GLENEAGLES Scotland (Reuters) - Rory McIlroy is the world’s number one golfer, a four-times major winner, multi-millionaire and the focal point of Europe’s Ryder Cup team, but he was like a wide-eyed schoolboy in the presence of former Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson.
The all-conquering Scot, who led United to 13 Premier League titles and a host of other trophies in his 26 years at Old Crawford, gave the team a pep-talk on Tuesday night and McIlroy, a United fan, said it was the highlight of his week so far.
”I was just sitting there and looking up at him, and I didn’t take my eyes off him,“ he told reporters on Wednesday. ”I was sort of in this trance just listening to everything that he was saying and I‘m thinking, ‘this is all the stuff that he’s probably said to Manchester United teams over the years’.
”He told us a couple of stories just of past experiences in some big games and big matches and some of the players that he managed and it was a great evening. It was a really cool thing to be a part of.
”Not everyone in that room is a Manchester United fan, and they made that known, but it was very useful because we got to ask some questions, about 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.”
Bringing in outside help has become part and parcel of a Ryder Cup captain’s planning these days. In 2010 U.S. captain Corey Pavin used Iraq war veteran and fighter pilot Major Dan Rooney while Welsh rugby’s favorite son Gareth Edwards addressed Colin Montgomerie’s European team.
However, it was a conference call with Seve Ballesteros, seven months before the Spaniard’s death from a brain tumor, that hit home for McIlroy, somewhat nervously awaiting his Ryder Cup debut four years ago.
“That call at Celtic Manor with Seve was the one that I remember,” he said in a choked voice.
”He wasn’t too well at the time and couldn’t get there. All of us were huddled around this little speakerphone and Seve (was) just rallying the troops. That was incredible.
”Those things do help, they really do. It galvanizes us and brings us together, especially something like that.
“And then something like last night, as well. Okay, everyone might not be a Man-United fan, but at the same time, everyone has to respect what Alex Ferguson has done and what he’s done in his career and how successful. These things, they help. They are little details in the bigger picture, but it would be that half a percent or that one percent that helps us to get back that little trophy.”
Hearing McIlroy talk about the Ryder Cup with such obvious passion and commitment it is hard to remember that it was not so long ago that he wrote the competition off as “an exhibition.”
It did not take him long to change his views, however, as after playing his part in Europe’s tense victory at Celtic Manor, he announced: “It’s great, it’s fantastic. I wouldn’t have said this a year ago but this is the best event in golf, by far.”
Sergio Garcia, appearing in his seventh Ryder Cup this week, said McIlroy had come to appreciate the importance of the competition.
“I think he’s got to know what the Ryder Cup is all about even better, he has a lot more respect for it,” he said on Wednesday, two days before the action kicks off at Gleneagles.
”He lives it a little bit more than maybe he would have at the beginning so I think he’s really become a really nice team player.
“Obviously we know the ability he has to play, which is really, really good but it’s nice to be a part of it with him on the team and obviously when I was a vice captain (in 2010) I’ve got to know him quite a lot and he’s the kind of guy that you always want to have on your team.”
Editing by Amlan Chakraborty