That is what McGinley means when he talks about “form”. Not simply the mere “form” which shows that Donald has only recorded one top-35 placing in his last eight events. But “form” of a far more in-depth nature which may or may not pertain to their suitability for Gleneagles. These findings will be at the core of McGinley’s deliberations.
“I’m looking for evidence-based decisions on what is going to add to the team,” McGinley said. “I will use statistical analysis as a foundation. Yeah, I’ve been looking at form. But in golf, the same as in other walks of life, everybody goes through cycles in their career. Performance goes up and down. I am looking for players on the upward part of that cycle. I’m looking for an underlying trend – just like a businessman would look for trends in the market before he makes a decision. I’ll be looking for trends in form for a player.”
Where that leaves the big names is anyone’s guess, although it is almost impossible to envisage McGinley doing anything as daft as going in without the player who has ripped up the Ryder Cup record books in losing only three of the 15 games he has contested thus far. There are certain aspects the bare figures cannot show and Poulter’s zest for this unique arena is clearly one of them.
The same appears to apply to Westwood, who has largely struggled this year but who has shown up well in big events such as the Masters (seventh), the Players (sixth) and the US PGA Championship (15th). McGinley is an unashamed admirer of Westwood and the positive influence he brings to the tea-room and it would be a surprise if he was overlooked. He fits in as a character as much as a golfer.
“I have to put three players together who are going to blend in with the nine who are already qualified,” McGinley said. “So, part of the decision will be based on gut instinct and a feel as to where the team is going. I think intuition is important. It should be part of the decision-making process.” That leaves Donald, who has emerged as the most vulnerable of the three.
Plenty could still happen at the Deutsche Bank Championship in Boston, where Donald is playing, and McGinley has indicated he could be swayed. But the whisper on the range this past few days has been Poulter, Westwood and Stephen Gallacher (with Graeme McDowell guaranteed the pick should Gallacher achieve the top-two placing in Italy he requires to leapfrog the Northern Irishman).
It would be a courageous call to leave out Donald for a debutant, even one who has such a fine record at Gleneagles. Some would justifiably be baffled considering Donald has won six out of eight foursomes in his four Ryder Cups and has never appeared on a losing team. But McGinley is nothing if not brave. “I’m not afraid to pick a rookie. Young blood needs to mix with the experience to produce a great team blend.”
It would not be the first wildcard headline-grabber and certainly would not be the last. Since captains were first granted their picks in 1979, the task has garnered its own folklore. Relationships have broken down because of it, as anyone will know who recall Thomas Bjorn’s infamous rant about Ian Woosnam when overlooked for Westwood. It has inevitably been that way from the very start of the procedure. Tony Jacklin rode that particular roller-coaster as the ground-breaking captain of the 80s.
“I remember vividly Christy O’Connor Jnr 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 Jose Rivero,” Jacklin said. “They had roughly the same money but Rivero had won a tournament at the Belfry that year, so I knew he suited the course. Then in ’89 when I chose Christy as one of my picks over Philip Walton, Philip wouldn’t speak to me.”
McGinley would be not be fazed by that. He craved this role for so long and now he has the job is focused purely on retaining the Cup and not on keeping alliances. “I know I’ll have a few tough phone calls to make next week and I’m ready for it. I accept that not everyone is going to be happy.”
UPS AND DOWNS OF CAPTAIN’S PICKS
Three which worked…
Ray Floyd, 1993
Tom Watson made the 51-year-old the Cup’s oldest ever player and he helped the US to victory with three points.
Lee Westwood, 2006
Bjorn reacted wildly when Ian Woosnam opted for Westwood over him, but the Englishman won four out of five points.
Ian Poulter, 2008
Sir Nick Faldo’s one correct decision: the Englishman won four out of five points.
…and three that didn’t
Curtis Strange, 1995
Strange had not won in six years, but Lanny Wadkins wanted his experience. Strange lost all three matches.
Andrew Coltart, 1999
Mark James sat him out until the Sunday singles, where he lost to Tiger Woods.
Steve Stricker, 2012
His pairing with Woods saw them lose all three games, while he also lost, crucially, to Martin Kaymer.