HIS attention to detail was incredible. Carpets, curtains and wallpaper in the home team room in one wing of the luxurious Gleneagles Hotel were blue and gold – the colours of the European flag. So, too, believe it or not, were the fish in a big tank located there.
“I chose the colours, not the breed,” said Paul McGinley, looking remarkably bright-eyed and bushy-tailed the morning after leading Europe to a 16½-11½ victory in the 40th Ryder Cup – their eighth success against the Americans in the last ten matches. “As long as they were fish and they swam,” he added with a smile. “It was just a little small touch. They might have a few hangovers, though, as a some wine might have been spilt into them.”
While not necessarily the culprit, Lee Westwood partied until dawn as he celebrating his seventh victory in nine appearances. McGinley was in bed before that, having decided to take the same advice from his wife, Ali, as he did after holing the winning putt at The Belfry 12 years ago.
“She said, ‘Don’t drink too much tonight, enjoy these moments. Have a few drinks, of course, let’s share this, be merry, have fun, but let’s remember this’,” revealed the Irishman. “I went to bed about half two, three o’clock. When my head hit the pillow, it wasn’t long before I was asleep, so there wasn’t much time for thoughts to go through my head. I think just a real sense of satisfaction and pride.”
Satisfaction at seeing his masterplan work to a tee. His one slight regret was that Stephen Gallacher, on his dream debut on home soil, and Ian Poulter, weren’t as well prepared for playing together in the opening session as Victor Dubuisson, another rookie, and Graeme McDowell. McGinley had arranged for that pair to be in the same groups in European Tour events earlier in the year when it became pretty obvious both would make the team.
Pride at delivering another victory in the event as the Europeans continue to show their opponents what being part of a team is all about. “We come from diverse and very different cultures and backgrounds, but together we stand as one,” said the captain.
He knew exactly where this correspondent was coming from when I admitted that, for the first time in my life, I’d felt a man crush as Justin Rose played his heart out over the three days. “You don’t feel that after you’ve won a major championship, and that’s what makes the Ryder Cup so special,” he declared.
Having delivered an inspirational team talk in the build up to the match, McGinley was delighted that Sir Alex Ferguson, the former Manchester United manager, was also involved in the celebrations. “He said he felt like he was back in the boiler room this week,” revealed the Dubliner. “It’s great that he said that, that he felt that connection with the players.”
As McGinley spoke, he could feel his mobile phone vibrating as text message after text message was sent to him. He just happened to glance at his phone on Sunday night when one dropped from Luke Donald, the player he’d disappointed when choosing his three wildcards. “That meant a lot,” he confessed. “It was just very respectful to me, very respectful to the team and very regretful that he wasn’t part of it. I really appreciated it.”
His players made McGinley a winning captain. They also made life easy for him by accepting his decisions, which included having to tell Poulter and Rose that their successful partnership from two previous matches would not be used on this occasion. “That was a big call,” he said. “But Ian came out to me on the golf course in the afternoon and he was consoling me. I think that means more to me than the Ian Poulter banging on his heart and what he did at Medinah. Putting his arm around me and saying, ‘You make the calls, you’re the captain, I’ll be ready tomorrow’. I mean, what more can a captain ask for?”
Due to the Americans faring so badly at the moment – they’ve now won just once in the last seven matches – there is concern in some quarters that people might lose interest in the event on the other side of the Atlantic. McGinley, though, believes it is stronger than ever and warned his next two or three successors to expect tough battles as the likes of Patrick Reed and Jordan Spieth bid to turn around USA fortunes.
“Commercially, the Ryder Cup is going in one direction,” he said. “From a media perspective, it’s going in one direction. The exposure and amount of people watching it throughout the world, the viewing figures are going up and up and up. There’s no valid reason to think that the Ryder Cup is on the decline because we are winning.
“Also, Americans are very proud of their country. They will galvanise themselves. They will come back very, very strong in two years’ time and we have to be ready for that. That’s what makes it great. Don’t underestimate America.”
McGinley will be involved in choosing his successor. Along with his two predecessors, Colin Montgomerie and Jose Maria Olazabal, as well as European Tour chief executive George O’Grady and a member of the tournament committee, that appointment will be announced early next year.
By then, McGinley’s life will have returned to normal, his first step towards that being taken in this week’s Dunhill Links Championship before he heads to Ghana in a fortnight’s time to check up on his golf design business there, taking the little gold trophy with him, of course.
It has played a massive part in McGinley’s career. “That’s six Ryder Cups now I’ve been involved in and six wins, I do feel lucky,” he confessed. And the best between holing a winning putt and being winning captain? “The buzz at The Belfry was incredible whereas here I was a lot more in management mode,” he said. “So I would say The Belfry, but the sense of satisfaction is exactly the same.”
McGinley has definitely been a man with a Midas touch in the Ryder Cup. He’s just glad it’s golf and not ping pong.
“A lot of our players went into the American team room (on Sunday night), played them at table tennis and we got our ass kicked,” he said in signing off as European captain.