Sunday 11 December 2016

McGinley fired up for Rio medal hunt

Published 15/03/2016 | 02:30

Paul McGinley is envious of those who will be going for golf gold in Rio. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile
Paul McGinley is envious of those who will be going for golf gold in Rio. Photo: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

Paul McGinley admits to a pang of envy that Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth and the other top Tour stars have the opportunity to win a gold medal at the Rio Olympics.

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McGinley has always loved representing his country at international level as an amateur and a professional, but the sport which made him famous and provided a lucrative livelihood remained outside the Olympics circle when he was in his prime.

McGinley, 48, would have bust a gut to try and qualify as a player if it had been remotely possible.

He will, however, enjoy a ringside seat in Rio when golf returns to the Games in August for the first time since 1904 at St Louis as team leader of the Irish golf squad.

McGinley is well aware of a degree of scepticism about highly paid professionals whose sport has its own set of Major championships being included in the Olympics.

However, a recent visit to Rio to view the pre-Olympic event by Brazilian amateurs over the par-71 layout at Barra da Tijuca, designed by American course Gil Hanse, has, if anything, increased his enthusiasm for golf's renewed participation at the Games.

Opportunity

"Of course I'd love to have played in the Olympics. Everybody wants to play in the Olympics.

"The participation at the biggest sporting event in the world is huge for golf. I think it's massive.

"It's a great opportunity and we should embrace it, and go in and treat it as an adventure, and go in there with our eyes open. There's a lot of people trying to say 'Oh, it's going to be no good,' or 'it should be amateur,' or 'it won't be the same as winning a Major.'

"My point would be, 'Let's just wait and see. Let's go in there with our eyes and hearts open and embrace everything that the Olympics throws at us, and be involved in the biggest sporting event in the world'," said McGinley.

He believes golf course will provide a stern but fair examination for the players.

"It's a course that I think a lot of players will feel comfortable on.

"It's designed in a links style, the fairways are quite generous. The greens have a lot of run-off areas. Gil Hanse is an excellent designer, and he's done an excellent job. What's also interesting about the golf course is the finish. You've got a driveable par-4, a short par-3 and then a par-5 in the last three holes, so that's going to create excitement.

"There's nothing really from a playing point of view that would be new for the players. They'll all have experienced most of what they're going to encounter in the past," said McGinley.

The plan is for the Irish golfers to stay in the Olympic Village which is about 9km from the golf venue, and 35km from the main airport, but team personnel have yet to be finalised.

Qualification deadline is July 11. At present, Rory McIlroy and Shane Lowry are in pole position for the men's team.

Regarding the potential women's representatives, McGinley would like to see a couple of good results from Stephanie Meadow and Leona Maguire.

"At the moment Shane is in pole position but Graeme (McDowell) is playing pretty well at the moment.

"Shane hasn't done it yet but his underlying stats are very good so I wouldn't be surprised to see Shane coming through with a very good performance in the coming weeks.

"He's certainly trending in the right direction at the moment," said McGinley.

Stephanie Meadow does not have her LPGA Tour card, so she has to depend on tournament invitations to gain ranking points.

McGinley is assisting Meadow's management team as much as possible in that regard. Leona Maguire, world No 1 amateur, can improve her position with good performances in pro events such as the LPGA Ana Inspiration, the first women's Major of the season, from March 28-April 3.

All players within the top-15 of the world rankings as of July 11, 2016, will be eligible for the Games, but the maximum number of players from any country in the top 15 is four.

Beyond the elite 15, qualification is based on the world rankings, with a maximum entry of two per country.

As of yesterday, Rory McIlroy was second and Lowry 15th in the men's top 60 Olympic rankings, while Meadow was 43rd and Maguire 46th respectively in the women's rankings.

Irish Independent

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