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Paul McGinley interview: a ‘wow factor’ Ryder Cup is coming our way

‘I think the golf course is more suited to the European style of player than the Americans'

The piped music beats out of the speaker system built into the ceiling above Paul McGinley's head. He is seated on a cosy armchair in the Westbury Hotel off Grafton Street, Dublin, people discretely sneaking glances in his direction as if second guessing their own eyes. The golfer/captain/commentator is oblivious to the looks from the lunchtime diners, his thoughts on other matters. The Ryder Cup has become part of who he is.

A player for the first time back in 2002, his debut delayed a year by the 9/11 terrorist attack in the USA, and a captain at Gleneagles in 2014, McGinley has done and seen it all.

He believes the latest edition of this biennial encounter, at Le Golf National outside Paris at the weekend, could trump them all. As an insider on the PGA European Tour, he thinks this match will have what he calls the “wow factor, bigger and brasher” in scale than anything witnessed before.

And yet the endgame hasn’t changed from the very first encounter: it is about winning, about what goes on out on the golf course, man against man.


You don't have to be Einstein to know how much McGinley loves the Ryder Cup, how it stirs his soul. When he made his debut at The Belfry in 2002, the European captain Sam Torrance took him in a BMW 7 Series chauffeur-driven car to play the course 12 days before the match and explained in minute detail what his role would be. They played a practice round, and on the way back from Birmingham to London, Sam uncorked a bottle of pink champagne to toast McGinley's arrival as a Ryder Cup player. He was a rookie at 35 years of age, a late bloomer.

But it was when McGinley was back for the week of the match, in the practice days, that he received what he considers the best piece of advice which would stand him well as both player and captain in the years which followed. It came from Jesper Parnevik, and every word which the Swede offered soaked into the Dubliner’s brain.

Surf board

“One day during practice, Jesper said to me, ‘when you get out on the first day, there is an energy that comes from the crowd’. He said, ‘you can almost see it, it is so powerful, so strong. You can feel it. You are charged. There is two ways of riding that energy.

"One is you take it and you use it like a surf board and you ride it and engage with the crowd. You hit a shot and you shout with the crowd, like an Ian Poulter would do.

"Or, you do what a Bernhard Langer does, the energy is there, the pressure is there, but you distance yourself, detach, get involved in your own game. Neither one is right, neither one is wrong. You've got to determine what one to do. The worse place to be is half and half'."

He was always a good listener, and those words would serve him well in the white hot environment of the Ryder Cup where he was on winning teams on all four occasions, three as a player (2002, 2004 and 2006) and one as a captain (in 2014).

On the outside looking in now, McGinley is intrigued by the narrative that greeted the respective captains' picks. Thomas Bjorn was heavily criticised in many quarters for selecting Sergio Garcia. McGinley's intrigue, though, has more to do with the lack of comment about Jim Furyk's selection of Phil Mickelson.

Four years ago, in Scotland, McGinley's master plan was one of military precision executed to perfection by his foot soldiers. The vanquished didn't take the beating too well. The clock had ticked less than an hour after the closing ceremony when Mickelson decided it was time to have a cut at his captain, Tom Watson, a move which ultimately triggered the so-called task force to save the USA from themselves.

European soil

Mickelson is back to the scene of the crime, as it were. Back in Europe, trying to win. "It's funny to hear all that noise criticising Thomas's picking of Sergio, a guy who has won this year [in Singapore] and who finished well in France [top 10 in the French Open] while Mickelson, who hasn't had a top 10 since May, who has been playing really poorly, has avoided all criticism as a pick.

“Of the 24 players, Phil is right down at the very end of the scale in terms of form. But there’s been no criticism. Also, he is coming back on to European soil having been the guy who put the task force in place. There is pressure on Phil to deliver. Since the task force came into being the USA has played three team events, two Presidents Cups and a Ryder Cup, but this is a different [level of opposition] to what they faced in those three. This will tell us a lot about where America is.”

The rights and wrongs of how Mickelson handled matters in the losing press conference can be viewed through different shaded glasses. McGinley still believes it was the wrong time, the wrong place to air dirty linen so publicly.

“What he had to say, by all means probably needed to be said, but there was a time and a place, and for me that wasn’t the place to do it within 30 minutes of the final putt being dropped.

"In Europe, when we have had challenges in the past, we righted the ship, but we did it behind closed doors. There is a lot of pressure on Phil coming back to European soil, there's going to be a lot of focus on him."

What of Garcia’s selection?

"I personally am a great believer in form. Thomas has picked a player out of form, albeit with a big reputation. That's his prerogative as captain. I don't think the other three picks were that controversial. Matt Wallace won three times [this season], but with all due respects they are second-rate tournaments, they're not at the top of the elite, he didn't beat stellar fields in any of them. He is a player coming in the future, this one was probably a little bit too early.

Form player

“Rafa Cabrera Bello is the one, he’s higher ranking that some of the team in the world, showed a lot of consistency, played so well in Hazeltine two years ago, and I think he is the logical one you’d look at as the form player with a bit of experience who missed out.

“Sergio is proven in a team room, has delivered in the past. My view would be more on form than reputation, but it is Thomas’s view to take. There were eight guys there and no matter what four he picked you lose, because you could build a strong case for all four and it was up to his discretion which four of the eight.

“He chose the four most experienced ones, and we will see where that goes, and there is no doubt if it doesn’t work out and Europe don’t win, there will be a lot of talk around his picks.”

A Ryder Cup is a long week, with long days. The breakfast buffet opens at 5am, 2½ hours before the first tee time. In McGinley’s case, more than 16 hours after those first stirrings of the day, it was 9pm before he gave his captain’s talk, confined to 15 minutes. Other captains, in his own playing experience, have talked for over an hour. Torrance, in his own style, conducted his while lying on the bed in his hotel suite. There is no one right way.

But conserving energy is a key in what is a tiring week when players, who normally move to the beat of their own drum, have to follow a structured schedule that includes specified practice times, functions, media requirements.

“What I have always admired about Ian Poulter is that, yes, his energy levels come out on the golf course, but he is charging the battery away from it. He gets a lot of physio, he is quiet, doesn’t engage that much, does his thing.

“Recharging is really, really important behind the scenes. Having a crazy chaotic, evening is not really. I didn’t like the table tennis. The Americans love it, but personally for me that’s [using up] energy. It is fun, it is banter, but it is also competitive, it is also energy -sapping. I prefer them to be watching a movie, relaxing.”

Home team

And then there is the home advantage. Or is it?

“Look, 90 per cent of matches in the last 10 years in Solheim Cup, Presidents Cup and Ryder Cup, the three biggest team events in golf, have been won by the home team. That’s not a coincidence. It is huge.

"I think America are favourites, but I think the golf course is more suited to the European style of player than the Americans. Their bigger hitters can only hit four drives. Brooks Koepka. Dustin Johnson. Justin Thomas. All rely so heavily on a driver to dominate, and how they play the game, and they're not going to be able to use their biggest weapon.

“That’s only four of 14 holes. At a regular PGA Tour event it is 12 out of 14, and sometimes 14 out of 14. There is nowhere to hit it. I don’t care how long or how straight you are, the fairways stop and water comes in or something at 290 yards. There’s nowhere to go after that. The golf course for me is key to who wins.”

Sounds like advantage Europe on that score at least.