Former winning Ryder Cup Captain Paul McGinley believes the USA has unearthed another potential gem of a team leader in Zach Johnson following the overwhelming success of Steve Stricker’s tenure last September at Whistling Straits.
In Wisconsin, the Americans seemed to capture the team unity that the Europeans have had in abundance for years, and the ever-popular Stricker was at the heart of the positive energy as the local boy’s side completed a 19-9 romp of Padraig Harrington’s men.
McGinley fostered an atmosphere around his team like no other when enjoying a similar demolition job at Gleneagles in 2014 but the Americans have been studying Europe’s copybook ever since and they’ve finally found the magic formula – encapsulated by Johnson’s appointment – to breed success into the biennial competition.
“They’ve stolen a lot of our ideas over the years and one of them is this succession plan. The fact that Zach has been a Vice-Captain twice and a Presidents Cup Vice Captain once… he’s a very popular guy,” McGinley said.
“I think he’ll be in the mold of Steve Stricker. He’s a good appointment, one that we were expecting. I think they cracked it better than they ever did at Whistling Straits in terms of the atmosphere off the course, they got a lot of things right and I think Zach will be a continuation of that.”
Still 18 months out from Rome’s Ryder Cup date in 2023 and Johnson has already faced the media’s questioning, not least in relation to Phil Mickelson who has become persona non-grata in golf circles since his Saudi comments came to light.
Johnson was asked if there’s a place for Mickelson – a Vice-Captain of Stricker’s last year, in his backroom team.
“Phil is a friend of mine on and off the golf course and I’m going to leave it at that,” Johnson said.
When pushed if the PGA of America explicitly stated he cannot appoint Mickelson as a vice-captain, Johnson denied such a conversation had taken place.
“That conversation has not taken place and, you know, they’ve been in full support of me to represent this team and certainly help me navigate any and all, small and big decisions along the way.”
McGinley is no stranger to internal team squabbles and the politics involved in Ryder Cup team dynamics so I asked him – if he was in Johnson’s shoes – would he consider Mickelson despite the cloud of discontent currently formed around the six-time Major winner.
“Time moves on, doesn’t it,” McGinley said. “We’ve got 18 months between now and then. I don’t know where Phil’s going to be in the next three months. Is he going to play the Masters?
“But time moves on. I’m certainly not one of these people who supports cancel culture in so far as, ‘that’s it, you’ve done what you did and you’re never coming back’.
“I think time moves on and we’ll see where he goes. Thankfully that’s their problem, not ours! And hopefully they’ve got a few more problems to deal with between now and then.”