European team’s the theme for captain McGinley
Paul McGinley: Jimmy McGuinness is a good friend, but he won't be officially sitting on a Ryder Cup cart at Gleneagles next year.
As serious as the build-up to D-Day was for Paul McGinley in the Ryder Cup captaincy selection process, it didn’t take long for some lighthearted texts from his home city to allow him to relax and for some calm breathing and belly chuckles to replace the tension.
“You can’t beat the Dublin wit,” says McGinley, referring to a text message that did the rounds on his ascension to the hot seat for the match in Gleneagles next year.
“You know the one?” asks McGinley, before adopting a tone a la the comedian Jason Byrne. “January, great month for Ireland. McGinley Ryder Cup captain, Shergar found in Tescos.”
Even passing through Dublin airport the other day for a short visit, the homecoming was greeted with congratulatory shouts and wisecracks from workers and fellow travellers in the terminal. No place like home to keep you in your place.
But, then, McGinley is someone who is secure in his own body. Always has been. From the time a knee injury as a teenager switched his sporting ambitions from Gaelic football to golf, his focus has always been to make the most of his game.
Three Ryder Cup wins, and a World Cup win attest to how that determination was propelled on to the golf course and, now, here he is, the first Irishman to be entrusted with the captaincy of the European Ryder Cup team.
First things first, and McGinley – who acknowledges the role his GAA playing days played in instilling a team ethic into his sporting psyche – and knocks on the head any suggestion that Donegal manager Jimmy McGuinness will be an official part of his back-up team at Gleneagles. McGuinness is a performance consultant with Celtic.
Friend of mine
“Look, it’s safe to say Jimmy is a friend of mine. He’s a guy I’ve known for a number of years, a family friend. He’s a real good friend of my dad (Michael) and he’s been up to our house quite a lot. Like most people who are friends with me, of course I will discuss the Ryder Cup with him.
“I’ll be asking his opinion on this or that. But in terms of him sitting in the cart or riding around with me, no, that’s not going to happen . . . he won’t be officially sitting on the cart and wearing the European colours. No.”
For this one, McGinley is European. “I won’t be playing very strongly the Irish card,” he says.
“I am representing Europe. As much as I am Irish and proud of being Irish, proud of my GAA background and proud of all those things that made me into what I am, at the end of the day this is Paul McGinley representing Europe and it is going to be in Scotland. So, it’s very much a European head I have on.”
He adds: “I have always loved team sport, always been into the psychology of team sport; I didn’t know if I could take that and turn myself into a leader of people. In some ways of course I’m a rookie Ryder Cup captain but in other ways I’m also a very experienced Ryder Cup captain.
“Aside from my playing career, I’ve had two vice-captaincy roles and two captaincies (in the Seve Trophy), so I’m probably the most experienced rookie captain there’s ever been, I know it’s a contradiction, but I do have a lot of experience.”
McGinley is as yet undecided about his potential vice-captains – although there will be a Scottish presence – and claims there was “no problem” between himself and Darren Clarke, who was viewed as a potential captain until withdrawing his name late on in the selection process.
What is required
The past few weeks, since his voting in as captain at a meeting of the PGA European Tour’s tournament committee, McGinley has spent the time “getting an understanding from different people in different areas exactly what is required of me as a captain.”
The initial impression is of the sheer scale of the Ryder Cup captaincy, something which three appearances as a player and two as vice-captain only hinted at.
“I’m focused on what needs to be done. I’ve already had meetings with the tour, discussed a lot of things and there’s a lot of interaction back and forwards. It’s evolving constantly,” admits McGinley.
His busy schedule can be gauged from his activities over this past week alone, which included flying in to support his friend Des Smyth’s youth foundation in Drogheda, a walk around the offices of long-time sponsors Allianz, a first appearance as captain at Gleneagles – where he was welcomed by Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond and presented with a specially commissioned St Andrews putter – and tonight a scheduled appearance on The Late Late Show.
He can expect more travel, including among his upcoming captaincy duties a trip to The Players championship in Sawgrass in May where he plans to touch base with the Europe’s leading players about his plans for the qualifying system for the team. That process is due to start at the Wales Open in September.
And whilst he will be seeking the opinions of players, he doesn’t envisage meddling too drastically with a qualifying system that has seen Europe win seven of the last nine matches.
“Some people will disagree with things I may do or I mightn’t do but, safe to say, the big thing I have got going on is, ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’. We’ve been massively successful in the last decade or two in Europe in Ryder Cup situations.
“We have a template that really works, I will not be straying too far away from what I believe that template to be.”