Ryder Cup 2014 – Stephen Gallacher – Picked on merit or a political pawn?

September 10, 2014
Neil Brotherston

At a time when Scotland is on the verge of one of the biggest, most divisive and potentially volatile few weeks in its history, you’d think the picking of a Ryder Cup team would be relatively low-level news in comparison.

However, this has not been the case and the upcoming Ryder Cup at the iconic Scottish course Gleneagles is well and truly front-page news. And so was the selection of the only Scot in the European team – Stephen Gallacher.

Now as a Scot myself, I feel I am in a pretty good position to discuss this selection. While at first glance, the selection looks an obvious one – Gallacher has been on great form in the European Tour this year, he missed out on an automatic place by just one point and his record at Gleneagles is strong, is there more to this selection than meets the eye? Was the thought of a Ryder Cup in Scotland – the home of golf, without a single Scot taking part an unthinkable outcome?

When you delve a little deeper, you see that while Gallacher’s form this season has been great, his all-important Match Play record over the years is nothing short of woeful – 0-7. Surely this is an incredibly important consideration when picking a Ryder Cup Team? Or there’s the fact that Luke Donald has never played on a losing Ryder Cup team, has the experience to draw on from the incredible 2012 miracle in Medina, and has a strong Match Play record of only 4 defeats from 15 matches.

So just why was Donald overlooked – well there’s no doubting his form this season has been erratic at best but surely there should have been a space for this Ryder Cup stalwart. Were there other pressures on McGinley’s decision?

Certainly, there is a strong argument to be had for home interest in a tournament. Just look at almost all major sporting tournaments – The Football World Cup, The Rugby World Cup, The Cricket World Cup. What do they all have in common? The host city automatically qualifies. It adds to the atmosphere, creates more column inches and ultimately has a direct influence on the success of the tournament.

An exciting tournament that captures the imagination of the crowds and those watching, that gets people talking and that ultimately generates plenty of positive coverage of Scotland for Visit Scotland has to be the goal here.

A successful tournament leads to lots of positive coverage and discussion, which ultimately leads to happy sponsors – and that’s something we are all looking for in this business. Sponsors do so much for sport, but ultimately they do still need to see a return and a successful, positive tournament is the easiest way to get this.

With global powerhouse brands like Rolex, Diageo, Ernst & Young, BMW and Standard Life investing heavily to secure their positions as Official Partners of the 2014 Ryder Cup, a successful tournament is of vital importance.

Now let me caveat this. I don’t want this to take away from Gallacher’s efforts this season. Indeed his performance under incredible pressure at the Italian Open – his last chance to qualify automatically, was admirable. But ultimately he missed out on automatic qualification, which gave Paul McGinley a decision to make.

That decision was a 50/50 coin toss and ultimately the fact that Gallacher is a Scot has most probably tipped the scales in his balance. (For what it’s worth from a purely sporting perspective I would have gone with Donald). In the end, his inclusion will have the crowds more excited, more involved and louder. And can you imagine if a Scot hits the winning putt in Scotland to retain the Ryder Cup? Now that would make a good story.

Ultimately, clearly sponsors didn’t have anything to do with the decision to pick Gallacher, as they shouldn’t. However, they will certainly be smiling at the decision to select the Scot, as nothing can electrify a Scottish crowd better than having a hometown interest. And when it comes down to it that was probably a very wise decision by Paul McGinley. Never, ever underestimate the power of having a vocal crowd behind you – with this selection McGinley has secured that.

Now, there’s just the small issue of a referendum to negotiate before we can all enjoy the golf.


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