10 May 2020

Paul McGinley on Rory, Rahm and The Ryder Cup

After experiencing such a long disruption in the international golfing calendar due to the COVID-19 outbreak, it was the perfect time to pick the brains of European Tour stalwart Paul McGinley. He’s involved in the European Tour Committee and explains how he thinks the Tour is in safe hands and will recover from this traumatic period. He also talks about the battle for supremacy between European stars Rory McIlroy and Jon Rahm, who are currently the top two ranked players in the world. We couldn’t leave out some Ryder Cup stories with the 2014 winning captain so he shared the story about getting Sir Alex Ferguson involved and how it benefitted the team at Gleneagles.

HOW THE EUROPEAN TOUR CAN RECOVER FROM COVID-19

With the European Tour international schedule postponed until at least the end of July, due to COVID-19, McGinley is confident that the European Tour can bounce back from such a set-back after losing such a huge portion of its season. “The European Tour will be okay,” says McGinley. “We recently had a board meeting and we’re in decent shape compared to most sporting bodies. Obviously, it’s not an ideal situation but we have a great deal of experience on the board and a lot of experience at senior level. The European Tour Chairman, David Williams, is incredibly experienced as is Chief Executive Keith Pelley. “We are guiding our way through it, financially, and we are going to be okay but the longer it goes on, the tougher it’s going to be. We can’t move until the Government allows us to, wherever that may be in the world, and we also have to have proper testing or vaccine in place. Unless one of these two things happen, it’s going to be very difficult for us to go back as a sport.” Golf is supposed to be the safest sport to play with golf courses in the UAE reopening recently. There has been talk of The Ryder Cup going ahead behind closed doors in September, which could be the catalyst for events going forward to follow a similar pattern.

SPORTS PLAYED BEHIND CLOSED DOORS

“Every sport in 2020 has to face up to the reality that it’s highly unlikely that governments are going to allow mass gatherings of people, so if sports are going to be played and they are going to practice social distancing, they’re going to have to find a way of doing it behind closed doors,” adds the Irishman. “I know the PGA Tour are looking at that initially, so they’ve pencilled in four tournaments that they are aiming to play behind closed doors, so we will all be watching with interest of how they go on. If people enjoy them, that will open up the opportunity for tournaments later in the year to be played behind closed doors, too.

Golfers prepare their social distancing before playing the black course at the Bethpage State Park Golf Course.

BENEFITS OF BEING A NON-CONTACT SPORT

“Ideally, we don’t want to go down that road.It would ruin what golf stands for, but every sport is facing the same issues. We have half a chance with golf because it’s a non-contact sport and we can practice social distancing compared to other contact sports that cannot.”

GOLF HOPEFULLY RETURNING IN JUNE

“When the PGA Tour returns, it will be a big test for golf. If they pull it off for three or four events where people have not been exposed and the government has been very supportive of what they’re doing, hopefully other governments might see that as the way forward and open it up to us (The European Tour) as well.”

PRESIDENT TRUMP BACKING SPORT

The PGA Tour has essentially backed President Trump’s desire to have the USA broadly functioning in the face of numerous medical warnings. The Charles Schwab Challenge, at Fort Worth is due to take place on June 11, with on-site testing for coronavirus in place and no spectators allowed to attend. Hopefully, this goes well and opens up the door for the European Tour. Within America you have a very proactive President who’s trying to open up the lockdown and open up sport,” says the 2014-winning Ryder Cup Captain at Gleneagles. “Therefore, golf is pushing at an open door at the moment, in terms of getting the support from the government. “The guys in the USA, and living in Florida in particular, are able to play golf most days because the courses haven’t closed over there, so there’s a big advantage for those guys if we do go back to professional golf again compared to the European players.”

BATTLE FOR SUPREMACY

Rory McIlroy overtook Brooks Koepka to return to World No.1 in February after more than 1,600 days outside the summit. The 30-year-old enjoyed one of the most consistently spectacular seasons of his careers in 2019 winning the FedEx Cup and being named the PGA Tour Player of the Year. Everything seems to have really come into place for the Ulsterman. “I’ve never seen Rory play better,” McGinley says. “I think he’s maturing all the time as a golfer and is comfortable with what he’s doing and has ownership of his own game. He doesn’t make the game complicated and he looks like he still has ambition and this is key.

NOBODY PLAYS THE GAME BETTER

“If he keeps the ambition, there’s no reason why in the next five years he can’t dominate world golf because nobody plays the game better than he does. “There are a few who are close to him, like Brooks Koepka, Jon Rahm and Dustin Johnson, but the separating factor is the ambition and keeping the fire inside you burning brightly.” McGinley is a huge fan of current World No.2 Rahm and believes the Spaniard has a masterplan to not only overtake McIlroy as the World No.1 but also to become the greatest Spanish player of all time. “Rory’s in great shape but there’s no doubt that he’s going to have challenges,” says McGinley.

“I think the biggest challenger in the next five years is going to be Rahm. The Spaniard plays a powerful game and there’s no weakness. “He has a huge desire, a huge ambition and when you get to the very top, that’s that’s what separates the best from the rest. I think Rahm has got that. He’s not going to stop until he becomes World No.1 and wins several Majors. “I don’t think money is motivation for him. He’s very aware of following in the footsteps of Spain’s greats, Jose Maria Olazabal, Sergio Garcia and, particularly, Seve Ballesteros. “He’s well aware of their records and he wants to be he most dominant Spanish player of all time and I think he’s on a crusade to do that. “That’s what keeps his fire burning – it’s not money or PGA Tour titles that keeps him motivated, it’s putting his name down in history as the greatest Spanish player of all time.” The 25 year old has six European Tour and three PGA Tour titles to his name and finished third in the US Open last season. It seems to be only be a matter of time before he becomes a Major champion because he has the right people around him and the right surroundings to prosper right to the very top in the sport.

EVERYTHING IS IN PLACE

“He’s very happy in his personal life,” McGinley adds. “He’s just got married to the girl he met at college in America. He didn’t know a word of English when he went to Arizona State so he’s come a long way since he started college seven years ago. “He’s got a lot of great things in place: a good management team around him, good physical trainers, a great relationship with his wife, he’s living in a warm climate in Arizona where he’s comfortable in his surroundings, he goes back to Spain a lot – everything is in place for him to elevate into the top echelon of golf. “You’d be a brave man to argue against him becoming World No.1 at some stage. He’s the real deal and is the most exciting player to come on the scene since McIlroy.”

HOW SIR ALEX FERGUSON HELPED EUROPE WIN THE RYDER CUP

Sir Alex Ferguson is arguably the greatest football manager of all time, but few people know that he has also made an impact on the golf scene by guiding and mentoring Paul McGinley during his 2014 Ryder Cup captaincy for Europe. “I didn’t have all the answers when I was made Ryder Cup Captain so I liked the idea of having some mentors around me for advice because managing elite players is not easy,” says McGinley. “I looked around and Sir Alex Ferguson had just retired from Manchester United and I’d played golf with him 10 years previously, so I thought he would be a guy who I could do with having on my shoulder.

“Even if we only met up for two or three times over the two-year period, I could ask him some questions and that’s what I did. “We had lunches and two or three meetings and I would get all the questions prepared for him that I wanted to get his insight on. For example one of them was, I’d played in three Ryder Cup teams myself and I was always number 6 to 12 in the team and never one of those elite players.

MANAGING SUPERSTARS 

“Therefore, how do you manage the superstars? How did he manage Cristiano Ronaldo, David Beckham, Ryan Giggs or Paul Scholes? How do I manage Rory McIlroy, Henrik Stenson, Justin Rose, Sergio Garcia, Lee Westwood – those kinds of players, because they are on a different level to what I was. “I understood how to manage a rookie such as Stephen Gallacher who came into the team because I was that kind of solider myself! They were the kind of things I was looking for.”

McIlroy and Graeme McDowell are huge Manchester United fans so the decision to get ‘Fergie’ involved in the 2014 team made an emphatic impact on them. “Rory was happy with the decision!” McGinley adds. “Sir Alex came up to speak to the players on the Tuesday night around some principles and challenges that I knew we were going to be facing, so I asked him to talk about it. He gave us a lot of good insight and it was a fun evening. “He had dinner with us that night and it was a good bit of craic because not everybody is a Manchester United fan! Caddies like Billy Foster were giving him a bit of stick because he’s a Leeds United fan and was not happy with Sir Alex stealing Eric Cantona the way he did! It was all good fun.”

Ferguson went back to Manchester to watch the Ryder Cup on the television for the first two days of action and texted McGinley on the Saturday night with the advice: ‘not to be complacent – that’s your biggest enemy now,’ after they had built a four-point lead going into the final day. Fergie travelled to Gleneagles on the Sunday with his son to see Team Europe lift the trophy after they defeated Tom Watson’s USA team 16.5 to 11.5 points. “Sir Alex came into our team room after the victory and had a nice glass of wine before hitting the road back to Manchester,” recalls McGinley.

“We were happy to have him involved and he was an important part of our team. The players all enjoyed being around him and felt very comfortable in his presence. “He certainly wasn’t intimidating and didn’t take over the room. He wanted to make sure that it wasn’t all about him and he wanted to be in the background. It was nice to have him in our corner and be there to help me with any questions that I knew I’d be facing.”

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