By Tony Jimenez
GLENEAGLES Scotland (Reuters) - Des Smyth was shocked to be invited into the European Ryder Cup team room after an eight-year absence and now that he is back the Irishman wants to soak up every drop of excitement, he said on Wednesday.
The 61-year-old, who was last involved as a vice-captain under the triumphant Ian Woosnam at the K Club in Ireland in 2006, said he had to pinch himself when he was asked by skipper Paul McGinley to act as one of his five deputies this week.
"It's great to be here, I'm so excited," Smyth told Reuters in an interview as he accompanied world number one Rory McIlroy, Graeme McDowell, Martin Kaymer and Victor Dubuisson in practice on a sun-kissed day at Gleneagles.
"It came as a big surprise when I got the call from Paul but it was a very happy surprise.
"I never imagined I would be in the team room again. I played in the Ryder Cup twice and this is my second time as a vice-captain so it's been an absolute joy."
The players were smiling and relaxed as they strolled the spectacular rolling hills of the Jack Nicklaus-designed PGA Centenary Course but Smyth said their demeanor would change when the golf started for real in Friday's opening fourball matches.
"It's only practice today so you don't look too deep into it but watching their body language and the way they are playing, they are enjoying themselves," he said.
"It won't be like that on Friday morning," laughed Smyth. "But it's the way we want the team to be in practice.
"This is a long week with a lot of things to do like preparation, media commitments, the gala dinner, the opening ceremony. There is lots going on so you want to keep them happy on a day like today.
"When the gun goes off that's when the real action is going to begin."
Smyth, who won eight European Tour events in his heyday and played in the 1979 and 1981 Ryder Cups, is joined as a vice-captain this week by Jose Maria Olazabal, Miguel Angel Jimenez, Sam Torrance and Padraig Harrington.
The Irishman acknowledges there is something of a generation gap between him and the players and said it was important to keep his distance.
"You don't want to upset the players. They don't know me that well so you stay slightly in a standoff position while at the same time letting them know that you're there if they need you," he added.
"The Ryder Cup has become a huge event but funnily enough from the players' perspective it was always that way.
"I remember getting very nervous at the start but then I got stuck into it because it's all about trying to win points for your team to get them to that winning position of 14-1/2 points," said Smyth.
"That's what our players are going to be focused on this week but match play is difficult to predict. We all know you can win a match by shooting a 71 and you can lose a match by shooting a 65 -- that's just the way it is."
Europe staged a thrilling fightback in the 'Miracle at Medinah' at the last Ryder Cup two years ago, snatching victory from the jaws of defeat after trailing 10-4.
"The Americans came out firing on the first two days at Medinah," he said. "They were playing unbelievable golf so we just had to take it and wait until it turned.
"It then turned in dramatic fashion. You know it's never over in the Ryder Cup until the fat lady sings," grinned Smyth.
(Editing by Clare Lovell)