Never do things in a hurry.
That has been the motto of Europe’s new Ryder Cup captain Paul McGinley since his days as a student at Coláiste Éanna on Dublin’s south side. Although small in stature, he was a handy gaelic footballer who cared little about golf, except when he nipped over to the Grange club and earned some pocket money caddying for his dad, Mick, a championship standard single figure handicapper.
He also played club football for Ballyboden St Enda’s and on leaving school moved on to UCD where he spent three years studying and figuring out what to do next with his life. Gaelic football was his chief source of leisure and relaxation and when he suffered a serious knee injury even that was ruled out of the question. And that’s how golf entered the equation.
“I wasn’t a whiz kid as a junior,” he admits. “I was a slow learner. At 19, I was a 7 handicap. I did three years of college in Dublin and I then did a year of postgraduate.”
He was still pondering his future when, aged 21, he took a job with the European Union in Brussels. Even though he found time to play winter golf for the first time, a career in the game was not a consideration.
“I would have fancied my chances in business. That’s what I was heading for. I have a degree in international business and a diploma in marketing. I worked in Brussels for a year and learnt French to a pretty good standard. I read the financial papers and get the Wall Street Journal when I am away. And I watch the stock market as well.”
As he moved into his twenties, golf began playing a greater role in his life. His every waking moment was spent either walking the fairways at Grange or competing in the major amateur events throughout the country. He also fancied the idea of spending some time in the United States, and the way he achieved that ambition says a whole lot about the skills that saw him appointed Ryder Cup captain this week.
“I wasn’t an Irish international, I was only just on the Leinster team and I had just come back from Brussels”, he recalls. “I applied to all the universities in America for a scholarship but none was offered. But the coach at San Diego promised me that if I played well the first year he would give me a scholarship the second year. That was my best offer and it was going to cost IR£8,000. I got a grant of IR£5,000 from the Team Ireland Trust through Pádraig Ó hUiginn, to whom I owe a great deal, and a loan of IR£5,000 from the Bank of Ireland in Whitehall, which my father guaranteed. I went away with two grand in the bank.”
McGinley achieved everything he asked of himself in San Diego — and a whole lot more. It was there that he met Alison Shapcott, an English international golfer who would later play on the Ladies European Tour. They married in 1996 and have three children, Niamh 13, Killian 12 and Maia 10.
By the early 1990s, McGinley was one of the finest amateur golfers in these islands with wins in the Irish Close and South of Ireland Championships and the Scottish Stroke Play among his many achievements and they duly led to his selection on the 1991 Britain & Ireland Walker Cup team. The match was played in glorious weather in front of huge crowds at Portmarnock and McGinley revelled in the team atmosphere. B & I lost to a powerful US side but he still had the satisfaction of partnering Englishman Liam White to a foursomes win over Phil Mickelson and Bob May.
At 26 it was time to turn pro. He gained his card at the Tour School that autumn, but, as with most things concerning Paul McGinley, he had to be patient and wait for success to come his way.
He finally broke through in the Hohe Brucke Open in Austria and the Oki pro-am in Spain in 1996 before teaming up with Pádraig Harrington to capture the World Cup for Ireland at Kiawah Island in 1997.
That remains a great source of pride for a very patriotic Irishman who spends as much time as possible visiting his native Dublin and Dunfanaghy and Rathmullan, Co Donegal, the birthplaces of his parents, Mick and Julia, and who wears his Irishness very much on his sleeve. He also won the Wales Open at Celtic Manor in 2001while his greatest individual success came in the prestigious, season ending Volvo Masters at Valderrama in 1995.
During the week, McGinley stressed the importance of keeping his mouth shut and watching, listening and learning. He has been steadily building up a dossier of wisdom that he plans to bring to his Ryder Cup duties and I have absolutely no doubt he will be a huge success in the role. Not that he isn’t fully aware of the challenge facing him in taking on his opposite number, the redoubtable Tom Watson, a man he describes as “one of my heroes.”
There has been a tendency in recent times to play down the importance of the Ryder Cup captaincy, but McGinley, having assisted both Colin Montgomerie and Jose-Maria Olazabal, has little time for that perception. Sam Torrance (already being mentioned as one of his vice-captains for Gleneagles) wasn’t as high profile as Seve Ballesteros, Bernhard Langer, Nick Faldo or Montgomerie and Olazabal, but McGinley has enormous regard for the Scot and the way he handled the side in 2002.
“We won the Ryder Cup that year because of Sam,” he recalled. “He was the difference in his man-management of each player. As much as everybody would have thought he was the rip-roaring type of captain, Sam’s meetings were very brief. We would sit in his hotel room and they would never last more than five minutes. But he put so much work into me.
“I would never have holed that putt on the 18th green without Sam. He had prepared me mentally for it. The previous week, I was out of form and Sam hired a car so that I could play The Belfry beforehand. All the stands were there but the place was empty. Seagulls and crows were the only ones watching us. On the way back, we sat in the back seat of the car with a bottle of pink champagne and he told me his plan for the week. He told me my role exactly and what my focus would be.”
It worked like a dream. And McGinley wouldn’t have it any other way at Gleneagles in September 2014.
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