Magical memories of Medinah inspire McGinley as he warms to his new task
“But, as a boy, Tom Watson was my hero – not just because he used to win but because of the way he won, the class he personified, his endurance under pressure. That authority was very impressive – as was that air of destiny when he walked down the fairway. That always appealed to me. And I devoured what he had to say in the golf magazines. If there was one player I tried to model myself on, it would have been Tom Watson.
“I wrote down his words about ‘desire, dedication, determination and a little bit of talent’ being needed to succeed on the back of my copy books. He made talent insignificant and I identified with that. I wasn’t born to play this game. I’m not 6ft 2in, I don’t hit the ball a million miles and I felt those words summed me up.”
It is fitting that McGinley should identify so strongly with another understated man, Sam Torrance, as the Ryder Cup captain who taught him the most about leadership.
“It was my first Ryder Cup in 2002 and it had been delayed a year because of 9/11. Sam had four players, me included, who were off form. Twelve months earlier we were in the midst of a great season but a year on I was very mediocre – languishing about 40th in the order of merit. I was really worried but Sam helped me come out flying. I played to a level that week that I hadn’t come close to doing all year.
“Sam wasn’t about team speeches and speaking like Braveheart for half an hour. His captaincy was much more subtle. His first step with me was to offer a real sense of inclusivity. Lee Westwood was also off-form and there was a big world event we hadn’t qualified for. So we went and played with Sam at The Belfry. All the stands were up and everything was in place the week before the Ryder Cup. We got a real feel for the magnitude of the event.
“Afterwards we got in the car and Sam brought out a bottle of champagne and two glasses in the back of his big 7-series BMW that he had chauffeur-driven. During that car journey back to London he told me his plans for the week.
“My role was to play three matches and I’d start on the afternoon of the first day. It was a sign of the trust he placed in me as a rookie player and I clearly benefited.”
McGinley famously sank the putt which won the Ryder Cup that year and he remembers being inspired by Torrance’s simple phrase – “Do it for me” – as he prepared to make golfing history. “The sense inside me grew so strong – that I wanted to do it for Sam. I love looking back at the psychology of it and, if you study that putt, you’ll see the first thing I did afterwards was to put my arms in the air and turn straight to the players and Sam.
“I jumped up in the air – looking at them. I don’t understand football players who score and then run away from their team-mates towards the crowd. Surely you’re doing it for your team-mates and not the crowd? Look at Poulter. When he holed that putt at Medinah last year he immediately turned to the team. That’s the body language of a great team player.”
McGinley’s unbeaten record in the Ryder Cup is exemplary for he has won three as a player and two as vice-captain – but he singles out the last victory as the most important.
“Medinah was a massive learning curve and a humbling experience. I don’t think we got a million things wrong in terms of our tactics but the Americans came out so strong and we slightly underestimated them. As much as we thought we were on a wave when it came to winning the Ryder Cup we got battered for two days.