ABU DHABI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES | Like for like and inch for inch. Cerebral, professional and admired as the 5-foot-9 Tom Watson is, much the same can be said of Paul McGinley. At 5-foot-7, Paul McGinley is hobbit-sized, a man with dark hair and a dark face and sombre eyes that can suddenly dance and sparkle like rays of sunshine reflecting on water. McGinley, the man who sank the winning putt in the Ryder Cup at The Belfry in 2002, is so popular that he had 400 text messages of congratulation on being selected Ryder Cup captain. On the practice ground at Abu Dhabi Golf Club last Wednesday, he cut a regal figure, being stopped every few steps by another player or caddie who wanted to shake his hand and have a few words. It was 20 minutes before he was able to get a golf club out of his bag and then, noticing a hovering journalist, he smiled and asked: “Did you want a word?” That was another half-hour gone for the cause that will dominate his life from now until October next year, but if ever a man seems comfortable in this environment, it is McGinley. His hardest task is going to be saying no. He is said by his peers to be a very good motivator, to be considerate, friendly and intelligent, characteristics that contributed to the waves of enthusiasm that built up for his captaincy and remained steadfast throughout the campaign. Others supported Darren Clarke until he withdrew, and some were for Colin Montgomerie but Rory McIlroy, Luke Donald, Justin Rose and Ian Poulter wanted only McGinley.
And it was their approval, particularly McIlroy’s, that won it for McGinley. “Paul makes you feel good about yourself,” the world No. 1 said. “He is the best captain I have ever played under.” Shane Lowry was rushed to hospital with shingles during a tournament in Dubai last November. One man spent an hour at Lowry’s bedside each night – McGinley. It was McGinley who thought that Donald was tired after the FedEx series and could go home on the Friday afternoon of the Ryder Cup. After clearing it with Jose Maria Olazábal, McGinley told Donald to return to his wife and children half an hour from Medinah and though Donald and Garcia lost their Saturday morning match, Donald’s form on Saturday afternoon and Sunday helped keep the trophy in Europe. In Ryder Cups, McGinley is meticulous, a note-taker, in his element in a team environment. At such times some people rise to the occasion and others sink. McGinley doesn’t so much rise as soar. “I always played better when part of a team,” he said. “My heart ticks a bit faster, my adrenaline goes a bit more and I love the team environment at Ryder Cups, the meetings, the pageantry, everything. I seem to go to another level when I’m involved in team golf.” His meticulousness is less evident in his private life. “If you asked his wife if he was organised, she’d say, ‘No,’ ” Padraig Harrington, McGinley’s close friend, said. “Let me put it this way. A few weeks before a tournament at Wentworth he invited us to dinner for six o’clock on the Saturday night. Several times in the following weeks he mentioned it. He only remembered to tell Ali, his wife, about three o’clock on the Saturday afternoon. Like most of us, he is totally focused on certain things and everything else is rather loose.” McGinley, 46, smiled ruefully. “That’s true. I have a lot on,” so much that he has abandoned his season ticket holder status at West Ham football club in east London. He left Chubby Chandler’s management company three years ago and now looks after himself. He is a restless sort, the sort to push on an open door. He is constantly looking for business opportunities, enjoying the days when he invites all his sponsors and business associates for a game of golf and he can hear them talk about what they are doing and try to think of ways in which he can put that to his advantage. He and a university friend set up Clubstohire, which rents out golf clubs at 14 airports throughout Europe. McGinley has recently opened some golf academies run in conjunction with Tullow Oil, an Irish exploration company in Ghana, West Africa, “the fastest growing economy in the world last year,” he said. And he is involved with Eligo, a company that charges £10,000 annually to each of 100 members in return for membership and playing rights at some of Europe’s most famed golf clubs such as Old Head of Kinsale, Valderrama and Turnberry. With degrees in marketing from an Irish college and international business and finance from San Diego University, McGinley may be academically the brightest recent captain. His dignity throughout the captaincy process, one that was unseemly at times, earned him new friends in addition to those such as McIlroy, Harrington and Lowry, who were at the back of the room when his captaincy was announced. McGinley, one of Sam Torrance’s 12 lions, may have kept his silence until he was named captain, but now we may expect to hear him start to roar.