THERE were golf anoraks aplenty at Gleneagles yesterday. Some were being pulled on during squally showers. One was holding court in the media centre for the £1.4 million Johnnie Walker Championship, which starts today over the PGA Centenary Course.
Paul McGinley has been at the top of many lists to captain the European team when the Ryder Cup is staged at the same venue in 2014. Out of respect for Jose Maria Olazabal, who leads his side into action against the Americans at Medinah in just over a month’s time, the Irishman declined to offer his own views on that subject.
He was perfectly happy, however, to talk generally about the Ryder Cup and, listening to him wax lyrical about the event, it’s easy to see why Olazabal has retained McGinley as a vice captain, a position he first held for Colin Montgomerie when Europe won at Celtic Manor two years ago. The 45-year-old predicted the visitors will face one of their toughest battles in the event’s recent history in Chicago but is hoping Olazabal can prove as good a captain as Sam Torrance, the man singled out by McGinley when he looked back over his three winning appearances in the biennial joust.
“Of all the Ryder Cups I’ve played in, I probably put this one up on par with The Belfry in 2002, when Sam was captain,” he said. “In the other ones, I always felt we had a stronger team and looked good. But that year I think we did incredibly well to win.”
Holing the winning putt – he secured a vital half point in the last-day singles against Jim Furyk – made it more memorable for McGinley, who reckoned the 15½-12½ success had been entirely down to the exceptional captaincy of Torrance.
“We won because of one reason, the captain,” he added. “There’s no doubt about that and I think anybody on that team will tell you why. He got me motivated to play in my first Ryder Cup after my form had dipped in the 12-month delay [due to the 9/11 terrorist attacks on America].
“One of the things he did was take myself and Lee Westwood to The Belfry the week before the Ryder Cup when neither of us were exempt for the WGC-American Express Championship at Mount Juliet in Ireland.
“I drove up with him from London and, although it was like a ghost town, all the stands were up and we had a really good game. On the way back home, I remember us sitting in the back of the car driving us and, over a bottle of pink champagne Sam had got, he told me his plan for Ryder Cup week. He went through every player, what role they were going to play on the team and then he said, ‘right, this is your role. This is what you are going to do, this is what I expect of you, this is who you’ll be playing with and this is when you won’t be playing.
“It gave me a huge sense of inclusion straight away. Here I was a rookie feeling a little bit off my game and a little bit coy about playing in my first Ryder Cup but the captain was giving me his whole plan. That was a huge thing for me. I was made to feel a very important member of his team. I also came away from that journey without a headache – as let’s just say he drank most of the champagne!”
As for the role Torrance filled during the event, he added: “How he man-managed me that week was just incredible. The loyalty I felt when I walked over the bridge [on the way to the 18th green] on the Sunday was something special. After all the work he had done for me that week, there was no way I was missing the putt.”
McGinley, a two-time GB&I winning skipper in the Seve Trophy, was delighted to be re-appointed by Olazabal as a vice captain along with Darren Clarke and Thomas Bjorn for Medinah, the trio set to be joined by a fourth one on Monday, with Miguel Angel Jimenez the likely choice of his fellow Spaniard.
“My role is to provide information to the captain and, personally, I love the tactics side of it, love the motivational side of it, love the team element of it and love being in the team room,” said McGinley in true anorak mode.
“I’m intrigued by how Ryder Cups have been won and lost over the years. I’ve asked a lot of people a lot of questions, not just from our side.
“I’ve always enjoyed having a beer with the American players or captain afterwards, asking them their strategy and for the week and why they made certain decisions.”
One player McGinley is looking forward to working with in Chicago is Paul Lawrie, heaping praise on the Aberdonian for clinching a Ryder Cup return 13 years after his one and only previous appearance in the event. “I’m a huge admirer of what he’s done,” he said. “He brings experience as well as form. He ticks a lot of boxes and it’s great to have him on the team.”
Praise indeed from a Ryder Cup anorak.