comes out the right way. But if it doesn't, it's been one hell of a ride."

Captain McGinley: "The fun is starting now. A lot ahead of us. They (the players) may be taking centre stage but I'll be working hard on the sidelines. I'm watching, evolving, I'm communicating and hopefully my experience will make more better decisions than worse ones. I have a lot of decisions to make over the next two days."

"I know I'm going to get things wrong. It's not a perfect science . . . people make mistakes and we'll have to see but I'm confident."

Game on.

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