You know all about Tom Watson -- gap-toothed boy wonder, proud Stanford Cardinal, Nicklaus foil, eight-time major champion, four-time Ryder Cupper, World Golf Hall of Famer, MasterCard pitchman (“Sneed-e-ker…”), legend.
But who in the name of Samuel Ryder is Paul McGinley?
He lacks the bluster of Monty, the panache of Seve and, with just four wins on the European circuit and no major titles, the resume of Langer. And compared to his Kansas City counterpart in these 40th Ryder Cup matches? Well, if Watson is John Lennon, McGinley isn’t even Ringo -- he’s the soundboard guy. But, alas, McGinley, 47, is an undercard who should not be overlooked. Here are 15 things you probably don’t know but should about the man Graeme McDowell says will “press all the right buttons.”
1. He’s been there. And there. And there…
When wide-eyed rookies like Victor Dubuisson or Stephen Gallacher need advice on how to calm their 1st-tee jitters or with which fork to stab their haggis tartlets, McGinley is their man. Their captain has played on three winning Ryder Cup teams (in 2002, ’04, ’06) and served as a vice-captain on two more victorious sides (2010, ’12). That’s five Cups, five Ws, with wisdom gleaned at each. “I’ve got at least half a dozen notebooks filled with things I’ve collected over the years,” he told Euan McLean of ScotlandNow.com. “There’s always lessons to be learned, and it’s not just from captains and players that I learn from. I take a lot of information from the press too.”
2. He’s shorter than … Corey Pavin?!
At 5’7”, McGinley is not the shortest Ryder Cup captain in recent memory. That distinction goes to the 5’4” firecracker Ian Woosnam (2006). But McGinley does look up to Pavin, who’s listed, perhaps generously, at 5’9”.
3. He and Padraig Harrington attended the same high school
Florida has Milton High, whose alumni include Bubba Watson, Heath Slocum and Boo Weekley. Dublin has Coláiste Éanna, an all-boys Catholic school that has graduated two Ryder Cuppers: McGinley and, four years later, Harrington. The pair would clash in amateur competitions (McGinley knocked off Harrington en route to winning the 1991 South of Ireland) and later become formidable match-play partners (winning the 1997 World Cup at Kiawah Island’s Ocean course). At the 2004 Ryder Cup at Oakland Hills, McGinley and Harrington throttled Tiger Woods and Davis Love III, 4 and 3. Having been spurred on by a sizeable Irish contingent, Harrington suggested to captain Bernhard Langer that the Irishmen should play in succession in singles to keep the vocal tri-color fans in close quarters. Langer liked the idea and sent out McGinley and Harrington in the 11th and 12th spots; both players delivered a point in the European rout. Earlier this month, McGinley named Harrington one of his five vice-captains.
4. Hold on -- five vice-captains? What’s up with that?
McGinley has been tweaked for appointing a small army of deputies -- “He might as well have 12 vice-captains, one for each player,” Woosie quipped -- but insists there’s a method to his strategizing madness. "I told the European tour the very first day I became captain that I was going to have five vice-captains and there is a specific reason but I'm not going to tell you what it is," he said recently, according to the Belfast Telegraph. "You'll find it out during the week. I don't want to give Tom Watson a heads up on it." (Remember Zinger’s vaunted Navy Seals-inspired “pod” system? Could each of McGinley’s vices be heading up a squad within the squad? Stay tuned.)
5. You can rent golf clubs from him
McGinley is a founding investor in ClubstoHire.com, a Dublin-based company that rents clubs to traveling golfers. The Irish Independent reports that the outfit, with 21 locations in countries such as Ireland, Spain and Cyprus, is on pace to rent 60,000 sets in 2014 and collect nearly $4 million in revenues.
6. Growing up, McGinley didn't dream of winning majors
For most of McGinley’s formative years, golf was a way to while away long summer days. His real passion and ability was for Gaelic football. “The idea of me being a pro golfer was like me going to the moon. There was no way,” he told golf writer Mitchell Platts. “As far as I was concerned Gaelic football was everything that golf was not. It’s a fast, tough, hard-running game whereas golf is much more sedate.” McGinley’s dream was to play Gaelic football for Dublin…
7. …and then he cracked his kneecap
At 18, McGinley broke his kneecap, shattering his hopes of playing Gaelic football at the highest level (though he maintains his football days primed him for the cauldron of the Ryder Cup). The injury would require seven operations over the ensuing years, forcing him to retool his swing multiple times. Not that you’ll spot many flaws in it. Here’s a look at McGinley’s graceful move in super slow motion.
8. He was a top 20 player. For a few months, anyway
In 2005, McGinley finished third in the Order of Merit and ascended to No. 18 in the world, his career-highs in each ranking.
9. He’s dreadful at skipping golf balls across water
In a 2010 promotional stunt for the European tour, players were challenged to skip balls across a lake toward a nine-inch gong floating on the surface. McGinley struggled, as you’ll see 20 seconds in. (In fairness, McGinley’s second attempt, at the 1:20 mark, proves he’s a quick study.)
10. He did not attend “San Diego University,” as many British papers have erroneously reported
There’s no institution by that name. McGinley, in fact, matriculated at U.S. International University, in San Diego, which is now called Alliant International University. Under golf coach Gordon Severson, McGinley flourished, thrice earning All-American honors, including in 1989, when he led the Gulls to four consecutive wins. (McGinley’s future wife, Allison Shapcott, also played golf at USIS, as did Helen Alfredsson, who has won seven times on the LPGA tour.) “I learned more from Gordon than anyone else,” McGinley told golf writer Mitchell Platts. “He took me from a shabby amateur to a golf professional. Later I worked with Bob Torrance and he took me from shabby professional to a good professional. But it was with Gordon that I really started to learn how to play the game properly.” (Read more about Severson in his 2006 obit.)
11. He drank his first pint of Guinness at the Yellow House pub in the Dublin suburb of Rathfarnham
Admittedly this isn’t particularly useful trivia, but who knows, maybe Dan Hicks can call upon it should Europe storm to its eighth victory in the last 10 Ryder Cups. (FYI, Dan, one Yelp reviewer describes the Yellow House as a “landmark, character pub … named after the unusual shade of bricks from which it is built … full of historical memorabilia and photos on the walls. It attracts an older more mature crowd than the other big pubs in the area…”)
12. He’s a Ryder Cup stud
On paper, McGinley’s 2-2-5 record doesn’t knock your moisture-wicking socks off. But he’s never lost a singles match, winning one and halving two, and, in 2002, he holed a knee-knocking, legacy-making putt against Jim Furyk to clinch the title for Europe at the Belfry. McGinley’s recounting of the twisting 10-footer is worth a watch. Scroll to the 3:00 mark of this clip for his description of the bewilderment he felt after the ball dropped.
13. He also has endured some match-play heartbreak
In the final of the 2005 World Match Play at Wentworth, McGinley faced reigning U.S. Open champion Michael Campbell. The Irishman had the galleries behind him and gamely clawed back from an early deficit to square the match with nine holes to play. Then, on 15, he hit a ball into the trees to fall 1 down, followed by another tree ball on 16. Two down. Campbell won the match on 17. "Hurt like you can't imagine,” McGinley said of the defeat.
14. He was a stockbroker
If only for six months. After graduating from college, McGinley worked for a brokerage firm in Dublin. “I'm not a good guy for going into a (structured job),” McGinley recently told Paul Kimmage in the Irish Independent. “I wanted something with a buzz.” Presumably Ryder Cup captain fits the criteria.
15. “He’s a great lad”
That’s according to a recent assessment by McDowell. “He’s a scholar of that methodology of management, captaincy, leadership,” McDowell added. “He will do all the right things. He will press all the right buttons. To me, he is going to personify the right answer in [the Ryder Cup captain] debate: Should the emphasis be on golfing credentials or leadership qualities?”