Paul McGinley is best known for the putt that won the Ryder Cup at the Belfry in 2002. His ribs have yet to recover from the bear hug imparted by the captain Sam Torrance, who galloped across the 18th green like a back row forward targeting the fly-half. The nine-footer he holed was enough to halve his match with Jim Furyk and win the pot lost so controversially at the battle of Brookline in 1999.
There is a little more of McGinley now than then, his widening girth at the age of 46 seemingly shortening his 5ft 7½ in frame. At that height, the fractions count. He holds the distinction of winning every Ryder Cup he has contested, three as a player and two as a vice-captain. At the height of his powers he troubled the top 20 in the world rankings, reaching 18 and finished third in the European Tour Order of Merit, both in the same year, 2005.
A talented sportsman, he might have made a living as a Gaelic footballer had he not dislocated his knee cap in his late teens. The injury has required seven operations over the years and has forced upon him any number of swing modifications. Despite his frailty, McGinley has recorded four tournament victories and accrued more than £10 million in prize money, enough to lift him into the top 40 of European Tour earners. Not bad for a second love.
His father, Michael, was an amateur international and still serves the sport at the Golf Union of Ireland. When the son decided golf was to be his future it was the father who bankrolled his first year at San Diego University, after many other institutions in the United States had rejected him. “The coach at San Diego University eventually relented and agreed to me attending the college there and if I made the team before the end of the first year, he would grant me a scholarship for the second.” The experience made a golfer of McGinley and cost the world of commerce a graduate in marketing.
This particular posting has been on his radar since taking up the captaincy of Britain and Ireland at the Vivendi Seve Trophy four years ago. He subsequently defended the crown two years ago. Rory McIlroy was in both teams, an experience that left an indelible impression on the 21-year-old, who also enjoyed his mentoring as a Ryder Cup rookie at Celtic Manor, where McGinley served as vice captain for the first time under the man he opposed last night, Colin Montgomerie.
In a sustained Twitter campaign McIlroy championed McGinley’s cause, highlighting his attention to detail and motivational qualities. He was joined in that movement by powerful voices among the heroes of Medinah, including Ian Poulter, Luke Donald, Justin Rose and Graeme McDowell.
McGinley declined to bang his own drum, beyond the odd comment in distant interviews in which he outlined his predicament. He told the Irish Examiner: “I don’t want to go badgering for the job because it looks like I’m looking for it. If I say that, people will turn their backs on me. Nobody has ever gone out and badgered for the job and if they have, they haven’t got it. I don’t want to say anything publicly that makes me sound like I’m looking for the job.”
That he believes he is deserving is beyond doubt, as his comments on Sir Nick Faldo’s disastrous contribution to the art of captaincy reveal. “Nick Faldo’s captaincy drew a line in the sand. Because you were a great player doesn’t mean you’re going to be a great captain. One of the reasons Sandy [Lyle] didn’t get it last time was because of Faldo proving that was absolutely wrong.”
After losing his card in 2011, he played last year on exemptions. His career earnings, which placed him in the top 40 of the career money list, gave him entry to enough tournaments to reclaim his card for this year. Though the knee imposes obvious restrictions on range time it has had no impact on his off-course activities, which include course redesign and a club-hire business servicing golf tourists in Spain and the Algarve. If you have collected clubs in Malaga and Faro, you have contributed to his welfare.