Europe Ryder Cup captain Paul McGinley is a man driven to succeed
Christy O'Connor was so thrilled with Paul McGinley's appointment as Ryder Cup captain, he immediately tried, through a friend, to contact the Dubliner to offer his congratulations.
Unsurprisingly, McGinley's phone was busy that January evening 20 months ago but Senior soon got his chance to tell McGinley in person how profoundly happy he was to see his destiny fulfilled and that Ireland's long wait for a first Ryder Cup captain was over.
That's because one of the first calls the new skipper made the following morning was to O'Connor, just to share this moment in history with a man whose career included 10 successive Ryder Cup appearances from 1955 to 1973, and whose sage advice helped inspire him and countless other Irish golfers.
“I told Paul it was about time an Irishman had been chosen; that I was delighted it was him and how sure I was that everything would work out for him,” says O'Connor, 90 in December.
“Paul's a very nice guy,” he adds. “Very able too. He has everything a successful Ryder Cup captain would need.”
At every turn in Gleneagles, you hear anecdotes of the European skipper. More often than not, they're followed by the same epithet... typical McGinley!
Like the one told by Eddie Jordan of how, at McGinley's behest, he arranged dinner on a yacht in Monaco for his fellow Dub, their wives Maria and Alliey, French Ryder Cup rookie Victor Dubuisson and a few others.
“I'd not met Victor before but there wasn't anything he could not tell me about Jordan,” the Grand Prix guru said. “He's a motor racing fanatic. He has real style.
“He brought with him one of the most expensive Bordeaux wines money can buy, which will tell you it was a Rothschild. Let me tell you, he'll be a big thing in this Ryder Cup. He's very much his own man, a fantastic character and won't be overawed.”
That relaxing soiree with someone Dubuisson plainly has long admired. His pairing with Graeme McDowell on the couple of occasions they played in the same European Tour events this year are both typical of exhaustive efforts by McGinley to make every one of Europe's 12 players feel at home this week.
His opposite number, Tom Watson, with eight Major titles, enjoys legendary status and, as captain of the last US team to win in Europe (at The Belfry in 1993) exudes authority.
Legend has it that Watson, at one of their early meetings, asked McGinley how many Majors he'd won, to which the Dubliner supposedly retorted, “none, but I've won three Ryder Cups, Tom, how many did you?” (the American icon also won three as a player, plus one as skipper).
Despite an avuncular exterior, Watson's as hard as they come but McGinley insisted: “He never said that! In a way, it'd probably be good if he did but Watson's not stupid.”
Though McGinley cannot match Watson's iconic status, equally, his opposite number doesn't “know his fellas as well as I know mine.”
European Tour officials have been astonished by the lengths to which McGinley has gone from Day 1 to involve himself in every decision relating to his players, from the clothes on their backs at Gleneagles to the set-up of the PGA Centenary Course or the decor in the team room.
His Ryder Cup love affair began at The Belfry in 2002, where McGinley struck a hugely significant blow in his bid for the future European captaincy by sinking that famous 10-foot putt on Sunday for a match-clinching half against Jim Furyk.
Ireland has toasted a series of Ryder Cup match-clinchers, from Eamonn Darcy at Muirfield Village in 1987, through Christy O'Connor at The Belfry in ‘89, to Philip Walton at Oak Hill in ‘95 and Graeme McDowell in Wales four years ago.
Looking back at the profound effect of beating Ben Crenshaw to seal Europe's first win on US soil, Darcy says the confidence McGinley gained that Sunday in 2002 was a baptism of sorts.
“I had played with the giants of golf at Muirfield Village,” said Darcy, currently taking a year-out from the Senior Tour to recover from shoulder surgery.
“Walking out of there knowing I'd actually contributed to winning the Ryder Cup made me feel ready to take on any challenge.
“Paul's been in the thick of it and has come out on top,” he added.
“It makes a big difference when you've gone in there and holed the big putts.
“He has all the experience and knows the pitfalls of the Ryder Cup.
“He's so well grounded in the game, so highly organised and was the players choice, especially after being such a success at the Seve Trophy.
“I believe Paul will go down in history as a fantastic Ryder Cup captain.”