IN THE end, it came down to player power. And no-one spoke out more vociferously on behalf of Paul McGinley in the final hours of the 2014 Ryder Cup captaincy campaign than world No 1 Rory McIlroy.
His strong support of the 46-year-old Irishman, with backing from the likes of Ian Poulter, Luke Donald and Justin Rose, carried exactly the sort of weight it was hoped it would.
The European Tour tournament committee took their views on board and, although Colin Montgomerie could have been forgiven for getting his hopes up of a second stint as captain, it proved to be a non-starter.
After beating the Americans seven times in the last nine jousts, it was decided, rightly so surely, there was no need for Europe to break an unwritten rule of the captaincy being a one-off.
McGinley felt he had a “strong hand” but, as every man and his dog expressed opinions about the appointment of Jose Maria Olazabal’s successor, the Dubliner kept his own counsel.
It could have been a risky strategy but, to his delight and also those who’d supported him – McIlroy was at the announcement so that he could be one of the first to congratulate the new captain – it paid off.
After a meeting that lasted two hours and 15 minutes, although only an hour of that was taken up by the captaincy discussion, McGinley emerged in the Regal Ballroom in the St Regis Saadiyat Island Resort Hotel wearing a smile as wide as the Irish Sea. He revealed he’d spent an agonising wait in his hotel room in the company of his brother, Michael, after being asked to leave as the other members of the committee considered their options.
After being summoned back, he felt the walk along the corridor was never going to end but, when it did, he was ecstatic when tournament committee chairman Thomas Bjorn broke the good news to him.
“I’m absolutely thrilled and delighted to have this honour,” said McGinley, who played on three winning Ryder Cup teams, holing the winning putt for Sam Torrance and his team at The Belfry in 2002. “To lead the European team, arguably the strongest in depth on the European Tour in its history, is going to be a huge honour.
“It’s a very, very humbling experience to be sitting in this seat and it’s a week that I’m really, really looking forward to. It will be a whole new experience for me in terms of being a captain. I’ve been there many times as a player, and also as a vice-captain, and I’m really looking forward to this opportunity.
“I knew I had the support of the players. I thought my hand was very strong to be the captain. But I felt that, the more I would say, the more my chances would lessen. I read and followed every word that went down the last few weeks and watched with interest. Like a yo-yo, my chances seemed to go up and down and up and down. I thought that I’ve had a really good apprenticeships in two Seve Trophies so I’m very pleased to be in this situation.
“I can’t wait to get into the role of being the captain, working with the players, particularly the players that have shown such huge support for me obviously in the last few weeks.”
It was no surprise that he highlighted McIlroy in particular for offering his support, the world No 1 insisting that McGinley “deserved” his chance. He also heaped praise on him for the way he had captained the last two GB&I teams in the Seve Trophy.
“Rory, thanks for the endorsement,” said McGinley to the two-times major winner standing at the back of the room, where Padraig Harrington also appeared later to offer his congratulations to the new captain.
Paul Lawrie, Sandy Lyle and Richie Ramsay were among the flood of people to do likewise, either by text or Twitter, showing how popular McGinley is in the game. “So many players came out totally unprompted on my side, and that’s a very humbling place to be for a professional golfer when your peers think that much of you,” he admitted.
McGinley insisted that “my life was not going to end” if he’d lost out to Montgomerie, who’d emerged as the other main contender after Darren Clarke, the long-time bookmakers’ favourite, withdrew from the running.
But, having landed his dream job after serving as a vice-captain in the last two matches, both of which were also wins, he’s relishing the prospect of leading Europe into battle against an American team that will be captained by five-time Open champion Tom Watson.
“I’m going to take this with both hands and grab that Cup [reaching with both hands for the Ryder Cup sitting in front of him] and represent Europe as best I can,” he said. “I want to represent the players who have represented me so strongly to turn that support back on them and, if Rory doesn’t make the team, I think he’s got a good chance of a pick now!
“I’m relishing the thought of taking on one of my great heroes, Tom Watson. He’s not only a wonderful person but a great ambassador for the game of golf. I’ve never had an opportunity to go up against him in a playing sense. To go up against him in a captaincy sense will be a real thrill for me.”
Along with Watson, McGinley’s appointment was welcomed by Tiger Woods. “I’ve got to get to know Paul pretty well over the years and more so over the last two Ryder Cups given his role as a vice-captain,” said the 14-times major winner.
“He’s going to make a great European Ryder Cup captain as I’ve seen for myself how popular he is and how well he’s liked by everybody. So I can see Paul being a good rival to Tom Watson], and our American Team will need to give him every respect given also he’s got such great record for Europe.”