In a move that should fill European golf fans with pride and shame the PGA of America, Paul McGinley was named captain of the 2014 European Ryder Cup team today. McGinley will lead his troops into battle against a USA squadron with at least three strikes against it.
To begin, the USA named an imposing figure (Tom Watson) to be its captain. Watson led only one man into battle (himself) during his professional career, while a viable alternative (Larry Nelson) led actual troops into battle in Vietnam. All right, that’s a mean argument. Let’s remember Jack Nicklaus as captain. The players from his 1987 squad were too intimidated to perform. There will be some of that with Watson, whose legend will grow (like an enhanced fish tale) between now and the matches. Keep in mind that Watson will be 21 years removed from his first tour of duty as captain…can you say detached?
The second strike is the site. While some say that Watson is beloved in Scotland, he is a distant second to the European squad. Remember, too, that fans will be from all of Europe’s countries and the Welsh, French, Danes, Fins, Brits and Irish will not hesitate to voice their support against Watson and his charges. Nice try, PR department, but even Bobby Jones would garner support while wearing a Team USA uniform.
Strike three is McGinley himself. He has been rewarded for all that he has done for the European PGA. Despite Colin Montgomerie’s diva entrance into the captaincy debate a few weeks back, McGinley remained quiet and let cool heads prevail. Darren Clarke did something that perhaps Tom Watson might have considered; he took himself out of the running and let McGinley take the stage. If Clarke does not make the team on points, I suspect he will be Captain Mac’s right-hand man.
Paul McGinley tied for 6th in the 2004 US PGA championship, his best performance in a major event. He won four times on the European Tour, including the 2005 Volvo Masters.by 2 strokes over Sergio Garcia. McGinely set nothing on fire; he didn’t even make the kindling smolder. What he did do was make the most of his 2002 Ryder Cup appearance, holing a putt to tie Jim Furyk and win the matches for the European side. He has served as a vice-captain for three consecutive matches (US PGA, are you getting any of this?) and will step seamlessly into his role as captain.
How do I know this? I don’t, nor do I know how his team will perform under pressure. I suspect that, having assisted Colin Montgomerie (ironic, huh?) and Jose Maria Olazabal, two leaders with different personalities, records and styles, McGinley will bring an unmatched equilibrium to the team.
Now, I’m a learned and humble man. If someone were to come to me with irrefutable proof that Tom Watson, when offered the 2014 captaincy, responded “No, It isn’t right that Larry Nelson be overlooked again,” I will write a column and tweet/facebook it until the end of time. I suspect he did not. If the same someone were to produce text of a conversation in which the PGA of America responded “It’s either you or Ben Crane, Tom. The ball is in your court,” I would also sheepishly admit my chagrin. Doubt that one, too.