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 Olympic Council of Ireland (OCL) approached him about acting as Team Leader for his country’s golfers 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 failed to diminish his enthusiasm for the 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 its players. I am fully energised by its return to the Olympic Games. I feel it’s really important for the 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 talented trio led by Padraig Harrington, the up-and-coming Seamus Power and the precociously talented amateur Leona Maguire and professional Stephanie Meadow in the women’s competition.
“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. Let’s grasp it.”
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 OCL 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 it, 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 enhancing the successfull European template as I handed over to future captains, 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 new red tape golers might not be familiar with. The drug policy , for example, is different and very complex and we want to make sure that we fully understand and comprehend Olympic policy.. 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 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 Olympic Council of Ireland 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 Irish athletes in other sports. Padraig 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 Padraig. 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. Leona is unique in so far as she is one of three amatures who have qualified to respresent her country at golf in Olympics.”
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, their people and their sport in a manner that will help grow the game for future generations.”