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McGinley Deserves Ryder Captaincy

Rory McIlroy was on the Irishman's side for the captaincy

Posted Jan 17, 2013 by Dermot Gilleece

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Within minutes of his first press conference as Ryder Cup captain, Paul McGinley received a warm, congratulatory embrace from Rory McIlroy.  Keenly aware of how supportive the world number one had been to his cause, McGinley declared with a broad smile: “If Rory doesn’t make the team, he’ll be my vice captain.”  It was a nice Irish finish to a memorable evening in Abu Dhabi.

Widely acknowledged among his fellow countrymen as a late developer, McGinley has eventually come out at a leader in his own right - the first Irish captain in Ryder Cup history.  In doing so, he will tread where such luminaries as Christy O’Connor Snr and Des Smyth have not trod among a list of 19 Irish representatives in various sides, dating back to 1947.   And it was good to be there to see it happen.

So it is that like an accomplished actor who has graduated to all the classic roles, McGinley is set to apply his skills to off-stage direction. "I've always been a slow learner," he conceded.  "When I played amateur golf it took me quite a while to become established and the process has been the same in professional ranks."

He went on: "As an ambitious player, I might have become frustrated had I been taking one step forward and two steps back.  But essentially, it has been progress all the way, since I turned professional after the Walker Cup in 1991."  The team concept has always fascinated him, which may explain the unexpectedly strong impact he made in three Ryder Cup appearances, starting in 2002 at The Belfry where a nine-foot putt in his singles match on the 18th, secured overall victory for Europe.

Four tournament victories, even though they include the prestigious Volvo Masters, appear relatively modest when compared with his leading contemporaries.  But team combat brought him to admirable heights when he partnered Padraig Harrington to a memorable triumph in the World Cup at Kiawah Island in 1997.

While acknowledging his long-time position as the third-ranked Irish player behind Harrington and Darren Clarke - at one stage a rival for Gleneagles - he has now outstripped them for a coveted role. And like the development of his playing career, the top job was achieved through quiet efficiency based on solid foundations.

As a traditionalist, he talks of playing quite a bit of golf at Sunningdale, “where you can see old photographs in the clubhouse of the course as it used to be.  And for the most part, it was barren land.  When I look at those courses, I begin to appreciate the inspired design decisions which were made by far-sighted architects all those years ago.”

He went on:  “With this feeling for history, I can assure all the people of Scotland that there will be very much a Scottish theme to what I’ll be doing at Gleneagles in 2014.  And to do it as a rival captain to Tom Watson, my boyhood hero, will make it all the more special.”

Though the right, diplomatic noises were made by committee chairman, Thomas Bjorn after the meeting, it can be taken that all was not plain sailing for McGinley. From soundings made among the committee members earlier in the day, there was clearly strong support in certain quarters for Colin Montgomerie to make a comeback, having led the side to victory at Celtic Manor in 2010.

In this context, my feeling is that McIlroy’s support for McGinley had a huge bearing on the outcome.  He made his position crystal clear, earlier in the day. “I have a very strong opinion about this,” he said. “I really think Paul deserves it.  He’s been a great player and a great personality for the European Tour over the years, and a great captain.  I played under him in the Vivendi Seve Trophy in 2009 and thought he did a great job.  And from all the captains that I’ve played under at various stages of my career, I think he was the best.  He really took a lot from what Bernhard Langer did in 2004 (as European captain at Oakland Hills) and left no stone unturned.  I think he will just approach the captaincy at Gleneagles in the right way.”  

An Irish Ryder Cup captain was unquestionably a long time in the making.  But in finally nailing down the job, his country’s one-time number three managed to reap the ultimate dividend from support at the highest level.

- Dermot Gilleece

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