The Betfair Big Interview: Bernard Gallagher

Jose Maria Olazabal is a very articulate guy and more than capable of bringing home the Ryder Cup says Bernard Gallacher

It's Ryder Cup time. The weekend when the world gets golf fever is arriving next week so Betfair went to meet three-times former European captain Bernard Gallagher, and a man who won the trophy in America, to get some clues on what we can expect...

"You want to get off to a strong start – you don’t want it to be like Valhalla four years ago losing three of the first four matches."


Hi Bernard. Let's cut straight to the chase - Europe or America to be winners?

I hope Europe, and although if ever a match looked like a draw, this one does, I think it will be Jose Maria Olazabal who will be the winning captain. I think this is the strongest European side I've ever seen going to America. It's led by Rory McIlory but then everybody is on form. The only issue is how they will handle what will be a very rowdy home support.


McIlory and a few of the others will almost be at home as they are based in America these days. Will that make a difference?

Well it suits them because it reduces their travelling - but I actually think the demands of the European Tour are one of the reasons the rest of the team is so strong. Our guys spend their time at airports heading to different countries and that breeds a strong mentality because it is an exhausting schedule. They also travel together most of the time and there's a big team spirit created. They are used to playing in different conditions.


You've already mentioned McIlory, will he be the talisman, the man the others look to for inspiration?

Maybe, but I think it is more likely to be Luke Donald. I said when he was left out of the team at Valhalla that he'd be a big miss and I think I was proved right. He's a great player at both foursomes and fourballs, very versatile, and then as tough as nails when it gets to the singles. I don't see Europe needing to rely on one player for inspiration, though. It's such a strong team. I don't think there will be another Seve Ballesteros who for so many years was the spiritual leader.


Yes, it's sad. Seve will be missed.

He certainly will be - this is the first Ryder Cup since we became a European team in which Seve will not play some part. Even from his sick bed two years ago he sent a telephone message that was played in the team room and the players were overcome. The next best thing is to have Olazabal as captain. He will deliver Seve's message and carry his torch.


Tell us about what to expect from Olazabal as a captain then, he seems a quiet person.

That's true, he doesn't give away much. He speaks perfect English and French, and is a very articulate guy in every sense. You never see him branded up, his golf bag has no branding because he plays the clubs he wants. He doesn't sell himself, he won't take the money to use clubs or clothing he doesn't want. But he is very strong minded and that will come out. Where he will keep his passion is in the team room where the players will realise "we have got a great captain."


Has he been around you and other former captains to ask advice?

No. But then part of the enjoyment of doing the job is to find your own way. He's played in enough Ryder Cups to have his own ideas.


Who do you think will be his key pairings?

Well Graeme McDowell is the obvious partner for McIlroy, everybody in Northern Ireland will want to see them together. Then I would be surprised if Justin Rose and Ian Poulter don't play together. He'll also want Lee Westwood and Luke Donald out on that first day. You want to get off to a strong start - you don't want it to be like Valhalla four years ago losing three of the first four matches. Luckily all the European team seem to be playing well so you could pop up in any combination.


Should all 12 play in the first two days?

Definitely. I actually think it is ridiculous anyway that four sit out each series. In this day and age why should you have eight of the best in the world not out on the course? You feel as if the Ryder Cup is short changing both the fans and the TV audience, because you want to see everybody. It's also important as a captain that you show great faith in your players - by the time they get to the singles they have to know that you believe in them.


Should we be wary of Tiger Woods getting back to his best?

I don't know if he's there yet. I walked with him on the last day of The Open and he couldn't take his driver out. He's still a better putter than 80 per cent of the tour, but I don't think he's as good as he was. Davis Love has widened the course - somebody told me they have taken 651 trees out and made the fairways wider because he thinks his team is longer hitting.


So does that justify the Americans being favourite?

I don't think so. I have always thought that when the captain starts doctoring courses it always backfires. Lanny Wadkins tried to doctor Oak Hill to the way he liked it in 1995 and it didn't stop us winning! Our team this year will enjoy wide fairways and they like playing on fast greens too.


Thanks for your time and we've a free £50 bet with the winnings for a charity of your choice.

That's great. I try to support Thames House Hospice - and I'll put the money on Europe to win by two points, that's 15-13, at 14.013/1.


* Bernard Gallagher talked to Betfair at a Sports Journalists Association lunch sponsored by Ladbrokes.


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