Ryder Cup 2014: Sir Alex Ferguson makes mark on Rory McIlroy who says ‘I couldn’t take my eyes off him’

Former Manchester United manager's inspirational speech to Europe team moves world No 1

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The Independent Online

Dewy-eyed, besotted – Rory McIlroy was a man in love, unable to forget the memory of the night before. Whether Sir Alex Ferguson realised he was having such a mesmerising impact on the world’s No 1 golfer at the time remains questionable.

The former Manchester United manager had been asked to give an inspirational speech to Europe’s Ryder Cup team. It certainly moved McIlroy.

The Northern Irishman confessed: “For me, being a Manchester United fan, it was the highlight of the week so far. I was just sitting there and looking at him. I didn’t take my eyes off him. I was sort of in this trance just listening to everything that he was saying and thinking this is all the stuff that he’s probably said to Manchester United teams  over the years. It was a really cool thing to be a part of.”

Declining to divulge the exact details that were  discussed in the inner sanctum of the Gleneagles hotel (“There are some Americans in the room.”), it is certain there would have been no need for Ferguson to unleash his infamous hairdryer treatment to teams that are underperforming.

This European side is one of the finest ever assembled, with McIlroy and Ian Poulter, a man possessed during Ryder Cup weeks, leading the way.

McIlroy said that Sir Alex told them to enjoy being favourites and use that to fire the team.

“United were obviously favourites and, whenever he was managing, they made Old Trafford a bit of a fortress,” McIlroy said. “And when teams went there, it was very hard to compete against United. He was just talking a bit about that.” So a rallying cry for the home crowd to play its part, too, then.

“We’re slight favourites for a reason. We deserve to be. We’ve played well this year. It’s not something that we should shy away from. It’s something we should embrace.”

Ferguson may well have been preaching to the converted in terms of golf. “He’s got a lot of authority and the room just goes quiet and everyone listens,” McIlroy said. But not everyone was as in love with him.

“Look, not everyone in that room is a Manchester United fan, and they made that known,” he said to much laughter. “But these things help. These are the little details in the bigger picture, but it would be that half a per cent or that one per cent that helps us to get back that little trophy.”

The European captain Paul McGinley offered more examples of the words of wisdom that came from “An Audience With Fergie”.

“When it came to the banter, there was obviously a lot of stick to Ian Poulter, a big Arsenal fan. But the biggest stick was Thomas Björn being a Liverpool fan,” McGinley said. “That gave him a lot of pleasure having a go at Thomas but Thomas stood up for himself. Billy Foster [Lee Westwood’s caddie] is a big Leeds United fan, and Sir Alex said to him that he got 17 players from Leeds to end up at Man United, and that bit hard when Billy had a go.

“Billy let him know what he thought in no uncertain terms. I think the caddies enjoyed he was standing up to Alex Ferguson in this room full of all his peers. It was just a bit of banter,” added McGinley. “And in fairness to Sir Alex he’s used to this in the dressing room and he’s in that banter all the time. I’m sure he felt very much connected back with the football dressing room.”

McGinley, a West Ham United fan, was a fine footballer and Gaelic footballer before golf became his obsession and profession. “I come from that background of banter, of humour, of one-liners, of guys giving each other a bit of stick in the dressing room, and I can really relate to it,” he said. “The Ryder Cup is no different. The caddies are a huge part of that, as well.” 

Mickelson’s attempt at winding up McIlroy and McDowell over the legal dispute McIlroy is having with his former management company that still represents McDowell was in response to a query about the perceived lack of team bonding in the US team.

No such public relations problems for McGinley’s Europeans. “We all get on well and we all have a bit of banter.” OK, we get it, enough with the banter now.

“But there is obviously a very serious edge to this week,” McGinley added. “This is not about just getting in and having fun and the best time of ours lives. I’m not overdoing the humour thing. It’s important, obviously. But there’s a real backbone to what we’re doing.”

Good to know that it won’t all be longing looks and love-ins then.

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