McGinley focus on making Ryder team
IT was easy the other night at Carton House to imagine Paul McGinley not only as a future Ryder Cup captain but, a tad further down the road, assuming some stately role in the upper echelons of golf administration ... Chief Executive of the European Tour, perhaps?
After a polished all-round performance as skipper of Great Britain and Ireland at The Vivendi Trophy last September, when McGinley motivated his under-rated team to victory over Continental Europe, it came as no surprise to see him handle the after-dinner speech at Friday's GUI Champions Banquet with such aplomb.
His audience didn't know that, behind the wooden dais, McGinley delivered much of his 20-minute oration standing on one leg. Eight weeks after a sixth operation on his problematic left knee, he's still keeping weight off the joint.
Yet McGinley remains passionately committed to his future as a player, and to winning the battle to regain fitness and become a winner once again on Tour, a process the 43-year-old solemnly describes as "the toughest of my career".
"All I can say is I'm hugely ambitious. It hurts like hell that I've had the year I did last year. It hurts like hell that I've fallen down the Order of Merit," he said. "I know everybody is painting me into the picture of vice-captain but I don't want to go up that road yet -- I'm really not ready for that role."
McGinley has been able to hit "only a few 40-yard pitches" over the past two months.
"It's been hard to stop myself getting deflated," he admitted. "Having such a bad year in 2009, my worst on Tour, the last thing I wanted over the winter was an injury because I've work to do.
"I know why I didn't play well last year and I'm frustrated that I'm stuck here, standing on one leg, and can't do the stuff I know I need to do. Over the eight weeks, I did everything the surgeon and physio told me and I'm still not even close to playing -- but that's not their fault.
"There was a lot more damage than I thought. It's the culmination of six operations. My left knee-cap has shrunk over the years; debris has come off and the cartilage is shattered.
"I was a bit worried, but when I went to see Dr Liam Hennessy he suggested a number of ideas to get me back playing again. It was invigorating and I'm pretty confident he'll get me back in a few weeks.
"He's given me a strict programme of exercises to do over the next two weeks. Then, in a fortnight's time, I'm going to Portugal to do some work with Bob Torrance (his coach) and Liam will be there too.
"They're going down there to work with Padraig Harrington and Noel Fox. Initially, the five of us will be there together, then I'll then have four days on my own with Bob. Hopefully, when I get to Portugal I'll be able to swing a club and hit some shots."
Predicting his return to tournament play is not easy. McGinley says he has "no chance" of playing in Abu Dhabi next week or Qatar; he gives himself only a 20pc chance of making the Dubai Desert Classic and rates at 50pc his prospects of taking up an invitation to next month's AT&T at Pebble Beach.
McGinley had just two top-10 finishes in 26 events last year, as his posture and therefore his swing got thrown out of kilter by his dodgy knee, but he's confident Dr Hennessy, an expert biomechanic, and Torrance can sort him out.
Having plummeted 116 places in 12 months to his current world ranking of 226, McGinley is neither in the Majors nor the lucrative World Golf Championships, which undermines his prospects of winning a place on the 2010 European Ryder Cup team.
"Making that team on merit would be a huge thing to do, given where I am in the world at present," he admitted. "Having said that, the captain's got three picks this year and if I have a high level of consistency, contend and, obviously, win in the tournaments I do play ... "
It's fair for McGinley to assume that his track record as a three-times Ryder Cup winner and his proven ability to make the crucial putt at a critical moment would make him a logical wild-card choice. Yet the eloquent Dubliner has become so strongly type-cast for an off-course role at future Ryder Cups that it's going to take something truly exceptional, maybe bagging one or two of Europe's most prestigious titles, to alter the widespread perception of McGinley as an oak-solid right-hand man for Colin Montgomerie at Celtic Manor.
His performance behind the microphone at Carton House was a case in point. McGinley fashioned a series of witty and perceptive anecdotes about his own development as a player into an impressive homage to the Golfing Union and the youth development policies which have turned this country into a veritable powerhouse in the sport.
And to people like Donal Moriarty, brother of iconic GAA commentator Micheal O Muircheartaigh, who used drive the talented Grange underage team to events around the country, sparing no effort or expense in his effort to make the youngsters feel special.
"Donal introduced me for the first time ever to five-star treatment," McGinley explained. "Wherever we went, we stayed in the best hotel. I remember staying at The Bloomfield House in Mullingar and thinking it was the Ritz, nothing could be better than this. I felt I'd arrived.
"We used have steaks for dinner at night and that was just phenomenal -- steaks! Most important of all, Donal would give us a brand new Balata ball on the first tee every day, which we used for the whole round. Now that was a big deal. I think we won two green pennants and three Leinster ones as well -- wonderful times."
McGinley paid tribute to many who assisted him on the road to stardom, including an Irish team captain who took a remarkably laid-back approach to his role at the European Team Championships.
"The event was in Madrid in June and it was a sweltering day," he recalled. "I was playing foursomes with Garth McGimpsey and had hit my tee shot into a bunker in front of the green at a driveable par-4.
"I was standing by the green when Garth went into the bunker and I was really puzzled when, after a moment or two, he stepped back out again. When it happened twice, I asked him what was going on. 'I can hear something,' said Garth. 'I don't know what it is.'
"So we looked around and eventually found the source of the noise. There, stretched out on the grass under a nearby tree, was our team captain, straw hat over his face and snoring like a pig. Garth was not amused but it made a great impression on me!"