GLENEAGLES, Scotland (AP) — Just in case Rory McIlroy needed any more motivation to beat the United States in the Ryder Cup, he found the right man to fire him up.
McIlroy said he was in a “trance” as the Europe team received a pep talk from Alex Ferguson, who guided Manchester United to 13 Premier League titles and is considered Britain’s greatest ever football manager.
The No. 1-ranked McIlroy, a devoted United fan who showed off the claret jug — the British Open trophy — at Old Trafford last month, sounded like a star-struck kid who had just met his idol.
“I was just sitting there and looking up at him and I didn’t take my eyes off him,” the four-time major winner said on Wednesday, two days before Europe starts the defense of the Ryder Cup at Gleneagles. “I was sort of in this trance just listening to everything that he was saying.”
Ferguson, a Scot who retired last year after 26 seasons at United, spoke to the Europe team for about 30 minutes on Tuesday night and then answered questions.
Without giving details, McIlroy said the room fell silent as Ferguson recounted experiences of some big matches and talked about some of his players.
“He’s a very inspirational sort of man when he talks,” the Northern Irishman said. “He’s got a lot of authority and the room just goes quiet and everyone listens. It was a great experience for everyone, but especially for me being a big Manchester United fan.”
McIlroy is the star of a European team that is strongly favored to retain the trophy. The Europeans have won five of the last seven Ryder Cups, and the United States hasn’t won in Europe since 1993 at The Belfry. Europe features four players ranked in the top six.
With that in mind, Ferguson spoke about how his teams thrived as being favorites and being virtually unbeatable at home, turning Old Trafford into “a bit of a fortress,” McIlroy said.
“When teams went there it was very hard to compete against United,” he said. “He was just talking a bit about that. We’re slight favorites for a reason. We’ve played well this year. It’s not something we should shy away from. It’s something that we should embrace.”
Even players who are not United fans can take inspiration from Ferguson, McIlroy said, adding that his words could provide a little spark that makes the difference when all the points are counted on Sunday.
“Everyone has to respect what Alex Ferguson has done, and what he’s done in his career, and how successful,” McIlroy said. “These things, they help. They are little details in the bigger picture, but it would be that half a percent or that 1 percent that helps us to get back that little trophy.”
Of course, in a team with players from nine countries — including France, Denmark, Sweden, Germany and Spain — Ferguson’s appeal counts more for some than others.
Take Sergio Garcia.
“I am a Real Madrid fan and probably not his biggest (Ferguson) fan in the world,” the Spaniard said.
Yet he, too, came away impressed.
“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 thing he’s gone through,” Garcia said.
The message he picked up from Ferguson: “Confidence, belief, never giving up.”
That was the hallmark of Ferguson’s teams, which were renowned for scoring late goals to win matches, notably the 1999 Champions League final when United score twice in the final minutes to beat Bayern Munich 2-1.
“Just keep fighting until the end,” Garcia said, summing up Ferguson’s advice. “It doesn’t matter if you’re two down with three to go or five down with eight to go. Even if you lose, at least make it as tight as possible.”
Follow Stephen Wilson on Twitter: http://twitter.com/stevewilsonap
Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.