ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates — Paul McGinley will captain the 2014 European Ryder Cup team, it was announced here Tuesday night.
A few months ago McGinley's appointment would barely have rated as news. The amiable Irishman and two-time Ryder Cup vice-captain had long been considered the front-runner. But after the PGA of America's stunning decision to name Tom Watson as its captain, the McGinley candidacy was thrown into doubt.
The European Tour's 15-man Tournament Players Committee is charged with naming a captain, and word began to leak out that certain members felt McGinley did not have the proper stature to stand up to the American legend.
Never mind that McGinley is 5'8"; this was more about his modest playing career (four total wins) and virtual anonymity in the U.S. The Ryder Cup is showbiz, and the captaincy has become a cult of personality.
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Thus support began to build for Scotland's Colin Montgomerie, whose massive ego was further inflated when he captained Europe to victory in 2010. With the Ryder Cup being played in Scotland for the first time since 1973, the conventional wisdom became that a self-important native son was needed at the helm to galvanize Europe's home-field advantage.
But let's not forget that back in 2010 many of Monty's pairings were head-scratchers, or that some of his players bristled at his heavy-handed leadership, or that he had one of Europe's strongest teams ever and barely got them across the line; history is written by the winning captain.
While McGinley remained admirably quiet, Montgomerie began to subtly stump for the job in the press. But this whisper campaign ultimately backfired as it motivated Europe's top players to go public with their support for McGinley. (Or read another way, their distaste for Montgomerie.) World No. 1 Rory McIlroy was particularly strident, saying, "It will be a very disappointing day for the European tour if Paul McGinley doesn't get it. I'm afraid politics is getting in the way of making the right choice. Monty has done it already. He's been a winning captain. I don't think he has to go back and do it again."
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Ultimately, Luke Donald, Ian Poulter and Justin Rose also came out for McGinley. This was particularly important given the composition of the Tournament Players Committee: Thomas Bjorn (chairman), Paul Casey, Darren Clarke, Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano, Joakim Haeggman, David Howell, Raphael Jacquelin, Miguel Angel Jimenez, Robert Karlsson, Peter Lawrie, Paul McGinley, Francesco Molinari, Colin Montgomerie, Felipe Aguilar and Henrik Stenson.
Note that Molinari is the only one who is a likely member of the 2014 team. (And that Aguilar, of Chile, is not even eligible to play.) On Tuesday night the committee was sequestered in a meeting room at the St. Regis hotel to choose the captain, minus Jimenez, Karlsson and Haeggman, who are not in the field of this week's Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship. McGinley and Montgomerie were asked to leave the room and the debate lasted for about an hour. In the end, McGinley was a unanimous selection. That he survived this process will only aid the European team's celebrated cohesion.
He knows he owes the job to the players who went to bat for him, and they in turn are gratified that their influence was validated. On the day of the vote McIlroy was particularly effusive in his praise for McGinley. "I played under him at the Seve Trophy in 2009 and from all the captains that I have played under, I think he was the best," said McIlroy. "As a [Ryder Cup] vice captain he has been a big presence in the team room. He had a loud voice. He had a lot of great ideas. He's been very influential."
On Tuesday night, McGinley paid tribute to McIlroy, saying, "If Rory doesn't make the team, he has a good chance at a pick now." He also expressed awe and appreciation at having been made captain, noting his "modest" credentials compared to previous captains.
"I'm really, really thrilled," he said. "It's also a very humbling experience. It's also a situation I'm relishing. I can't wait to get into the captain's responsibilities and begin working with the players who have shown so much support for me."
McGinley has experienced the magnitude of the Ryder Cup, having played on three teams, including 2002, when he famously sunk the clinching putt. But after surviving this rancorous process, handling the captain's duties will be the easy part.
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