Magical memories of Medinah inspire McGinley as he warms to his new task
“It was in doubt right up until the day of the final meeting,” Paul McGinley says as he remembers the dramatic conclusion to a complicated process which saw him, earlier this month, announced as Europes captain for the Ryder Cup next year.
Fifteen members of the European Tour tournament committee met in Abu Dhabi and, as McGinley reveals, he was anxious that the momentum had swung away from him to Colin Montgomerie.
“By all accounts Montgomerie was in pole position. Of course I was deflated. I kept thinking: ‘What’s going to be the reaction of the players if they don’t get their way? Where’s that going to leave team spirit?’ I didn’t say that to anyone but those words were going round in my head: ‘Wow, with all the vocal support I’ve had from Poulter and Rose and Rory and Lee and Luke , what will it mean if they don’t get the captain they want?’”
Montgomerie proved himself a successful captain at Celtic Manor in 2010 but he remains a divisive figure – and McGinley’s contrasting popularity was plain. Yet the United States’ unlikely choice of Tom Watson as their leader at Gleneagles had startled Europe’s decision-makers.
Watson’s majestic feats in the Majors, and the affection felt towards him in Scotland, seemed to have sent the European committee rushing back towards Montgomerie. His superior playing record and Scottish roots edged him ahead of McGinley.
“The word I had from the players in South Africa was that it was going to be Montgomerie,” McGinley says. “But then, totally unprompted, at his Nike press conference, Rory came out very strongly for me. That’s when things turned in my favour and I got back some momentum.”
McIlroy’s influence, as world No1, was decisive as he also tweeted his support for McGinley. “There’s no doubt Twitter played a big part in this selection,” added McGinley.
“On Twitter Luke Donald could have his say even if he was sitting in America. He could still say something very powerful because, once he puts it out on Twitter, it’s on the ground in Abu Dhabi within minutes and everyone’s talking about it.
McGinley was tempted repeatedly to speak out but he also knew that a dignified silence would be more appropriate. “It was hard and difficult for me, no doubt. I really wanted to get involved in the arguments but I realised at Medinah , after the guys spoke privately to me, that they all wanted me as captain. So I knew I had that support. I didn’t want to be beating my own drum. The players’ drum was going to be a lot louder than mine.
“But I wanted to say that we don’t have anyone of Tom Watson’s stature in Europe, so whoever goes against him is going to be an underdog in terms of their playing record. If you look at the great managers in football, few of them were great players. Show me the correlation between a brilliant player, whether in football or golf, and a brilliant manager? But I couldn’t say that in public.”
McGinley stresses that the 63-year-old Watson was his boyhood hero while also suggesting that there may have been some desperation in the US’s reappointment of him.
“I was surprised. I think they felt they had to do something drastic and different because their strategies weren’t working. So I admire their bravery. But the bravery is born out of the fact they’ve lost seven out of the last nine Ryder Cups.”
The 46-year-old Dubliner believes he holds a clear advantage over Watson.
“One of the facets I’m quite strong about is that players who are still competitive on tour have an insight that others don’t. I have that advantage over Tom because he’s not playing the main tour any more. I am.