ONE of the mysteries surrounding British & Irish and European Ryder Cup teams is that this country hasnever been honoured with the captaincy.
Great golfers like Fred Daly, Harry Bradshaw, Christy O’Connor Senior and Junior, Des Smyth, Eamonn Darcy and Ronan Rafferty are only some of those who have distinguished themselves in the matches since World War II, but Smyth is the nearest any came to leading the side. He was Ian Woosnam’s vice-captain at The K Club in 2006.
However, that may all change now that Paul McGinley has emerged as a powerful candidate for the job either at Medinah in 2012 or Gleneagles two years later, having been loudly acclaimed for his performance as captain of the Britain & Ireland team that won the Vivendi Trophy over the weekend. Nobody should get carried away by that achievement given that the event contains little or none of the tension and excitement associated with the Ryder Cup and would be regarded in some quarters as something of a glorified exhibition.
However, on this occasion it did give the players a chance to reacquaint themselves with matchplay golf and to familiarise themselves with the demands imposed by a team situation. Nobody appreciated this fact more than B&I star man Rory McIlroy, who looked completely at home in his foursomes/fourball partnership with Graeme McDowell. He is every inch a Ryder Cup star of the very near future and for a long time afterwards.
Overseeing it all were McGinley and Continental European captain Thomas Bjorn and it was the former who earned the accolades of players, commentators and even caddies, all of whom spoke in glowing terms of the way he laid the foundations for the B&I success ever before the match began and how he then handled things over four great days at St Nom-La-Breteche. McDowell, among other kudos, described McGinley as “a great motivator”. Chris Wood, the brilliant young Englishman, said he was “truly inspirational”.
The Sky Sports commentary team also frequently referred to how McGinley was reinforcing his claims to being Colin Montgomerie’s vice-captain at Celtic Manor. Monty was there to cast his eye over both the Vivendi captains and players and while he recognised the merit of McGinley’s performance, he also maintained it was more difficult for Bjorn to mould together the more disparate nationalities in the continental side.
You suspect he would be happy to have both men at his side at Celtic Manor. You also wonder, though, if either would want the job given the Scot’s renowned mood swings.
If Montgomerie wants McGinley as a vice-captain at Celtic Manor, well and good. However, the Irishman should now be targeting the big job two years later.
Paul may not have set the world alight as a player, his career highlighted by victory in the 2005 Volvo Masters. He has never won a major championship (as have captains of the recent past like Nick Faldo, Woosnam and Bernhard Langer) or captured the European Tour order of merit title (as Montgomerie has done on eight occasions).
As against that, others like Mark James and Sam Torrance didn’t do so either. McGinley played in three Ryder Cups (all winners) and will always be remembered as the man who sank the decisive putt at The Belfry in 2002. In my view, his contribution at Oakland Hills two years later was even more significant.
The issue was still far from clear-cut on the Saturday afternoon until he and Padraig Harrington recovered from losing the first two holes in their foursomes against Davis Love and Tiger Woods to fashion a magnificent 4 and 3 win that totally shattered the Americans.. The following day, he defeated Stewart Cink 3 and 2 in the singles.
At The K Club in 2006, his admirable sporting instincts were never better displayed. McGinley stood one up on JJ Henry on the 18th and conceded a 20-foot putt for a half when the American was distracted by a streaker. The overall outcome had been decided in Europe’s favour by then but that still mightn’t sit well with the win-at-all-costs brigade. However, given that the atmosphere at too many recent Ryder Cups has teetered on the edge, such gestures are not only admirable but help to keep the lid on things.
Nor should anyone run away with the notion that McGinley doesn’t have a very competitive streak. He wouldn’t be where he is today otherwise while he is also articulate, committed and extremely bright. It all adds up to the persona of the ideal Ryder Cup captain.
McGinley ia back in playing action this week in the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship at St Andrews, Carnoustie and Kingsbarns where the in-form McIlroy and Harrington lead the Irish challenge. Harrington won the event in 2002 and 2006 and once more partners JP McManus in the team section of the event which they have also won together.
Harrington, who plays only his third tournament of the year on European soil after the Irish, French and British Opens, tied for 4th in the Tour Championship to clinch his sixth successive top ten finish in US tournaments. He has ended his season in the States with $2.678 million, for 19th in the order of merit.
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