JUST as a ringtone elsewhere in the Media Centre played the iconic tune from The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, it seemed entirely appropriate that Paul McGinley should paint a picture of next year’s Ryder Cup being of a gunslingers’ shoot-out at Gleneagles.
While the Irishman and his United States counterpart, Tom Watson, met for a cosy chat over dinner during last month’s Open Championship at Muirfield and have the utmost respect for each other, both are also fierce competitors. So there will be no love-in when they lock horns in 13 months’ time.
“One of the things Tom and I spoke about was that, as much as the Ryder Cup is going to be played with full integrity and with a lot of respect among the 24 players, there’s also going to be that electricity and that edge between the two teams,” insisted McGinley.
“It’s important that the Ryder Cup doesn’t lose that and doesn’t become too friendly and pally-pally. I don’t think there’s any danger of that, but I can assure you that under our captaincy that won’t happen.
“It’s about passion and we know that there’s a big wounded animal in the American team after losing the last two Ryder Cups by one point on each occasion. I’m very aware of that and all our players are, too.
“We know that we are going to have to perform extremely well to win here and there’s no doubt the American team will be enhanced and stronger with Tom Watson as captain.”
Recalling that meeting with one of his boyhood heroes in East Lothian – the first time they’d got together for a chinwag since their respective appointments – McGinley added: “Tom is a very tough and hard man, but I don’t mean that in a derogatory sense. He’s a very straight-shooter and he’s a guy with a huge amount of integrity.
“He’s a guy I’ve always admired – not just throughout my career but before I came out on Tour as well – and, if I was in any doubt that I’m really up against it, there was certainly no doubt after that meeting.”
Back sitting in the same seat where, 12 months ago, he’d so eloquently displayed his credentials to captain Europe in the first Ryder Cup to be played in the home of golf in more than 40 years, McGinley’s passion for the job shone like a beacon once again.
He described the past few months, since his appointment in Abu Dhabi back in January, as a “real whirlwind” and is relishing “milestones” such as this week’s Johnnie Walker Championship being the last on the PGA Centenary Course before the match against the Americans as well as the qualifying race for his team starting in Wales next week.
The 46-year-old insisted he wasn’t surprised that only two members from last year’s winning team at Medinah – defending champion Paul Lawrie and Gleneagles regular Francesco Molinari – were in this week’s field due to a clash with the opening event in the FedEx Cup Play-Offs in America.
“I think disappointed would not be the right word to use,” he replied to being asked about the likes of Rory McIlroy, Lee Westwood, Justin Rose and Ian Poulter all playing in The Barclays in New Jersey instead of making the effort to play the Perthshire course competitively for the final time before the biennial joust. “I understand that and, if you look at when we played tournaments in Ireland and in Wales [before the Ryder Cups in those countries in 2006 and 2010], there was always a large number of prospective players who didn’t play in those events.
“Guys like Justin and Lee have played this golf course in the past and players adapt very quickly to getting to know a golf course, as I remember from when we played in Detroit [in 2004]. I had never seen the course there [Oakland Hills] until the Tuesday morning.”
For those who have made the effort to support this week’s event, including a posse of Scots led by defending champion Lawrie, it is a chance to lay down a marker in the thick dossier that is being compiled by the first Irishman to hold the European captaincy.
“I’m a great believer in horses for courses,” declared McGinley after naming his own newly-formed foundation as one of the four charities that will benefit from next year’s event, the others being the Friends of St Margaret’s Hospital, Perth & Kinross Disability Sports and Quarriers.
“It’s no coincidence that you see players coming back year after year to a certain courses and doing well as it suits their eye and their game. So, of course, I’ll be watching closely how players perform this week and have played here in the past. That [winning on Sunday] would be a big marker that I would look closely at when it comes to making my three wild-card picks.”
Another event that McGinley will be scrutinising is the Seve Trophy in October, when Sam Torrance will lead a Great Britain & Ireland side into battle against a Continental Europe team with Jose Maria Olazabal at the helm.
“It’s significant because I think so much of Sam,” replied McGinley when asked if Torrance’s appointment pointed to the man who led Europe to victory in 2002 pointed to him being earmarked for an assistant’s role in Scotland next September.
“He was a wonderful captain for me; we spend a lot of time together and play a lot of social golf together – a lot of money games and he’s got a lot of my money that I’ve yet to get back!
“Everybody can read between the lines that I’m maybe thinking along those lines, but let’s see how the Seve Trophy goes and, as I’ve always said, it won’t be until the middle of next year that I start putting things into place.”
As far as the playing side of the Seve Trophy is concerned, McGinley said he will be “encouraging everybody to play” but, at the same time, is keen to see some of the upcoming talent in the European game involved in the four-day match.
“I’m not really going to be too bothered if the top players don’t come because I see it as a really good stepping stone,” he insisted. “I know what the Luke Donalds and Ian Poulters of the world can do in team events.
“It’s the younger guys I’m really looking at with the Seve Trophy. Looking back to the first time I was a captain in the Seve Trophy, I had Graeme McDowell and Rory McIlroy on the team and both of them can vouch that it was a big step from them to play team golf at professional level for they went on to the Ryder Cup.”