Ryder Cup 2014: Luke was my first call. The last thing he said was: ‘Go Europe,’ says Paul McGinley

Captain claims leaving out Donald was, in sporting terms at least, one of the hardest calls he has had to make

The first call on Monday night was to Luke Donald, with whom European captain Paul McGinley’s Ryder Cup history runs deep. Donald’s first shot in the contest was hit under McGinley’s wing a decade ago. Donald has represented every European team since, 2008 apart, and McGinley has been involved on each of those occasions as a player or vice-captain.

The decision to select Ian Poulter, Stephen Gallacher and Lee Westwood as wild cards ahead of Donald was reached unanimously on Monday evening in the company of vice-captains Sam Torrance and Des Smyth. Before he informed the successful candidates to complete his 12-man team, McGinley reached out to Donald, claiming it was, in sporting terms at least, one of the hardest calls he has had to make.

“Let’s not get things out of perspective. There are bigger things in life than having to make a call about sport, but it was a very, very difficult thing for me to do because of my personal relationship with Luke and what I think of him as a person,” McGinley said.

“We have shared so many emotions together in extreme situations like Ryder Cups and Medinah, where a whole lot of things went on that people aren’t even aware of. His first Ryder Cup he did not play a shot on the first six holes.

“I was his partner and he was so beset with nerves, but he came through. We were all square playing the 18th, I drove into the rough and he hit a two-iron into the middle of green when we really needed it for a half point. He came through in the end.

“When you have that kind of experience you never forget it. You have a connection and bond with them. It was my first call. It wasn’t nasty but I wanted to do it in the right way and do it right through the front door. When I see him next time it’s going to be tough.”

Like the fine sport he is, Donald, though crushed to learn he was not in the team, took the decision with grace, reminding McGinley that he was one of his big supporters for the role of captain and telling him he would make a proper fist of it. “The last thing he said to me was ‘Go Europe’. That’s the mark of the man,” McGinley said.

Donald was ultimately ousted by the unstoppable momentum shown by Gallacher in the past fortnight, particularly the Scot’s epic charge towards the line in the final qualifying event last week in Italy, where he fell only one stroke shy of second place and automatic qualification.

“The biggest thing, more than anything by miles, was his ability to stand up in the last counting event and produce the performance he did. To do that under extreme pressure is something I can relate to back to 2004. That’s the kind of pressure I wanted to see him produce under and he did. He proved to me he’s going to handle Gleneagles. He deserves his spot. I haven’t done him a favour. I’ve not picked him because he’s Scottish. I’ve picked him because of his form.”

Poulter’s improving health and Ryder Cup record made him a straightforward selection. And after four successive missed cuts in June and July, Westwood did what was asked of him by showing a reaction in August with strong back-to-back results at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational and the final major of the season, the US PGA Championship in Louisville, where he led on the opening day before  finishing 15th.

“Lee showed a flourish at Firestone that Luke wasn’t able to show. The fact that there were some 60s scores in there and some decent finishing positions. I asked him through the media to show some form. He wasn’t going to get in on reputation alone. He did that.

“Luke was consistent but did not have those green shoots of real form that I saw from Lee. We were unified in our thinking. We went through the process, looking at the stats. That was important but it was not the be all and end all. I would say 15 per cent. The rest was instinct and a feeling of what the guys bring to the team. I knew the kind of player we were looking for. I’m a great believer in horses for courses.”

Westwood said he had an inkling he was in. “I rarely get nervous. I was quietly confident I’d get picked but you’re never sure until he actually calls you. He’d said show some form and I showed some at the Bridgestone and the US PGA Championship.”