Goodbye to Hill 16 has meant hello Ryder Cup captaincy for Paul McGinley
A career-ending knee injury forced him to switch to his other sporting passion: golf. And the rest is Ryder Cup history
Paul McGinley, European Ryder Cup captain, at a Ryder Cup press conference on March 6th in Dublin. Photograph: Patrick Bolger/Getty Images
Paul McGinley celebrates with the team on the 18th green after their victory over the USA at the 35th Ryder Cup at Oakland Hills in Michigan. Photograph: Donald Miralle/Getty Images
Recently, Paul McGinley sat perched in the front row of the Allianz box close to the Hill 16 end at Croke Park. As he looked down from on high to the pitch below, Dublin outplaying Kildare, he could have been forgiven for thinking of what might have been. As a young child, even into his teenage years, his sporting dream was to wear the famed sky blue jersey. This was a time before sponsorship logos were even allowed on the front of such garments. Another sporting world.
Fate, as we know, took McGinley – the son of Donegal parents and raised in the south Dublin suburb of Rathfarnham where, as it happened, Pádraig Harrington and Peter Lawrie had followed him into the same primary school – in a different direction. A career-ending knee injury forced him to switch to his other sporting passion: golf. The pain of that injury brought with it the sweetener of a life as a professional golfer, even if the eight operations he has had on the knee serve as a constant reminder of those football days.
Who, in truth, could have foretold the then five-handicapper would mature into a Walker Cup player as an amateur or go on to a professional career that would bring honour and glory in the World Cup and three times as a Ryder Cup player? Who would have dared to predict McGinley would become the first Irishman to captain Europe in a Ryder Cup, as he will do in Gleneagles in Scotland in September?
McGinley’s pathway into the professional game wasn’t typical, even back then. Although these days fledgling professionals are inclined to jump into the paid game and its seemingly bottomless pit of money with alacrity, McGinley got a marketing degree in Dublin Institute of Technology, worked in the heart of the European Union in Brussels and furthered his education at university in San Diego, where he got a degree in international business. Only then, did he jump into the bear pit of the pro game.
Now, here he is, a history maker: the first Irishman to captain a team in the Ryder Cup, an event where the Irish have, time and time again, come up trumps when cast down the order of the final day singles where fortitude and courage are required. O’Connor Junior. Darcy. Walton. McGinley himself. McDowell.
Getting the captaincy was no certainty, even if McGinley – a two-time vice-captain in the Ryder Cup – seemed to tick so many boxes. A campaign of sorts unfolded in the run-up to the decision-making, which took place in Abu Dhabi in January of 2013. Darren Clarke threw his hat into the ring before, seeing the writing on the wall, taking it back out. Colin Montgomerie, captain at Celtic Manor in 2010, began to subtly make his case through the media. The argument went that Europe needed a strong man to counteract the experience and legend of Tom Watson, seen as a somewhat surprising choice by the PGA of America when awarded the US captaincy.
In the end, McGinley, who diplomatically and bravely kept his own counsel, was given the job with the help of others going public. Rory McIlroy, then the world number one, Luke Donald, Ian Poulter and Justin Rose were among those to support McGinley’s candidacy.
‘The right choice’
“It will be a very disappointing day for the European Tour if Paul McGinley doesn’t get it. I’m afraid politics is getting in the way of making the right choice. Monty has done it already. He’s been a winning captain. I don’t think he has to go back and do it again,” said McIlroy.