GLENEAGLES (AFP) – Former Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson gave European golfers an inspirational speech ahead of Friday’s Ryder Cup start, a talk that top-ranked Rory McIlroy says might make a trophy-winning difference.
The 72-year-old Scotsman, who spoke for 90 minutes Tuesday night, retired last year after a 26-year career that saw him guide Manchester United to 38 trophies, including 13 Premier League titles and two Champions League titles.
“Those things do help, those things really do. It galvanises us and brings us together,” McIlroy said.
“OK, everyone might not be a Man United fan, but at the same time, everyone has to respect what Alex Ferguson has done in his career and how successfully. These things, they help. They are little details in the bigger picture, but it would be that half a percent or one percent that helps us to get back that little trophy.”
Europeans, seeking their sixth victory in seven tries over the United States starting Friday at Gleneagles, have employed Welsh rugby union star Gareth Edwards then-Barcelona manager Pep Guardiola for motivational speeches in past years.
US captain Tom Watson plans on some special guests for his side as well, following a US tradition that saw NBA legend Michael Jordan and Olympic swim star Michael Phelps among others.
McIlroy, who won back-to-back majors at this year’s British Open and PGA Championship, is a huge Man United supporter and was practically hypnotised by Ferguson.
“I was just sitting there and looking up at him, and I didn’t take my eyes off him,” McIlroy said. “I was sort of in this trance just listening to everything he was saying and I’m sort of thinking, ‘This is all the stuff that he’s probably said to Manchester United teams over the years.’
“We got to ask some questions, just about different things and what he thought was the key element to being successful and successful as a team.
“He’s a very inspirational sort of man when he talks. He’s got a lot of authority and the room just goes quiet and everyone listens. It was a great experience for everyone, obviously, but especially for me being a big Manchester United fan.”
One of Ferguson’s major messages was to make the most of the home-soil advantage.
“Whenever he was managing, they made Old Trafford a bit of a fortress. And when teams went there, it was very hard to compete against United,” McIlroy said. “He was just talking a bit about that. 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 that we should embrace.”
Scotsman Stephen Gallacher found words to carry forward.
“He was brilliant. He was very candid and very open. There’s bits that I definitely would take away from it,” he said. “Just how sort of confident a person he was. To hear him talking, you can see why the players respected him so much and how he won 13 titles in 21 goes.”
Even Real Madrid fan Sergio Garcia gathered something from Ferguson.
“There were a lot of little quotes and stuff, but obviously hard-working, confidence, belief, never giving up. That’s some of the things he kind of mentioned,” Garcia said. “Just keep fighting until the end. It doesn’t matter if you’re 2-down with three to go or 5-down with eight to go. So even if you lose, at least make it as tight as possible. It’s always important.”
Wednesday practice pairings hinted at possible foursomes and fourball duos with McIlroy joined by reigning US Open champion Martin Kaymer of Germany and the likely tandem of Graeme McDowell and France’s Victor Dubuisson. McIlroy and McDowell have been a formidable pairing in past Cups and might again go together before Sunday’s 12 concluding singles matches.
Englishmen Ian Poulter and Justin Rose joined Garcia and Sweden’s Henrik Stenson while Gallacher went out with Welshman Jamie Donald, Dane Thomas Bjorn and England’s Lee Westwood.
On the American side, pals Bubba Watson and Webb Simpson were joined by Hunter Mahan and Zach Johnson while rookies Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed teed off with Jim Furyk and Matt Kuchar.
Five-time major champion Phil Mickelson went out with Rickie Fowler, Keegan Bradley and rookie Jimmy Walker.