Somewhere in that vast store of golfing memories the Ryder Cup reel runs uninterrupted in the mind of Sam Torrance. The winning putt at The Belfry in 1985, the winning captain 17 years later on the same track, 10 campaigns in total; touch the right button and the detail pours forth in a dense, Scottish brogue made for storytelling.
Well almost. The stuff you want from a man on the inside, one of five vice-captains working at the shoulder of Paul McGinley at Gleneagles, are the bits we can’t see. The view from the inner sanctum, starting with the post-victory party. That must have been something special, eh Sam?
“We had a great session at the Dormy House after the team photos then up to the hotel at nine for the team party. I went up to the room and said to my wife and son, ‘Just give me 10 minutes and I’ll be down’. I’m 61. I had done Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, two rounds Friday, two rounds Saturday, and all day Sunday. I was knackered. I slept for 12 hours. Missed the whole party, missed Rory [McIlroy] in the wig, everything.
“My wife and son came back at six the next morning. She said they had a great night, and I believe her. I have been to enough parties in my time. I’d been to the Dormy House celebration. That was enough for me.”
A week on, in the quiet of an upstairs suite at Wentworth, around the corner from his home, Torrance is still decompressing, easing himself down after his exposure to the particle accelerator that was the European team room at Gleneagles. It might be some time before the lingering sense of otherworldliness leaves him, such was the quality of the atmosphere created by Paul McGinley.
He offers this Sir Alex Ferguson anecdote to support his suspicion the whole experience was underwritten by a higher authority. “Alex told a story about the geese that fly 5,000 miles in two formations, the second lot in the slipstream of the first. One gets tired, two come down and look after him until he recovers, then they all catch up. On the Sunday night on the first tee doing the team photos, we looked up and two flocks of geese flew [past]. It was such a moment.”
The introduction of Ferguson was, claims Torrance, just one of many masterstrokes orchestrated by a captain, who had, he said, redefined the role. “The harmony, the companionship was extraordinary. The caddies staying in the hotel, in the Dormy House the whole day, in the team room eating with us, coming in after the rounds to chat, was just fantastic. Everyone to a man was involved and he [McGinley] did that. He brought the unity. I have never seen it to that degree before.
“The caddies are very important. They are a partnership with those players. It keeps them mellow and it worked fantastically. The whole thing was a master plan from the morning he was given the job. The information he had on everybody was amazing. The way he spoke to everybody, the way he looked after players, the way he told them they were playing or not playing.
“I always said he was meticulous. I knew he would be a great captain. I said it and meant it and I was proved right. Tony started. I was part of that sequence but McGinley has put a new level on it, the best captain I have ever seen by far. It was evident from the players’ responses. The facilities he had prepared for them. The team room in the Dormy House, the team room in the hotel, the food, etc. We were completely and utterly looked after. It was the bollocks.”
It helps, of course, when you send out a team behind the world No 1 player. Torrance has known McIlroy since he was in short pants. He had him as a house guest as a youngster. But watching him at close quarters was revelatory even for him.
“We have had some great players down the years. Nick Faldo was magnificent, Seve, Sandy Lyle, Bernhard Langer, but Rory is the real deal. He has the perfect swing, great physique, works hard, great touch and composure. I’ve not seen the like of him, to be honest. You stand there on the tee watching him drive and you are just joyous, the thing goes into orbit and straight as an arrow. Fantastic.
“I have known him a long time. He came and stayed with me for a week when he was 14, played with Daniel, my son, and myself every day. We had never seen a kid hit the ball that straight and he has just grown into this fantastic golfer. And to come back from the debacle at Augusta to win the US Open eight weeks later showed humungous strength of mind. It was complete devastation after blowing the Masters yet he came back to win a huge tournament. And he is still learning. We could see some extraordinary stuff from him over the next 10 to 15 years.”
It was not just McIlroy who impressed. “I felt all along we were going to be hard to beat. Watching them from the start of the week it was evident that these boys can play. We had great strength in depth and the rookies were brilliant, Jamie Donaldson and Victor Dubuisson incredible, especially in the foursomes.
“To play them both in the hardest form of the game and for them to be unbeaten was just magnificent. It didn’t quite work for Stevie [Gallacher] but he was still a great part of the team. I said to him after he was stood down following that first morning playing with Poulter in the fourballs, the same thing happened to me at Muirfield Village. It was one of Europe’s greatest victories. I didn’t play again until the Sunday but I felt every bit an equal in that team.”
Torrance was on the 14th green with Lee Westwood when the final blow was struck. “An hour and a half earlier it was a bit smelly. The Americans were up in six and down only in two. Jamie had a great chance on 14. I’m looking at the second shot and I could tell straight away it was good. You could see in his face it was perfect. It was such a sweet, sweet moment.”
That it should fall to Donaldson to ice the cake was the result of some serious heft at the top of the order. The aromatic concern raised by Torrance was a reference to the holes Graeme McDowell and Justin Rose found themselves in. “To come back and one win, the other halve from three and four down respectively was just un-fucking-believable.
“These things lift the team, astonishing really. G-Mac loves it. His drive down the first, McGinley and I looked at each other and thought ‘yes’. Everyone knows what that lead role is about. You see him come back from three to two to one down, all square then one up, it’s like whoaaah.”
It still is.
Sam Torrance was speaking on behalf of Standard Life Investments, Worldwide Partner of the Ryder Cup. For exclusive content visit: YouTube.com/standardlifeinvestReuse content