John Huggan: Another captain’s pick for McGinley

Paul McGinley led Europe to an impressive victory last year, but the Irishman has spent little time actually playing, only competing once in the past five months. Picture: Getty
Paul McGinley led Europe to an impressive victory last year, but the Irishman has spent little time actually playing, only competing once in the past five months. Picture: Getty
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IN A way it’s a pity. Given what went down last September at Gleneagles, Paul McGinley is never going to be remembered first or last for all that he achieved during a distinguished career as a professional golfer.

A World Cup win alongside Padraig Harrington for his native Ireland, four European Tour victories and the match-clinching putt in the 2002 Ryder Cup at The Belfry; all will forever be mere footnotes to his outstanding and ground-breaking captaincy of the 2014 European Ryder Cup side. Which is not to say the 48-year-old Dubliner has a problem with any of the above. Steeped in the lore of the biennial contest, McGinley is rightly chuffed by how his near-faultless contribution to the Old World’s convincing victory played out. For one thing, his public profile has increased greatly.

For me, the whole thing was like being asked to produce a movie. I had to come up with a script. I set the scene

“My life has changed over the last couple of years,” he says. “I get recognised a lot more. People have a different perception of me too. I get asked a lot of questions by those who think I have the answers. My opinion is sought more. But what has been nice is the respect I get, particularly from Irish people. They seem proud of the fact that I represented them well. That means an awful lot to me.”

His compatriots are far from alone. McGinley’s peerless leadership provoked countless compliments from across the golfing world. To use what has become his favourite word, the “template” for success is one his successor, Darren Clarke, will surely be leaning on heavily in the run-up to the next Ryder Cup at Hazeltine next year.

“Tony Jacklin started it all,” points out McGinley. “Sam Torrance was massive in terms of communication and man management. Bernhard Langer was so organised. Ian Woosnam kept things simple and logical. I learned from them all. All I did was take everything that had already been done and move it on. I wasn’t doing anything new.

“For example, we have always had pictures dotted around the team room – and messages on those images. I made those relevant to my team talks. And we’d always had some blue in the team room. I made it all blue, the carpets, the wallpaper, the curtains – everything. But it’s not right for me to take the plaudits for doing it all my own way. I didn’t change the game plan that much.”

Amid his commendable modesty, however, McGinley is well aware of the attributes he brought to the job. He was, by a distance, the most prepared captain ever, having acted as a vice-captain under Colin Montgomerie and Jose Maria Olazabal and twice serving as captain of winning Great Britain & Ireland sides in the Seve Trophy against – on paper at least – stronger line-ups from the Continent of Europe.

“All of that was massive for me,” he says. “I knew what I was doing. And that was the biggest factor in me getting the job. I was prepared. And I had proved myself. In some ways, winning those Seve Trophies gave me more satisfaction than the Ryder Cup. I was going almost purely on instinct back then. And we were big underdogs on both occasions.

“It’s down to the players in the end though. It’s one thing to put a plan in place, it’s a whole other thing executing it. The players are the ones who do that. They do the hard work. At Gleneagles, the front line was the players and caddies. The next line was the vice captains following each game. And I was the third line. My role was to plot the next move. While a session was taking place, my influence was zero. I was working on the next session. My job wasn’t to go up to Rory McIlroy on the fairway and say, ‘great shot, keep going’. That wasn’t my role.”

Not surprisingly, given his propensity for forward thinking, McGinley’s nimble brain was moving on to the next project almost as soon as the Ryder Cup was over.

“The fact that we were so well prepared meant that all I did during the week was administer the plan,” he says. “All the heavy lifting and thinking had been done over the previous two years. I had it all planned what I was going to say at each meeting. So I wasn’t reacting to anything, good or bad. We were just sticking to the plan.

“As a result, the matches didn’t take a massive amount out of me. There was no feeling of relief. It wasn’t like playing where you reach an emotional peak then you crash. For me, the whole thing was like being asked to produce a movie. I had to come up with a script. I set the scene. I put things in place. I liaised with the ‘actors’ and prepared them. Then on opening night, I let them do their own thing. So when that was all such a success it was like I just went back to my normal life.”

Which is what exactly? McGinley has yet to decide between troubleshooting corporate advisor, television pundit, or a return to a (almost) full-time playing career.

“I’m doing commentary at the World Golf Championships and the majors for Sky,” he continues. “So it’s not a full-time gig. I really enjoy it. I’ve also done a bit for the Golf Channel in the States since the Ryder Cup. And I’m going to the Presidents Cup for them later this year.

“I also have a lot of corporate stuff going on. I’ve been in New York three times this year. I’ll be in Asia in a few months too. My sponsors are using me. I’ve become a bit of a brand, I suppose. I seem to be seen in a kind of leadership role. Which can be difficult. I have to live up to that and give lots of smart answers. Answers I often don’t have, by the way. What I can do, though, is relate a lot of what I have learned and observed in team environments to business.”

OK, but what about the playing side of things? Again, McGinley’s mind goes back to Gleneagles.

“The last thing I said to the players on Saturday night before the singles was that it had been an honour for me to be their captain,” he says. “But however much I enjoyed it, them going out in front of 65,000 people – all looking for a reason to scream – was something I envied. There is nothing like playing.

“I’ve competed in only one event – in Malaysia – over the last five months. I have so many commitments. But I’d like to think I will still be competitive when I’m 50 and be able to do what Monty has done on the Champions Tour. Not just go and play, be competitive and win.

“All of that might not happen though. My golf may not be good enough. So right now I’m keeping all my balls in the air. A path will open up. It might be golf. It might be television. It might be business. We’ll see. I’m in a transitional period.”

Not for long though, if past history is anything to go by.