McGinley says Ryder success vital for euro tour
PAUL McGINLEY is in his 20th year as a professional golfer, and the competitive fire burns as brightly as ever.
If you doubt that, just suggest that McGinley take an objective viewpoint and concede that the biennial Europe versus USA Ryder Cup clash actually needed an American win in 2008 to revive it after three successive European victories. The eyes flash, the head shakes, the answer is emphatically delivered in a heartbeat.
"No. I don't buy into that at all. I'm not having that," he said. "The Americans have beaten us for 20, 30, 40 years. They are the rich kids on the block and I'm of the opinion that we're the smaller Tour, we're fighting against the strength of America, and the more times we can beat them in a Ryder Cup the better it is for us to try and raise the standards of our Tour.
"There's no doubt the success we've had in the last decade in the Ryder Cup has been a contributory factor in the success of the European Tour in that 10 years, big time."
So there. No equivocation, no shilly-shallying around the subject. And in just eight weeks' time McGinley will do his part to assist Colin Montgomerie and Europe kick USA's butt at Celtic Manor in Wales.
Meanwhile, he seeks to get comfortable with his own game and, after knee problems which cut the heart out of his tournament play for nearly two years, that's a situation which is improving.
All in all, these are interesting times for McGinley personally, for the Tour of which he's been a member since 1991, and for Ireland. But the guy from Rathfarnham in Dublin is up for every challenge.
Aged 43 now, McGinley has experienced the pre-Tiger Woods era in golf, Tiger's peak years and the Celtic Tiger when, for a brief time, his home country's economy was the envy of Europe. He also became a Ryder Cup star in 2002 when he sank the winning putt at The Belfry, and played at Oakland Hills and at The K Club when Europe continued their winning habit in the event.
And yet, time flies. It seems only yesterday that McGinley, a student at the University of San Diego, was buzzing about in his $1,000 Subaru car, playing professional mini-Tour events as an amateur -- and selling golf balls to help fund his trips around southern California.
"I would be getting vouchers for $300 or $400 a week when I'd be winning. I was the best amateur, so I used to win more weeks than not. Then it would probably be $150 to enter next week because you'd pay your green fee as well, and from there, whatever would be left over, I'd go into Nevada Bob's and I'd buy 15 dozen, 20 dozen Titleists and sell them to anybody who wanted for half price."
An enterprising young man indeed, but he was also honing that competitive streak.
"I was playing with hardened pros, mini-Tour guys who hadn't quite made it on to the PGA Tour. I was also learning a lot about life."
McGinley and Padraig Harrington were on the 1991 Walker Cup team that lost to America at Portmarnock, and after that, it was time for Paul to turn pro. He joined Darren Clarke in Chubby Chandler's management agency, ISM, and was promptly dispatched into action, missing the cut at a Challenge Tour event and then winning the World U-25s Championship in Paris.
His first pro cheque, and to McGinley it was a fortune -- £15,000 (about €18,000 today). He used £5,000 to pay back his student loan and invested £3,000 in a caddie -- Stan, who now works for Simon Khan -- to get him through 1991 Tour School. That worked well, as McGinley finished second and never lost his card since then.
He enjoyed those early years in the early 1990s when he was on the Tour with Clarke and older Irish players such as Des Smyth, Christy O'Connor Jnr and Eamonn Darcy, but change was in the air.
The Tiger Woods story was about to unfold in the mid-90s. It had a number of consequences, most of them good for McGinley and the game's finances, but once the Tiger phenomenon arrived, nothing was ever the same again.
"My career has coincided with probably the biggest changes in professional golf that we've seen in its history," he said.
"It's gone from the old technology to the new technology, to the game where, basically, every player used to carry a one-iron in the bag and it was all about position first, and safety first, to now, which is very much an aggressive, as the Americans call it a 'drive and gouge' game, where you basically hit your driver as far as you can and you gouge it out of the rough on to the green and try to make the putt.
"I knew Tiger was coming but I didn't think he would change the game as much as he has done. He changed the way people approach the game and the way people play the game.
"Tiger brought a new aggressive, big-hitting, taking-the-course-by-its-throat sort of attitude, which is what you see today."
What effect did it have on McGinley's approach? "Immediately, I thought, 'hmm, I don't like the way this is going'," he said. "My game was very suited to the Faldo-esque kind of precision game and, at 5ft 7in, I'm never going to be a power hitter, I'm never going to overpower a golf course.
"So I had to make some changes, both physically and mentally, to the way I played the game."
Foremost among them was a new approach to strength and conditioning, and McGinley also immersed himself in the new technology of equipment to get the absolute best out of everything that was available.
"I was learning all that, and also, because my game was improving then, it was a case of changing my mentality to play as aggressively as I could and play to my strengths. So I geared up my game and that culminated in the early 2000s of playing Ryder Cups and having probably the strongest part of my career."
What about 'that putt' at The Belfry? It didn't put money in his pocket directly, nor did it earn any Order of Merit ranking points. So what difference, if any, did it make to McGinley?
"It made the world of difference to me to get it because all of a sudden I was instantly recognisable, not just in Ireland but all over," he said.
"I was identified with European success and I was identified as someone who brought a lot of joy and emotion to a lot of people. That's a great feeling."
And that brings us to the subject of money. Look at the Tour today, where a 21-year-old such as Rory McIlroy can be a multi-millionaire within a couple of years of turning pro. Good luck to Rory and Shane Lowry and all those guys, but where does money figure in the McGinley view of professional golf?
Well, we're talking to a guy whose main three sponsors, Allianz, Investec (formerly Gandon) and TaylorMade have been with him through his career, so that might give you a clue.
"I've always treated money as a consequence of playing well. I've never gone out and chased money. It's one of those things that it's a consequence of playing well and there would be weeks I wouldn't even check what the prize money is.
"It's about playing well and playing the courses that suit me and if I end up making good money, great. I found out very early that the more you worry about money, the less chance you have of making it. The more you try to ignore it, it will kind of accumulate itself."
The Ryder Cup has been good to McGinley, but playing remains his priority. He was buzzing at Killarney after his second-round 68 in the '3' Irish Open on Friday -- he finished joint 14th on seven under.
"I'll keep playing as long as I'm competitive. As long as I'm enjoying it and I don't feel withdrawal symptoms at leaving home and, once I'm playing to a high standard, then I will keep playing as long as I can.
"As for the Tour in general, it's important we win this Ryder Cup. It's a tough economic climate. It's important that we reaffirm ourselves as the leading golf continent in the world, the European Tour.
"This Ryder Cup is important for more than one reason, not just winning the trophy. It's important to the Tour for a lot of economic reasons too."