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McGinley's winning strategy is European template

By Liam Kelly

Published 24/09/2016

Top of the world: Paul McGinley has enjoyed a number of successes at the Ryder Cup, including in 2010 with Padraig Harrington, Graeme McDowell, Rory McIlroy and vice captain Darren Clarke
Top of the world: Paul McGinley has enjoyed a number of successes at the Ryder Cup, including in 2010 with Padraig Harrington, Graeme McDowell, Rory McIlroy and vice captain Darren Clarke

Paul McGinley took Ryder Cup strategy and planning to a whole new level for the match against the USA at Gleneagles in 2014. McGinley's first exposure to the white hot atmosphere of the biennial contest was in 2002 at The Belfry, and home captain Sam Torrance had a big influence on the Irishman's experience of the Ryder Cup.

The hallmark of the Scot's captaincy was team unity, team bonding, and generating a spirit of camaraderie that would forge a solid unit to face the USA. Clarity and planning also proved important.

"You've got to have a plan, but that plan must be flexible. You have to be able to move within that plan. I learned that from Sam Torrance," said McGinley.

Torrance told the Dubliner 10 days before the Ryder Cup began that he would be playing two foursomes matches with Padraig Harrington, and then in the singles on Sunday.

"That was tremendous for me. I knew what three matches I'd be playing, I knew my partner.

"What happened then was that Padraig dropped himself after the first day in 2002, and then I ended up playing with Darren (Clarke) despite not having a practice round with him.

"But obviously I knew him, and I knew his game, and we fitted in there and we played.

"So it's important to have a plan in place, but that plan must have flexibility," said McGinley.

McGinley bought into it wholeheartedly, and when the chance came to hole the key putt - 'this for the win, this for the Ryder Cup' - he drilled the ball home to clinch the victory for Europe.

McGinley's competitive nature was honed on the GAA pitches at Ballyboden St Enda's club as a youngster, and that stood to him during his golfing career.

He had a fine career as an individual, but team golf suited his temperament, and it showed, not only through that famous week at The Belfry, but in subsequent appearances at Oakland Hills in 2004 and The K Club in 2006.

The Dubliner was canny enough to avoid a vice-captain's role with Nick Faldo in 2008, but a Seve Trophy captaincy in 2009, followed by vice-captaincy stints with Colin Montgomerie in 2010 and Jose Maria Olazabal (2012), whetted his appetite for the big job in 2014.

Once McGinley was confirmed as captain for Gleneagles, the thinking, the strategy, the orchestrating of a plan to defeat the USA began.

Potential team members, possible foursomes and fourball pairings, details of team room set-up were constantly assessed.

What brand of golf balls did players use?

As it came close to deciding on likely partnerships for foursomes, McGinley checked that out and despatched dozens of the balls used by each player in each potential partnership so they could agree on the ball they would play in the matches.

The outcome was a 7-1 result for Europe in the foursomes alone - a great base on which build the victory.

Motivational images and phrases such as ''Passion has determined our past. Attitude will determine our future", the recruitment of Sir Alex Ferguson to address the players, and the moulding of a complete team ethos obsessed McGinley.

The starting point of it all had to be the Glenagles golf course, 'the examination paper' as he called it. Statistics of how it played in Johnny Walker Championships were pored over, as were player performances in various statistic categories.

McGinley's pairing of Graeme McDowell with French rookie Victor Dubuisson and how he wanted them to play offered a perfect example of his strategy.

The captain told McDowell he wanted the Frenchman to drive on the even number holes because with his length off the tee, the Portrush native would have better chances of getting home in two shots and setting up birdie chances.

"I started with the course and built my strategy around the statistics of the course."

McGinley made sure to include the caddies in the team room and general environment, because he appreciated that the bagmen know their employers better than anyone else. That worked, too.

Ultimately the outcome rests with the players, particularly the big guns on either side. Typically, McGinley has a stat for that.

"Look, your top players win your Ryder Cups.

"The top four players in the world rankings off each team normally account for 38% to 48% of your total points gained, from four players.

"The other two thirds of the team account for the other half of total points that you need. Why have we been winning Ryder Cups time after time?

"There's one reason - our top players get a lot of points," he said.

Belfast Telegraph

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