IT’S now just 199 days to the Ryder Cup after the latest milestone was reached yesterday in a journey that started way back on 28 September 2001 – the date it was announced the event would be staged in the home of golf for the first time since the Muirfield match at 1973.
Tickets have been allocated, volunteers recruited, contracts dished out and work, the significant stuff anyway, completed on the PGA Centenary Course at Gleneagles, which was covered by a blanket of snow a month ago but, according to a trusty source, has since dried out extremely well.
It’s still way too early to know exactly how the two teams are going to look for the event’s 40th staging, although Henrik Stenson, Victor Dubuisson and now Jamie Donaldson all seem locked in for Europe while Jimmy Walker, with his four victories on the 2014 PGA Tour schedule, and WGC-Cadillac Championship winner Patrick Reed are both in strong positions to make the US side.
But, as the respective qualifying campaigns intensify over the next few months and those line-ups start to take shape, it is going to be fascinating to hear the thoughts of European captain Paul McGinley and his opposite number, Tom Watson.
Ever since he was appointed to take on Watson, a five-times Open champion, I’ve either heard the occasional comment or noticed it on threads that McGinley having to lock horns with possibly the game’s most respected figure in Scotland – yes, even above Jack Nicklaus – is a mismatch and one that has handed the Americans a psychological advantage.
Seriously, if anyone is worrying about that being the case, then don’t because nothing could be further from the truth. Europe’s defence of that prized gold trophy simply couldn’t be in better hands than those of the 47-year-old Dubliner, the first Irishman to hold the captaincy.
Sure, his playing career holds no comparison to that of Watson. Nor, for that matter, the last five European captains – working backwards, Jose Maria Olazabal, Colin Montgomerie, Nick Faldo, Ian Woosnam and Bernhard Langer. And, Faldo apart, their stature definitely played a part in securing victories during an era in which Europe has won seven of the last nine jousts.
What McGinley’s CV lacks in significant victories, however, is compensated for in terms of experience in a team environment, all the way back to his Gaelic football days through to three Ryder Cup appearances as a player, two more as an assistant captain and two stints as Great Britain & Ireland’s captain in the Seve Trophy.
Standing on his own two feet in the latter, McGinley made a huge impression on not only his players but some of my often cynical colleagues, though it wasn’t until a press conference during the 2012 Johnnie Walker Championship at Gleneagles that I first realised what all the fuss was about.
As his passion for the event and European golf as an entity shone through that day, it was evident then that McGinley was a Ryder Cup captain in the making and, based on everything he said and, also, the way he has said it since his appointment in Abu Dhabi a year past January, Scotland can feel proud to have him in that role for its long-awaited turn to stage the event again.
Will it ensure a European win? Of course not. While the form book certainly points to that, the last two matches in particular have been extremely tight and, if the Americans gel again as well as they did in the foursomes and fourballs at Medinah before blowing it in the singles, then the home side will have a tough task on their hands.
What can be guaranteed, though, is that every single player wearing European colours that week will step on to the first tee feeling as though they have been talked through every possible scenario, as was the case when McGinley made his debut under Sam Torrance at The Belfry in 2002.
Nothing, not even the most miniscule thing you could dream of, will be left to chance by McGinley, both in the build-up and the week of the event itself. His appointment of Torrance and Des Smyth as his first two assistants captains wasn’t a case of reacting to Watson choosing Ray Floyd and Andy North, two equally experienced campaigners, in his backroom team. Heck, McGinley could probably have made that announcement the day after his own appointment if he’d chosen to.
In short, the European captain has everything under control as that countdown clock ticks louder and louder. Of course we want a win on Scottish soil – even if it has to be at the expense of the great Tom Watson. Just as important, though, is that we have someone at the helm displaying class and dignity and that’s one department Paul McGinley certainly doesn’t play second fiddle to his opposite number.