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  • Writer's pictureAndrew Jones

Project Management Lessons from the Ryder Cup

To those watching the Ryder Cup from Gleneagles this weekend, you could not help but notice the contrast in the demeanour of the two teams, especially as events unfolded after the event had finished and the teams met the press.

For someone like myself who has been a passionate follower of golf, especially the majors and the Ryder Cup, I found it was soul destroying to watch as Phil Mickelson, a major winner and one of USA’s top players, sought to put the failure of the USA team squarely on the shoulders of arguably one of the greatest golfers of all time, Tom Watson. In the meantime, the European team sung the praises of Captain Paul McGinley.

As a Project Manager there was so much to watch and learn from the experience of the two teams. Let me explain.


Everyone in the European team put the success of the team down to the Captaincy of Paul McGinley. They cited that he had two years to prepare and that in those two years he left no aspect unplanned. He devised a template by which he was going to manage the three days of the cup, but his preparations went further than that.

He ensured that every player that could possibly make the team was contacted and he personally explained his philosophy behind his management style and he explained the template. McGinley ensured that he got to know the likes and dislikes of each player, their quirks / idiosyncrasies. He developed a management style for each of the players.

He created an environment that only pointed to success and to team work. He achieved this by his actions but also making sure that images were posted everywhere the players went that spoke of success and teamwork, even down to the final images of winning captains and Seve Ballesteros they passed as they walked through the player’s tunnel to the tee-off box.

Learn from Experience

As every project manager who has taken their Prince2 course knows, the second principle of the methodology is “Learn from Experience”. Phil Mickelson’s criticism was that not one USA captain since 2008 had taken the winning experience of Paul Azinger’s captaincy and asked what had made them successful in that year.

In contrast, Paul McGinley talked about how he built on the experience he had as a player and vice-captain in previous Ryder Cups and sought to improve on them. He talked about a template that he said he improved upon and so did every player, every caddie and everyone involved in the team. Everyone understood the goal and everyone knew their role in achieving it.


Right from the outset everyone identified Paul McGinley as the leader, but more importantly he demonstrated how to lead a group of very successful individuals, many of which had been part of successful Ryder Cup teams before. Unlike Tom Watson who looked as though he expected each player to know their role and what they were to contribute without ensuring that they did it in line with his expectations.

Paul McGinley’s attitude to leadership was to embrace everyone experienced or not. He sought their views, embraced them where he thought their ideas were good and placed responsibility on the shoulders of the experienced players to look after the rookies. Leading by example meant that everyone respected him and worked to his template and everyone shared responsibility for success. He ensured that his leadership was one of developing a team ethos that ensured great team work. One for all and all for one!!

In contrast Tom Watson looked as though he was herding cats.

The Delivery and Risk Mitigation

Having ensured that he had prepared for everything it was ultimately down to the players to deliver in three days what he had spent preparing for in two years. Because all the players knew their role in the team, who was going to play with whom, what the contingency plans were if one player was playing below par or whose back was hurting, there were no surprises. This meant that the players knew exactly what was expected of them and they could concentrate on their own game and the game of their partners without concerning themselves about any other matter. If a player was asked to rest for a session they didn’t feel aggrieved they just wanted what was best for the team.

Contrast that to Phil Mickelson openly complaining that he should have not have been rested, even though he and Keegan Bradley had played poorly.

Did you see Ian Poulter complain? He knew that with rest he could ensure he was in the best shape to make a contribution in the singles.

So there we have it. I could have gone on for hours identifying comparisons to how well the Ryder Cup was managed by the ultimate Project Manager, Paul McGinley. I do hope that you too saw the comparisons that can be made and that you too can learn from the successful European Ryder Cup team.

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