Anyone who listened to Paul McGinley’s impassioned rhetoric during his inspired captaincy of Europe’s Ryder Cup team in 2014 will appreciate that here is a man who doesn’t take his responsibilities lightly.
When the Irishman accepts a challenge, the commitment is total. No half measures. No cutting corners. A forensic examination or nothing. So when the Irish Olympic Committee approached him about acting as Team Leader for the country’s golf squad at the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, McGinley was unswerving in his determination to assist the Irish cause.
He is equally steadfast in his belief that the sport of golf not only deserves its place in the Olympic movement again, it has every right to be there. Even the disappointment of Rory McIlroy and Shane Lowry’s decisions not to compete in Rio have not diminished his enthusiasm for his impending trip to South America.
“Of course there is disappointment that golf is not going to showcase a number of the premier players at the Olympics,” he admitted. “However, I still believe implicitly that it is going to be a great event with a lot of very high quality players taking part. We are there, and we’re relevant.
“I absolutely refuse to see the small picture when it comes to golf in the Olympics. There is a massive opportunity for the sport and I am fully energised by its return to the Olympic Games. I feel it’s really important for the game that we embrace it and that the sport puts on a great show.”
McGinley made have lost a sprinkling of stardust by the absence of McIlroy and Lowry from the Irish roster, but the 49 year old Dubliner is excited to be fulfilling the role of Team Leader for a group of Irish golfers, led by Pádraig Harrington, the up-and-coming Séamus Power, the precociously talented amateur Leona Maguire, and the equally talented Stephanie Meadow.
“We shouldn’t be reluctant to embrace new horizons,” he continued. “It is easy to dismiss golf as an Olympic sport and at the same time belittle the value of winning a gold medal compared to winning a major. To do so leaves one open to being accused of insularity, so let’s look at the big picture and broaden our horizons and views.
“Professional golf at the elite level camouflages the immense challenges faced by those at grassroots and amateur levels. We are now being offered the opportunity to showcase golf at the biggest, most-watched sporting event in the world.”
Whereas McGinley adopted a highly scientific approach to his Ryder Cup captaincy at Gleneagles two years ago, he is more laid back – although no less professional – in his preparation for the role as Irish golf’s Team Leader.
He explained: “The IOC members know about the Olympics but they didn’t necessarily know too much about golf and golfers. I think they saw me as a conduit between them and the golfers; someone who knows what golfers need and how they think.
“I had no hesitation in accepting the role. The offer came just three months after the Ryder Cup and I had no misgivings. I wanted to do, and I wanted to leave a legacy for Ireland’s future golf participation in the Olympics.
“I talked a lot in the Ryder Cup about building a template for those people coming along behind me, and I view this role in much the same way. I hope to create a template which leaves a legacy to help the national bodies in future years, by helping to integrate golf into being an Olympic sport from an Irish perspective.”
From being a master tactician at Gleneagles, McGinley is content to downsize that element of the job during the Olympic Games at Reserva de Marapendi Golf Course in Rio.
“I see myself more as a facilitator,” he said. “My wish is to help the players get to Rio, play their event and return home in a seamless fashion. There are so many more things going on at the Olympics – accreditation, security, drug testing – all sorts of red tape. The drug policy is very complex and we want to make sure we don’t fall on the wrong side or that innocently. The Irish Olympic Committee have given me a lot of guidance on that issue.”
Never one to miss a trick McGinley visited Brazil for the official Test Event at the Olympic course in March. He absorbed information like a sponge, all designed to assist his charges when they all arrive for the competition.
“I had never been to Brazil and I had only experienced the Olympics in London as a fan,” he said. “I wanted to know what to expect. I was with the Irish Olympic Committee so I learned a lot from them about the Olympic Village and how things work. I wanted to know how far the course is from the transport and accommodation links and to establish what sort of examination paper the course would be. It was a useful recce, on course and off.”
McGinley will be reunited with Harrington, his co-winner of the World Cup of Golf in 1997 and a close Ryder Cup colleague and friend. That news comes as considerable compensation for the loss of McIlroy.
“He’s a great addition to the team, not just as a golfer but for the other Irish athletes in other sports. Pádraig is a massively popular sportsman in Ireland and he will be around other athletes, attending other events and being with them in the Village. I know he is going to embrace not just the golf but the whole two weeks and soak it in.
“Seamus is a strong up-and-coming player and he will benefit as well from being around Pádraig. He’s very energised. I’ve spent time getting to know Leona and it will be something new and exciting to be involved in the women’s competition as well.”
McGinley understands the ‘pure sporting theatre’ of the Olympics, and adheres to the Olympics ideals.
“A gold medal is important – but participating even more so. My wish is that the golfers will go out and represent their country and their people and help grow the sport for future generations.”