Europe’s hopes will be inextricably linked with the fortunes and the overall performance of Europe’s captain, Paul McGinley. John McHenry caught up with his long-time friend last week.
McHENRY: You are the first Irish captain of the European Team. Will you be bringing any Irishisms to your captaincy?
McGINLEY: No. My captaincy will be all about realising one European ambition.
McHENRY: What personal traits can you bring to your captaincy?
McGINLEY: I have an empathy and understanding of people and I hope that I can bring that to my captaincy. Every player will need to be managed in a different way. Many will require different messages. My job is to give them ownership of their roles and responsibilities. Also to ensure that they are motivated and prepared for a titanic battle and ultimately to ensure that Team Europe emerges victorious come Sunday evening.
McHENRY: Paul, there were soundbites about Donegal’s Jim McGuiness possibly being involved in the team’s preparation early on. Has he been offering you any advice at all?
McGINLEY: No. That was the press going one and one is three. There is no celebrity involvement in my team. Jim McGuiness is a family friend but I have picked a backroom team of experienced professionals with just one goal in mind — to win the Ryder Cup.
McHENRY: Knowing you as long as I do, every decision you make is for a reason. Some invite criticism like your selection of five vice-captains (Sam Torrance, Des Smyth, Pádraig Harrington, Jose M Olazabal, Miguel A Jimenez) which uninformed journalists view as a bit of a jolly for the boys. What is your reasoning behind so many vice-captains?
McGINLEY: Five vice-captains allows me the luxury of having one vice-captain for each group of players over the first two days — the four groups on the course as well as the group that are not playing. Communication is essential and in all my years we have had only four vice-captains on the course. No one was looking after the non-participants – keeping them ready and motivated. Sam Torrance’s history and psychological strength is in that area. His communication skills will be essential when I either want to bring players out of action or bring them back into action again.
McHENRY: And what of Tom Watson’s vice-captains — Ray Floyd, Andy North and Steve Stricker? Big names but only one player with any real connection with the current squad of players?
McGINLEY: Tom is focused on winning back the Ryder Cup. He has undoubtedly thought long and hard about his vice-captains as I have mine. Let’s not read too much into things at this stage.
McHENRY: Paul, when did you ask Pádraig if he was interested in being a vice-captain?
McGINLEY: Only after the USPGA Championship. Knowing Pádraig, if I had asked before hand and he had accepted he would probably have gone out and won the event!
McHENRY: This is a new departure for Pádraig. Why have you selected him as a vice-captain?
McGINLEY: Pádraig is more out of left field than the other vice-captains, but I fully expect him to come up with one or two things that will be huge in terms of the direction of the Ryder Cup. I have worked with all the other vice-captains before and there is consistency and continuity in everything that we have been doing to date so Pádraig will have to learn quickly how to be a vice-captain.
As my oldest golfing friend, Pádraig is someone who I trust implicitly and his familiarity with the PGA tour players is something new that I can add to my arsenal. He understands their strengths and weaknesses.
He also understands American course set-ups in terms of what they are used to. He can read American players better than any of my other vice-captains. With Pádraig, I know that I won’t be short of an opinion, I just need to filter the information, accordingly.
McHENRY: As for your captain’s picks, did you consult beforehand with any of the leading players?
McGINLEY: No, because I didn’t want to ask for a player’s opinion only to pick someone else. By not asking, I have taken full responsibility and I am not letting any of the players down. I didn’t canvass any player opinions, but I did consult with my two original vice-captains, Des Smyth and Sam Torrance.
McHENRY: Stephen Gallacher has proved himself over the year. Surely he was picked on merit?
McGINLEY: Yes, he is a guy who I needed to see how he would react when he was up against it and he was up against it in the last event in Italy. Going out in the second round, the leaders were already 14 shots ahead of him and he needed to finish second so his effort over the closing 54 holes was simply superb. I told him he needed to step up to the plate and finish second to guarantee his spot. I went public on it, because I wanted to see how he would react. To drag himself back was a mammoth task. He produced. When you put that pressure on and he does everything, then he deserves his spot. Just like Jamie Donaldson the week before (where he won) both players forced their way onto the team with great performances. By stepping up to the plate, they proved to me that they are ready for their first Ryder Cup. Hopefully, they also have confidence in me now, because I supported them through my advice.
McHENRY: Ian Poulter hasn’t had a good year, but has a fantastic Ryder Cup record — why did you pick him?
McGINLEY: Anyone else with Ian Poulter’s record this year — barring Ian Poulter himself, probably — wouldn’t have got a pick. Yes, he is being picked on past performances, but remember I know Ian Poulter well through my time as captain of the Seve Trophy teams. In fact it was Poulter who won the critical final match in my first Seve Trophy to secure the win. He helped to solidify my CV for my current captaincy. We have a strong connection. I know him really well. I have studied him. I know his game. I know what makes him tick. He has never had form going into his previous Ryder Cups 2008/10/12 but on each occasion he has delivered.
McHENRY: What sort of energy does he bring to the team room?
McGINLEY: The public perception of Ian Poulter and the reality are very different. He is no Paul O’Connell. He doesn’t speak from the heart. He is not that type of guy. He is quiet and observant in the team room. He feeds off the energy. Where he stands out is that he leads by example. When he does speak he does so thoughtfully such as when Monty spoke to him about the need for Europe to get a point from Poulter’s single match with Matt Kuchar, to which Poulter replied with a straight face: “Don’t worry about me, Monty. I am the mailman and I always deliver.”
In one short burst he broke the obvious tension in the room while also lifting everyone emotionally.
Rory loved being with Poulter during the last Ryder Cup — being part of the Poulter experience when he birdied the last five holes. McIlroy was more excited with what Poulter was doing than perhaps even Poulter himself. That’s the effect that Poulter can bring to the team.
McHENRY: Do you have an individual portfolio on all of your players? Do you know all the players well enough now at this stage?
McGINLEY: I know them all extremely well. I had to make a real effort with Victor Dubuisson because he burst onto the scene late last year so I brought forward my vice-captaincy announcements so that Des Smyth could go out to the Europe-Asia Cup and reacquaint himself with the players. It also gave me the time to talk over dinner with Victor and his caddy in a relaxed environment — getting to know him and understanding his psyche – we had a few drinks and bit of banter. I got to know about his family, his favourite pasttimes, where he lived and his likes and his dislikes. His one passion was Formula 1 so I arranged to meet him in Monaco where Eddie Jordan brought him out on his boat. We had dinner and he brought him down onto the pit lane. It was more bonding — no hard sell just kinship.
McHENRY: How are you going to communicate with all of you players?
McGINLEY: I now feel that I know and understand all of my players well and all are very different. There is only going to be one voice — my voice — in the team room communicating messages and that has been made very clear to my vice-captains. Deliberation and opinions will be voiced behind closed doors but all of my assistants are going to communicate my message — not their own individual opinions.
McHENRY: Once on site, you will need to have your players engaging with the general public, endearing yourselves to the galleries?
McGINLEY: We will be visible and we will sign autographs. We will do what we have always done. There will be controlled selfies!
McHENRY: How are you planning to set up the course? What can you do to help influence a course set up? Surely temperature and weather conditions are more influential?
McGINLEY: You are absolutely right. I have set up the course the very same way as the European players see it every week. There is nothing outlandish but European fairways tend to be slightly narrower than those on the PGA Tour. There is more graded rough and there is a greater run off the greens also. Tom Watson knows that the set-up has no hidden agendas and I see no need for it. What you see is a generic European Tour set up and let’s go and play golf. I am not prepared to outsmart myself.
McHENRY: Have you asked your team to prepare in any way different from a normal tournament for the Ryder Cup?
McGINLEY: The best way for the team to prepare for the Ryder Cup is as if they are preparing for a major tournament — staying focused on their own game and what they need to do to deliver the best performance for themselves.
I have asked them to stay in the present and let the Ryder Cup come to them rather than them being too focused on the Ryder Cup.
McHENRY: Probably the most important speech to date in your career will be your opening speech. What type of message do you hope to convey to both your players and general public?
McGINLEY: Passion is the word that I want to come through. Myself and Tom Watson are only the custodians of the captaincy for a short period and this great event will hopefully go on for hundreds of years. It is important we handle our responsibilities well and that we act accordingly but I also want the crowd to be excited and engaged. I want everyone to be as excited about the matches as I will be.
My speech will not be a rallying call. It will be formal but will hit the points like passion and integrity despite the fact that we will both be in the corners slugging it out. I expect no quarter to be given. Whoever wins we just go on and hand it over to the next captains.
McHENRY: Will you get emotional?
McGINLEY: Yes of course. I always do in Ryder Cups and it is important for me not to hide that. Emotion is what makes sport.
McHENRY: And from a family point of view?
McGINLEY: It’s a proud moment for me, my family and for Ireland and I hope that I can represent everyone well but. However, the big picture is the Ryder Cup so let the big thing be the big thing. All the other stuff like being proud will go on. That’s not the big picture. The big picture is I am a figurehead representing 12 of the best players in the world competing against the might of America and I have to motivate and communicate the right message to those 12 players in order to win the Ryder Cup. The big thing is me doing the lead and everyone will have their opinions of that in due course. I will do my job to the best of my ability and what will be will be.
McHENRY: You are going into the match as overwhelming favourites?
McGINLEY: Favourites but certainly not overwhelming favourites! Their average world ranking is lower than ours. This is not a weak American team.
McHENRY: All things being equal you should win this. There is no Tiger Woods or Dustin Johnson on the US team. You are not going to underestimate this situation, but Tom Watson is likely to try to milk the underdog situation. What are you going to do to try to counteract his efforts?
McGINLEY: It very simple. I am not going to disagree with anyone who says that we are favourites. It has been an incredible journey that the European Tour has been on, starting with Tony Jacklin. Our success is something that we should be very proud of and something that we should embrace. It also provides us with a real challenge in that we must galvanise ourselves and deliver as favourites. The challenge is to perform and win as favourites much like Rory McIlroy has done in recent years. We have players who are used to being favourites — players who are used to delivering.
As a team we should be proud of our favourites tag. We should be sticking our chests out. We are going to enjoy this and we are going to perform as favourites.
McHENRY: Tom Watson has said that some players can’t handle the pressure of the Ryder Cup? You have said that you want this year’s Ryder Cup to be the loudest ever? Does that atmosphere help the players’ performance?
McGINLEY: Some players like to get involved with the crowd — Poulter for example likes using their energy. Others like Bernhard Langer are like a like a duck in water — calm on top while frantically paddling underneath.
Every player is different but in my experience players respond positively to the energy from the crowd. Great matches have always been in front of packed houses where passionate audiences help competitors achieve new heights in the game.
Europe is playing at home and its important that Europe has loud noise. When you see that passion spilling onto the course it energises everyone.
McHENRY: Your body language will be crucial.
McGINLEY: I am aware of it. I have got vice-captains in position who are strong characters. Two are past captains. That is a position of strength. I want strong personalities. When JM Olazabal says something to Rory McIlroy, that has gravitas because of who he is. I want that. As much as I am communicating with my one voice I am also happy for the vice-captains to be communicating my message. I can trust them to deliver and build on my messages.
McHENRY: As host, you have a big decision to make — fourballs and foursomes first?
McGINLEY: Fourballs because that is the way Europe has gone in recent years, plus we have a stronger record in fourballs than the Americans. I canvassed a number of the players as to how they wanted to start and they all said fourballs.
McHENRY: McIlroy has now become a leader. How influential is he going to be in terms of you shaping your team? Will it be the number One player leading from the front like Montgomerie of old?
McGINLEY: Rory is very important to the team but he is not an ego-driven guy. He is not dictating any agenda to me. To date he has remained steadfastly focused on his own game and he has not expressed an interest or tried to influence anything. Rory is a clever guy and the engagement I have had with him has been brilliant.
McHENRY: You have a very strong team full of playing combinations?
McGINLEY: Yes we have a template. One of the great things about my experience gained from five Ryder Cups is that I have seen and witnessed successful combinations. I will not change what has worked so successfully in the past. I will not be cavalier about my picks. Instead I will use the successfully tried and trusted templates that have been created in previous Cups. My job now is to identify and enhance that template not only for this current Ryder Cup but also for future captains.
A lot of the pairings that you expect to see as a follower of golf, I am going to be doing make no mistake about it. Everything has been thought out right down to the vice-captains and their respective roles on and off the course. There is continuity to everything that I have done right from the very start and finishing in three weeks time. Now that the players are in place there is some tweaking to be done, but nothing radical.
McHENRY: In time when people write about your captaincy in Gleneagles, how would you like your captaincy to be viewed?
McGINLEY: I would like my captaincy to be viewed as me having raised the bar and that I will have represented as a custodian of the Ryder Cup in a strong way.
I hope that I will have left the players with an increased shared bonding amongst each other that they didn’t have before, something that we can all share in time, whether that is five, 10 or 15 years. I would love them with that sense of bonding; an experience shared.
I want a classic encounter with two teams slugging it out to an enthralled audience of spectators and TV viewers alike. I want people on the edges of their seats throughout the contest. The margins are small but that’s what makes the victory so much more special. I want people to feel that my team was very well led and that the players were given every opportunity to win. Sport at its very best.