The legendary former Manchester United manager had been invited by team captain Paul McGinley to address the Europeans at Gleneagles on Tuesday ahead of the 40th Ryder Cup matches which begin tomorrow morning.
McGinley’s hunch that Ferguson’s achievements in football management would make an impact on his players certainly appears to have paid off given yesterday’s reviews from team members and none more so than the two Irish Manchester United fans.
“He is an inspirational man and obviously being a big Manchester United fan having him there was a huge thrill for me,” McIlroy said. “Not everyone in that team room is a Man United fan, I am sure they all enjoyed it, but I really got a lot out of it.
“G-Mac and I were sitting together and I didn’t take my eyes off Fergie for the whole time. I was sort of in this trance just listening to everything he was saying and I’m sort of thinking, this is all the stuff he’s probably said to Manchester United teams over the years.
“What he was talking about, the stories, talking about how he managed certain players, what he was thinking about before certain games. It was all really interesting, just having something like that. If it helps a little bit, even just sitting down and being able to listen to a man like that, if you can get something out of it you know it has been very beneficial.”
McDowell concurred, adding: “I’m a big Man United fan, I enjoyed it immensely and he definitely gave us a few insights into the things he was saying to his lads to prepare for big games, just talking about the mental side of the game and the consistency he had as a manager.
“It was very inspiring. I think all the lads enjoyed it, even the non-United fans, even Poults. It was a lot of fun, great atmosphere. Alex is one of my heroes and it was just great to hear the insights of a great man manager who managed to get the most out of his team, most weeks.”
One of the most relevant insights for McIlroy was how Ferguson handled his team’s strong favouritism going into big matches as Europe will do against the United States this weekend.
“United were obviously favourites and whenever he was managing, they made Old Trafford a bit of a fortress. And when teams went there, it was very hard to compete against United. He was just talking a bit about that, [that] we’re slight favourites for a reason. We deserve to be. We’ve played well this year. It’s not something that we should shy away from. It’s something that we should embrace.
“These things, they help. They are little details in the bigger picture, but it would be that half a per cent or that one per cent that helps us to get back that little trophy.”
Even Real Madrid fan Sergio Garcia, who admitted he was “probably not his biggest fan in the world,” said: “When you have the possibility of listening to somebody that has been up there in sports... and he’s been able to perform at a really high level for that long, it’s always interesting to pick his brain and see what things he’s gone through. It was really, really interesting, and I’m actually glad that I got to know him a little bit better and listen to him a little bit.”
Fergie’s fellow Scotsman Stephen Gallacher described the former United boss as “an absolute legend” and captain McGinley said the exercise had lived up to all his expectations, with Ferguson proving a hit with not just the players but the caddies as well.
“He was exactly who I thought he was going to be,” McGinley said.
“There’s a lot of tactics and strong messages there. When it came to the banter, obviously a lot of stick to Ian Poulter being a big Arsenal fan. But the biggest stick was Thomas Björn being a Liverpool fan. That gave him a lot of pleasure having a go at Thomas but Thomas held up for himself, that was really good.
“Billy Foster (Lee Westwood’s caddie) is a big Leeds United fan, and I think Alex said to him he got 17 players from Leeds to end up at Man United, and that bit hard when Billy had a go. Billy let him know what he thought in no uncertain terms. I think the caddies enjoyed that he was standing up to Alex Ferguson in this room full of all his peers. It was just a bit of banter, and in fairness to Alex, as I say, he’s used to this; and he’s in the dressing room and he’s in that banter all the time. This is very normal for him. And in some ways, I’m sure he felt very much connected back with the football dressing room.”