In a year of firsts, another first for Paul McGinley. Yesterday, as he strolled through the corridors of power in Leinster House, looked at the walls lined with famous faces and soaked in its history, McGinley – the first Irishman to captain a Ryder Cup team – wondered why he had never before visited the building.
Shortly afterwards, he was adding his own bit of heritage: in announcing Des Smyth and Sam Torrance as his vice-captains for Europe's defence of the famous gold trophy which measures 43 centimetres and weighs 1.8 kilograms, the Dubliner was putting down a marker of loyalty to those he has respected in his own career and what he called the "passion" and "astuteness" they would bring to the team room.
McGinley served under Torrance's captaincy when he made his debut as a player in the 2002 match at The Belfry, when he holed the winning putt, and credits Smyth – a vice-captain to Ian Woosnam when the match was held at The K Club in 2006 – with mentoring and guiding him when he first joined the tour. "They've been two big influences one me, two guys I have had enormous respect and implicit trust in," said McGinley, who won't be making any further vice-captain selections until after the team itself is determined, with automatic qualifying concluding at the Italian Open in late August.
For sure, there won't be any wild moves or out-of-the-ordinary moves made by McGinley in his captaincy. Later, sitting on a sofa in the Merrion Hotel across the road from government buildings, McGinley said: "I don't want to be a maverick, coming out of left field with a load of ideas. My job is to take this template that has worked and (other captains) worked so hard to achieve. Sam has been a part of the evolution of that template. Mark James has been part of it. Bernard Gallacher has been part of it. We've evolved this template. For me, my role is to move it forward."
McGinley is scheduled to name his three ‘wild card’ picks on September 2nd, two days after that qualifying process is completed. And he doesn’t intend to add any further vice-captains until after that so that players can “focus on their golf,” as he put it.
In his career path towards attaining the captaincy, McGinley twice captained Seve Trophy teams and was also vice-captain on two occasions (in Celtic Manor and Medinah). Would he be tempted to “groom” someone for captaincy down the road with a similar evolution? “To be honest, I’m a little bit selfish about this and this is about formulating the best team to win this Ryder Cup. I have to be that way.”
Did he know how Tom Watson, the US captain, would react to his appointment? "To be honest, I'm not really bothered what he thinks and I'm sure he's the same with me. We're two heavyweight contenders here, Europe against America. He's going into his corner, I'm going into mine. He's making his plans and I'm making mine. I'm observing and watching what's going on there but I'm not actively involved nor do I have a strong opinion."
McGinley intends to meet up with his opposite number Watson at next month's Masters in Augusta, although the talk will be more convivial with McGinley mindful that the US captain will be competing in the tournament as a past champion.
“I know he is working to a plan and I’m sure he can see what I’m doing . . . I’m concerned with my agenda, my plan. And how we’re doing in Europe,” remarked McGinley, demonstrating the focus on the job at hand although with the caveat that it would be the middle of summer, around the time of the British Open, that the ante will really be raised and he would start to crystallize his thoughts on who would likely make the team and on the matter of his wild cards.
As he put it, “what I’m saying to the players at the moment, who are not on the boil, who are not on the bubble, ‘don’t panic, that’s what team picks are for’. Somebody who comes up with a late run or who shows form over the summer, they’re going to have a strong shout for a pick. If they have a bit of experience or if they’re a rookie, it doesn’t really matter”.
Meanwhile, McGinley received the "Distinguished Services to Golf" award at the Irish Golf Writers' Association annual wards dinner for 2013, sponsored by Carr Golf Group, which took place at Portmarnock Golf Club last night.
Paula Grant, the Irish Ladies Close champion, received the Women's Amateur of the Year and Robbie Cannon claimed the Men's Amateur of the Year. Graeme McDowell, currently competing in the WGC-Cadillac championship, was awarded the Professional of the Year. His award was accepted by his manager Conor Ridge.