FROM the outside, Paul McGinley and Ian Poulter may not look to have too much in common but, on one subject they are happy to agree. If their respective careers end up being defined by the Ryder Cup, then so be it.
Neither man has yet won a major championship, but both have performed heroics on the course in the Ryder Cup, Poulter inspiring the “Miracle at Medinah” in 2012 and recording an amazing 12 wins from 15 matches in four appearances.
McGinley holed the winning putt in 2002 and also helped Europe achieve record nine-point victories in 2004 and 2006, not to mention acting as vice-captain to Colin Montgomerie in 2010 and Jose Maria Olazabal two years ago.
But the Dubliner will be all too aware that playing exploits over many years can be overshadowed by just one term as captain – just ask Nick Faldo, Hal Sutton or Curtis Strange – as he leads Europe’s bid for an eighth win in the last ten contests.
“A captain can win the Ryder Cup, no doubt, but he can lose it, too,” McGinley said. “We won the Ryder Cup in 2002 because of Sam [Torrance].
“He was the difference in his man-management of each player. As much as everybody would have thought he was the rip-roaring, lionesque type of captain, Sam’s meetings were very brief. We would sit in his hotel room and they would never last more than five minutes.
“But he put so much work into me. I would never have holed that putt on the 18th green without Sam. He had prepared me mentally for it. The previous week, I was out of form and Sam hired a car so that I could play the Belfry beforehand.
“All the stands were there but the place was empty. Seagulls and crows were the only ones watching us. On the way back, we sat in the back seat of the car with a bottle of pink champagne and he told me his plan for the week. He told me my role exactly and what my focus would be.”
That role was initially to include playing the 12th and final singles match, only for Torrance to change his mind and move McGinley up to ninth. McGinley was not happy, until Torrance explained the contest had never come down to the last match but ninth could be vital. “I was ten feet tall again,” McGinley recalled in the Irish Examiner. “I wanted to do it for Sam more than anybody, more than myself, more than the team. That’s the effect a captain can have.”
That knowledge of statistics is also something which has rubbed off on McGinley who, by common consent, will be the best-prepared Ryder Cup captain in history. “You can’t get enough information. It would be arrogant to think you know all the answers. I certainly don’t,” he says.
McGinley’s sportsmanship saw him concede a 20-foot putt for a half to JJ Henry on the 18th green in 2006, because he feared his opponent might have been put off when a streaker ran across the green. But, even though he will be up against his boyhood hero in American captain Tom Watson, the Irishman desperately wants to secure his legacy with a win at Gleneagles.
“Winning isn’t everything. Myself and Tom Watson spoke about this the first time we got together as captain and one of the biggest things that came out of that meeting was that this is going to be an incredibly competitive contest, but it’s going to be done so in the right way and the right manner,” McGinley said.
“But, having said that, one of the things that makes the Ryder Cup so special is the electricity between the two teams and within a team too and it’s very important that is kept and doesn’t lead to a pally-pally contest.”