By John Haughey (The Irish News)
The Northern Ireland man who caddied at the Ryder Cup has said the British press exaggerated the unsavoury element of the contest.
David McNeilly, who worked for Padraig Harrington at Brookline, told the Irish News he now fears the British tabloid press will stoke up “anti-yank feeling” which could be potentially unleashed in 2001 at the Belfry.
“Having had time to reflect on the event now for over a week, I feel the British press have exaggerated the controversial element somewhat. There was incredible excitement on the Sunday. I was excited. The players were excited.
“Things did happen which shouldn’t have happened. There’s no question about that. But we have to get a sense of proportion in all this. The bottom line is that the Americans outplayed the Europeans (on the final day).”
McNeilly said the Americans who “invaded” the 17th green after Justin Leonard’s holed a 40 footer in the singles now realised that they had behaved badly.He added it was his hunch that it wasn’t a deliberate attempt to unsettle Jose-Maria Olazabal who still had a putt to keep the match alive.
“I feel the Americans were so hyped up that they basically forget themselves. They are looking back now and saying to themselves:‘My God...did we behave like that?’.”
McNeilly admitted his views on the controversial closing day at Brookline were influenced by Harrington encountering no major problems from the crowd during his final day match against Mark O’Meara.
“Padraig was involved in a real good tussle with Mark O’Meara. “Perhaps if I’d be involved in Lee Westwood’s match (against Tom Lehman) I would have a different view. I mean Lehman was whipping up the crowd on the first tee and there’s no doubt the jingoism thing did get out of hand in certain quarters.
“The Ryder Cup is a fantastic event, it’s one of the greatest sporting events in the world. It’s right that there is crowd participation. That helps to make it the great event that it is. But it’s a pity that crowd participation, which is fine and proper, spilled over into something which was at times rather unpleasant.”
McNeilly revealed Harrington was barracked at a critical time in the Saturday morning foursomes, which he Miguel-Angel Jimenez eventually lost by one hole against Tiger Woods and Steve Pate.
“Padraig was faced with a 10 foot putt on the eighth green after a rain delay. When he was making his way through the crowd to the green after the interruption, one of the crowd said:‘You’re going to miss this’. As it turned out, Padraig holed which was the perfect answer to the fellow.”
The northerner, whose previous employers included Nick Faldo and Nick Price, said he was now fearful unruly elements could attempt to exact some sort of revenge on the USA team in 2001.
“It would be terrible of some kind of anti-yank feeling became a dominant theme in the press before the next match at the Belfry. That would be very damaging for the competition.”
McNeilly is in St Andrews this week for the Dunhill Cup where Harrington is joined in the Irish team by Darren Clarke and Paul McGinley.
“I think the Irish team spirit here at St Andrews is going to be really good. Padraig and Darren are playing very well and you’ve got to say that Ireland have a good chance of doing very well. My favourites would have to be Spain although it’s very difficult to make predictions with the competition format.”
In addition to being one of the game’s leading caddies, Belfast-based McNeilly’s company Select Publications produce yardage books on some of the world’s top golf courses.