Underneath all the glitz and glamour of the Ryder Cup at Glen Eagles this week lies a serious competition for every member of team Europe and USA. Both teams will be desperate to win the coveted prize which money cannot buy, and with the eyes of the golfing world upon them it becomes vastly important to keep emotions in check.

There is no doubting the talent on show, with any golfer capable of beating their opponent on the day, the question therefore is what else can make the difference. It could be argued that emotional intelligence will have a role to play in deciding who triumphs come Sunday. So what is emotional intelligence? Put simply via the use of Mayer and Salovey’s Ability Model emotional intelligence can be broken down into four processes:

  • Perception and expression of emotion- being highly attuned to the mood of others
  • Assimilating emotion- the ability to use one’s emotion to prioritise thinking in productive ways
  • Understanding and analysing of emotions and understand the effect emotions can have on teams or individuals
  • Regulate emotions reflectively- this can help emotional and intellectual growth

It is my view that the team that engages in the processes of emotional intelligence the most this week will have a better chance of walking away with the trophy come Sunday. The reasons for this are simple, research has shown that athletes who are more emotionally intelligent can increase their performances by regulating their emotions better, therefore create a bubble of calm when needed or raise arousal levels when it suits (Zizzi, Deaner and Hirschhorn, 2003). A perfect example of this in Ryder Cup history is Ian Poulter, someone who recognises and admits how well he plays with the noise of the crowd and the unique atmosphere of the Ryder Cup, it is therefore unsurprising when you see him whipping the crowd into a frenzy in order to help him perform.

The captains are also going to play a pivotal role this week, with both Tom Watson and Paul McGinley having some tough calls to make. Again, I firmly believe the captain who displays better emotional intelligence will be favourite to prevail. As one of the main sources of motivation, it becomes important for both captains to be able to inspire their team to greatness. Research has suggested that EI is often a key factor that may predispose leaders to use transformational behaviours, including inspirational motivation (Barling Slater & Kelloway, 2000). If the captains can truly inspire their players then great performances such as that by Team Europe in Medinah 2012 can be replicated.

It is also important for the captains to be emotionally intelligent in their selections throughout the tournament. For example it is important for Paul McGinley to assess the emotions of his team because it would be unwise to pair Ian Poulter with someone who does not like the crowd being as noisy, or possibly one of the golfers who are making their Ryder Cup debut as he may be unsure how they would cope with the crowd. With so many different personalities and new faces this year, this could prove to be a tough, yet defining task for both captains.

It is going to be vital for both players and captains to regulate their emotions this week, with the captains needing to showcase their emotional intelligence, interpreting the emotion of their players and responding accordingly. Seemingly simple in theory, but with the hopes of thousands in their hands it remains to be seen who can stay cool and emotionally intelligent under the most intense pressure. #bringthenoise

Scott Hassall




Barling, J., Slater, F., & Kelloway, E. K. (2000). Transformational leadership and emotional intelligence: an exploratory study. Leadership & Organization Development Journal, 21(3), 157-161.

Mayer, J.D.,& Salovey, P. (1997). What is emotional intelligence? In P. Salovey&D. Sluyter (Eds.), Emotional development and emotional intelligence: Implications for educators (pp. 3–31). New York: Basic Books.

Zizzi, S. J., Deaner, H. R., & Hirschhorn, D. K. (2003). The relationship between emotional intelligence and performance among college baseball players. Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, 15, 262-269.



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