Graeme McDowell was a rock in the Ryder Cup - not just for Europe but for rookie Rory McIlroy.
McIlroy, 21, suffered a blow to his confidence when he became a target for Tiger Woods by declaring that every member of the European team would fancy their chances of beating the world No 1.
But McDowell, 31, played the big brother role and eased McIlroy’s fears by sitting up with his young friend for a late night chat that helped the Holywood starlet deal with the pressure.
Paying tribute to G-Mac, McIlroy revealed: “He’s one of my best friends. We spend a lot of time together, even away from tournaments, we play golf together.
“We try and catch up every time we’re back in Northern Ireland and he said to me - ‘Is all this Tiger nonsense getting to you?’ And I went, ‘It sort of is.’
“I’ve said to you guys in the press that sometimes I’m a bit honest and I say what I think.
“Tiger’s obviously played great this week and I thought that if, not just myself, but any of the European team played well, they’d a great chance to beat him.
“Graeme said, ‘Don’t let it get to you’, and before one of the practice rounds, I think it was Wednesday or Thursday morning when they came out with the wigs, it made me feel at ease. I just knew I had the support of the whole team, which was fantastic.”
McIlroy was teased by team mates like Lee Westwood for his comments last year suggesting that the Ryder Cup was nothing more than a glorified exhibition that was way down his list of priorities.
Joking at McIlroy’s expense at the European team’s final press conference, Westwood glanced down the long table at the youngest member of the winning team and said: “It’s the best exhibition, isn’t it?”
Taking it on the chin, McIlroy replied with a grin: “It’s the best exhibition in the world. It’s been fantastic. You know, I realise now what the Ryder Cup means and how much it means to everyone, and I’m a big fan.”
He added: “I did call it an exhibition and I now realise how wrong I was. It’s fantastic. It’s so much different to anything else we play. To experience it is even better. I want to play it for the next 20 years.”
McDowell is hoping that he will forge a lasting partnership with McIlroy after watching the youngster mature from day to day at Celtic Manor.
McDowell said: “He went from strength to strength as Ryder Cup player. He started off on Friday, nervous and tight and not himself. Saturday he was phenomenal and today he was playing probably the best player on their team in Stewart Cink.
“This will have been a massively maturing experience for him. I think he has gained an understanding for what the Ryder Cup is all about and the emotion and the passion involved. And he will want more of this.”
McDowell was a hero for millions of European fans but McIlroy is his greatest admirer.
Impressed by McDowell’s incredible win over Hunter Mahan, McIlroy said: “He’s incredible. I mean, under pressure, I don’t think anyone else on the team would have wanted the position that G-Mac out there and to handle it how he did was phenomenal.
“Every time I’ve seen him under pressure on the golf course this year, he’s delivered.
“At Pebble Beach this year; on this golf course in June when he knew a win in the Wales Open would secure a place on the Ryder Cup team, he’s fantastic and today he’s shown how much character he has by closing out that match. I feel so good for him and so happy for him and the team.”
McIlroy is now hoping to use his Ryder Cup experience to become an even more formidable competitor on tour.
Vowing to curb his occasional tendency to throw in the towel when his game is less than perfect, he said: “I realise how difficult it is to win a point at the Ryder Cup. You have to work for every single match and every single point and that’s something I’ll take into my personal career.
“You’ve got to work so hard on every shot and it really makes you realise how much every shot counts.”