Tony Jacklin still heeds the captain’s call

Former Ryder Cup captain knows just what the next month or so will be like for Paul McGinley

Tony Jacklin punctuates the conversation with an occasional chuckle in recalling his time as Europe's most successful ever Ryder Cup captain.

Some 25 years since he last accepted the remit of non-playing captain, the Scunthorpe- born, two-time Major winner retains an affection for professional golf’s ultimate team challenge.

On Tuesday morning, Dubliner Paul McGinley, as Europe’s Ryder Cup captain, will announce his three wild card choices to complete the team to take on the Tom Watson’s US team at Gleneagles next month in the biennial match.

He will also nominate two further non-playing vice-captains to supplement the roles already bestowed on Des Smyth and Sam Torrance.


Jacklin (70) has an innate understanding of every emotion that McGinley is likely to feel, in victory or defeat, from this weekend to the moment the final putt drops and every point in between.

The Irishman possesses a war chest of advice and experience to draw upon from his time as a player and vice-captain in the Ryder Cup to the non-playing captain in the Seve Ballesteros Trophy and the Royal Trophy.

It is an impressive pedigree but Jacklin contends that captaincy is a game precariously shaped by so many nuances and variables that flexibility in thinking and instinct become cherished characteristics.

“I know Paul and I think he’ll do a very good job but there is no way of guaranteeing how he will react to different circumstances. We don’t know what the weather is going to do, we don’t know what players are going to be in form and what decisions he’s going to have to make.

“What can be said is that he has got plenty of experience, is very thorough, an intelligent chap who has left no stone unturned and I think he will do just fine. It’s an ever-changing process and a lot has changed in the 25 years since I was captain, but there are certain fundamentals that remain the same in terms of the job.

“You have to keep your eyes and ears open firstly. You have to watch what’s going on and examine body language to establish how people are reacting to their circumstances. You have to wrap the players in cotton wool and massage their egos. They are all very nervous.

“Intelligent pairings”

“It is now one of golf’s biggest arenas. They need all the support you can give them. You have to make intelligent decisions with regard to the pairings. You have to make sure that the players are happy with whom they are playing alongside; certain individuals feed off each other. It’s that basic stuff.”

Man management skills and an understanding of psychology are core requirements.

“You are dealing now with 12 millionaires who do what they want, when they want and how they want from week to week,” Jacklin adds, “and you’re asking them to come together as one for the duration of the Ryder Cup.

“How you react to them and how you treat them is of very great import. I played under captains – I won’t name them – who, once we all got together, they more or less ignored us and became autocratic and aloof; players don’t respond to that.

“I tried to be everyone’s best pal. Basically it was all about the team. That’s the first thing I said in 1983 when I took over as non-playing captain, to leave their egos outside the door of the team room. If they weren’t able to do that, then they were no good to me.

“I never tried to tell them how to play. They wouldn’t have been in the team if they didn’t know how to do that. All a captain can really do is massage their egos and keep them sweet.

“They have their partners/ wives/girlfriends with them. Keeping everyone happy in that week is not an easy thing to do.

“It’s a hectic week. I know he’ll be happy to see the end of it. I know right now he is looking forward to it all starting but by the end of the week . . . from a captain’s stand point it is really draining.”

Jacklin is an advocate of gut instinct when it comes to pairings and believes that McGinley, while taking advice from his vice-captains must back his intuition, based on observation.

“You’ll get certain players who for whatever reason are just not firing on all cylinders. The good news is that you can hide them in the first couple of days. The early matches give you a strong indication as to how guys are reacting, whether they’re in trouble.”

Seve Ballesteros

He illustrates the importance of a rapport in the pairings by way of a Seve Ballesteros narrative. “Seve was a asset but one of the problems was that a lot of his fellow team-mates were intimidated by him. He had this amazing aura about him.

"In '83, I considered playing him with José Rivero but could see José was totally intimidated. In the end I put him [Seve] with Paul Way, a 20-year-old who thought at that point in time he was probably going to be better than Seve. "

Jacklin instigated numerous changes when he took over, understanding that the players – he had been one six times – felt like second-class citizens in comparison to the Americans.

He fought for and got first- class travel, proper clothing, a team room instead of huddling in the corner of a locker room and the right for players’ to bring their caddies, among other considerations.

He also won a battle to change from two to three wild cards, because he felt some of the players who finished ninth and 10th in the standings accumulated money through sheer weight of tournaments played. He wanted winners.

“I was always for the three [wild cards], as long as you don’t mind the responsibility of choosing them. I never did. It was important for me to have the 12 best players. I remember vividly Christy [O’Connor] junior not speaking to me for, I don’t know, two years, because I left him out of the team at the Belfry in ’85 in favour of Rivero.

"They had roughly the same money but Rivero had won a tournament at the Belfry that year. I knew he liked the course, having won there and on that basis, I chose him, but Christy was very hurt. Then in '89 when I chose him [O'Connor jnr], one of my picks, over Philip Walton; Philip wouldn't speak to me for a while."


McGinley will disappoint a couple of golfers come Tuesday but that goes with the territory. Jacklin expects him to choose

Ian Poulter

and two from

Lee Westwood


Stephen Gallacher


Joost Luiten


“I would think he would be balancing Westwood’s age and experience against some of the younger guys that haven’t had a chance to show how they will react under the pressure. They are his decisions to make.

“Ultimately it’s about winning. If you win then you are vindicated, whether that’s right or wrong.”

One decision that is already made is Tiger Woods’s decision to withdraw his name from consideration for a wild card on the US team based on continuing injury issues.

Individual attention

Jacklin concurs. “Absolutely yeah, I think so. I think he gets too much individual attention and he is only one man. In this environment it is 12 guys.

“Okay, if Tiger was winning every other week, but we know what his record is; it’s not that great in the team environment. There’s no doubt that he made the right decision.”

Conversely he expects Rory McIlroy to have a significant influence. “Rory’s situation is very important. He is clearly the best player in the world. Knowing you have the best player in the world on your team is a huge plus; that filters down in the team room.

"He instils confidence in others. Rory is such a sweetheart of a guy anyway. It's a huge plus where he is in the game right now. Europe appear well served in terms of experience and form." Tony Jacklin will be at

the Ballsbridge Hotel on Friday, Oct 10th, for the Legends of Sport Lunch. Tickets available from or for table bookings contact

John O'Sullivan

John O'Sullivan

John O'Sullivan is an Irish Times sports writer