Saturday 20 January 2018

McGinley wins one Ryder Cup and tees up many more

Skipper's innovative approach and attention to detail can leave legacy for years of domination

'Paul McGinley must receive greatest fanfare for putting a system in place which will help ensure Europe's continued supremacy in this arena well into the future.' Photo: Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images
'Paul McGinley must receive greatest fanfare for putting a system in place which will help ensure Europe's continued supremacy in this arena well into the future.' Photo: Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images
Europe captain Paul McGinley with his victorious team after their Ryder Cup victory over the United States at Gleneagles. Photo: Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Karl McGinty

Ode to joy, the European anthem, should be re-named at the Ryder Cup. It should be called 'Owed to Ireland.'

And with every respect to Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell, whose breathtaking on-course efforts last weekend helped secure that priceless little trophy for the eighth time in 10 Ryder Cups, one Irishman in particular, Paul McGinley, must receive greatest fanfare for putting a system in place which will help ensure Europe's continued supremacy in this arena well into the future.

Or at least until the PGA of America and the men they appoint to succeed Tom Watson in the role of US Ryder Cup captain realise that legendary status, personal experience or charisma is not going to match a system which has evolved and grown in the 33 years since Tony Jacklin first lit that blue and yellow touchpaper in 1981.

Though Watson made several grievous errors on in his first visit to the Ryder Cup arena in the 21 years since leading the US to their most recent victory on European soil in 1993, he also was unlucky in coming up against the most able and innovative skipper since Jacklin.

Redefined

During his 20 months since his appointment, McGinley has completely redefined the European captaincy. The Dubliner's attention to detail, every detail, relating to the Ryder Cup amazed his players and those Tour officials who worked alongside him.

It emerged yesterday McGinley even insisted that only fish coloured blue and gold would be allowed to swim in the large tank in the European players area at the Gleneagles hotel.

"Everything in the team room, from the carpet to the wallpaper to the inspirational images we put on those walls, was either yellow or blue," said McGinley, smiling as he waved away any suggestion of that he may be a fish enthusiast.

"I chose the colours, not the breed," he insisted. "As long as they were fish and they swam, that was good enough for me. Yeah, it was just a little small touch and it worked great."

Europe's Ryder Cup invincibles partied long into the night following their 16.5 to 11.5 points victory, though McGinley and one especially big fish he invited into to their company, Alex Ferguson, strongly advised the players not to drink too much and risk losing memories which they should treasure for the rest of their lives.

"Sunday night was a special night," he said. "In 2002, my wife, Ally, gave me some of the best advice I've ever had in my life after I holed that winning putt at the Belfry. She said 'enjoy this moment but don't drink too much tonight or you'll forget about it'.

"So I gave the players the same advice and when Alex Ferguson came into the room, that's exactly what he said too. He also said he'd felt like he was back in the boiler room (in his heyday at United).

"He thanked the players for the pleasure and said he felt a connection with them. All the guys were up there having a drink with him, pulling his leg and treating him as a friend. It was great to see."

Precisely how many players took the captain's sage advice is not known but when the Europeans visited their vanquished rivals and played them at table tennis "we got our ass kicked. I'm glad the Ryder Cup is not a table tennis championship," McGinley joked.

"I went to bed about half two, three in the morning. I was one of the last to leave the team room. There were no other players left. Des Smyth was the only other fella in there."

"That's six Ryder Cups I've been involved in (three as a player, two as vice-captain and one as captain) and after six wins, now I do feel lucky."

Except McGinley made his own luck through inspired leadership, relentless hard work and no little imagination, effectively throwing down a gauntlet to his successor, most likely Darren Clarke at Hazeltine in 2016.

Padraig Harrington, serving in the 'backroom' at the Ryder Cup for the first time as one of McGinley's five vice-captains, certainly had his eyes opened.

"There were lots of things the captain had to do. I don't think anybody who is not in that position can possibly understand the myriad of decisions that are made behind the scenes and the domino effect they have," said the three-times Major champion.

The 42-year-old Irishman always intended playing a sixth Ryder Cup before contending for the captaincy but admitted: "I'm less keen than I was before. It does make you less keen. It's a lot harder than you think."

Thomas Bjorn, chairman of the Europe's all-powerful Tournament Players Committee, which voted McGinley into office, said: "Paul has rewritten how it is done and that's not taking away from the captains we've had, many of whom have been great and successful. There are a lot of things he's done this week that are different to what we are used to seeing."

In this new age of the European Ryder Cup captaincy, Bjorn believes "I don't think you can do it when you are active and competitive", effectively ruling himself out of contention for 2016 - the Dane's competitive juices still flow after playing in his first Ryder Cup in 12 years at Gleneagles.

Yet, he insisted: "You also need to be in touch (with the players on Tour). It is such a fine balance. You've got to be in touch with the players."

Watson, at age 65, did not know his players intimately enough, leading to a string of errors which weakened his team's prospects of winning the Ryder Cup and drew stinging rebuke from Phil Mickelson on Sunday night.

Interestingly, the last out-of-touch captain sent into the field by Europe was Nick Faldo at Valhalla in 2008, when his team was beaten by one marshalled by the highly-organised Paul Azinger. Europe learned from that defeat by the US embraced few of the measures which brought that rare victory.

That is their greatest weakness: each captain starts afresh while Europe employs a strong line of succession.

McGinley insists he merely has improved this European template. In fact, he's brought it into the new age, for example by commissioning intense statistical analysis of the performance of every player in his team.

Meanwhile, for months he primed Graeme McDowell to mentor Victor Dubuisson and Lee Westwood Jamie Donaldson, arranging for them to be drawn to play together whenever possible during the summer.

By easing their path into the Ryder Cup family, he ensured a successful debut by both, the Welshman pointedly clinching victory with that 3&2 win over Keegan Bradley .

McDowell was such an important figure in McGinley's plans, the captain told him the Monday after last month's US PGA that he could look forward to the birth of his first child secure in the knowledge he'd receive a wild card if needed.

In a measure of McIlroy's commitment, he arranged for sponsor Bose to fly a 47-inch TV with surround-sound to Gleneagles so the inspirational videos played by McGinley would have added impact.

McIlroy's influence as World No 1 ensured McGinley's election, while his stellar performance against Rickie Fowler on Sunday helped seal victory for the Dubliner.

Yet McGinley is the hero of this epic, while his legacy is the many more victories which surely will come.

Irish Independent

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