Paul McGinley talks Ryder Cup, Rahm to LIV rumours, Tiger Woods & Rory McIlroy

Mark McGowan
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Paul McGinley (Photo by Andrew Redington/Getty Images)

Mark McGowan

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Paul McGinley made his debut as lead analyst for NBC during their coverage of the Hero World Challenge last weekend. Whilst being no stranger to the American broadcaster through his regular work for NBC’s Golf Channel, the 2014 Ryder Cup winning captain was taking the first chair after the broadcaster opted not to renew Paul Azinger’s contract, and now awaits to see whether he’s offered the role on a long-term basis.

Speaking with Martin Dempster of the Scotsman, McGinley spoke at length about a number of topics, including his potential role with NBC, but it was his thoughts on other golfing matters that captured the attention.

With Luke Donald being confirmed as Ryder Cup captain again for the away fixture in 2025, McGinley, widely regarded as being the greatest Ryder Cup captain of them all, believes Europe have the right man at the helm.

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“I wouldn’t say no-brainer,” McGinley responded to the ‘was it a no-brainer?’ question, “Luke had to want to do it himself. We walked about the template and Thomas [Bjorn] and Luke have done brilliant jobs in their home ones. We lost by a record margin at Whistling Straits and I know there were a lot of headwinds against us there. We lost by quite a big margin at Hazeltine, too. We had a lot of rookies on that team and it was also a young team. It’s amazing how much it had changed from 2014.

“We won Medinah when we shouldn’t have won except for the miracles in so many ways that were led by Poulter. We lost heavily in Valhalla, so you’ve got to go back to 2004 and Bernhard Langer to find when we last produced a really strong performance away from home. The idea is to rip up what we do because just because we do something at home doesn’t mean it is transferable and the view now is to approach this in a very different way. Give a lot more thought to the fact it is away and treat it as unique. The first move if you want to call it a chess game was to put in a captain who’d captained before and not put in a rookie captain away from home. That’s the first chess play move and Luke was the obvious choice. He took time to consider it and here we are.”

With decorated Ryder Cup stars galore waiting in line behind McGinley, a repeat captaincy was never a real consideration, though he admits he’d have loved to test his wits against an American counterpart when Europe are ceding home advantage.

“I’d love to have helped draw up and be an architect of a different way of approaching an away match,” he said, “and that’s what we haven’t really done. It’s about approaching it in a very different way. A lot of the things Luke did in Italy were great, but we’ve got different challenges away from home and we’ve got to build a strategy and a plan around those different challenges.”

As the murky waters around any potential agreements between the PGA and DP World Tours and the PIF show little signs of clearing, McGinley feels that any signed and sealed agreement is unlikely to happen this year.

“I think it’s a long way off,” he said. “You know, it’s a very simple equation. The tour want to bring in more money but the tour is owned by the players and it’s a question of what control they will give up in order for the money to come in. That’s the simple equation, that’s what it boils down to. If you take in the money, you have to give up control and how much control will you give up as a members’ organisation. That’s the simplicity of it.”

As the rumour mill surrounding Jon Rahm’s potential move to LIV continues to grind and reports emerge from all angles that it’s effectively a done deal, McGinley admits that Rahm making the jump was something that few envisaged until very recently.

“Yeah, I guess it is,” he replied when asked if it was strange that the move may happen at a time when both parties are reportedly negotiating terms. “Everybody is in the dark because he hasn’t denied it, but any of us who know Jon would be surprised if he did that. But what we have learned in the last two years is that you can never discount anything, so it’s not going to be discounted by anyone within the game. You know, at the moment the game is a diluted product and my hope is that at the end of these negotiations it won’t be a diluted product any more. Hopefully we can get to a place where it’s unified and in a better place again. I don’t think the public benefits from a diluted product. I think the whole game would benefit from a more united product again and hopefully we can get to that place.”

In his role with NBC last week, McGinley got to watch Tiger Woods closer than most and he admitted that, like the rest of us, Tiger is still the player who moves the needle most for him, but he’s cautious about reading too much into the reasonably good showing last week in The Bahamas.

“He’s not in his 20s coming back from injury,” McGinley said. “He’s 48 later this month and he probably can’t practice the way he used to. He was a ferocious practiser and he’s obviously not able to put in that work, so you wonder where his game is going to be. He’s turned up this week saying his game is rusty. When have we ever heard him say that before? I think that’s simply because he’s not been able to practice the way he’d liked to in preparation for this because he is restricted.

“The other thing as well is that he’s got massive distraction going on in his life with the role he’s playing for the PGA Tour sitting on their board and that’s not going finish on 31 December if a deal is struck. You know, then is when his work will only start as then it will be overseeing for the next two years at least this new order in golf or whatever. I think we have to be a little bit more realistic about what level he can come back to play and compete at. We are all hoping for the best, but there are a lot of questions that remain and a lot of headwinds and challenges facing him.”

Few players know Rory McIlroy better than McGinley, having captained the up-and-coming star in the Seve Trophy in his early days, and then at the Ryder Cup for which McIlroy was one of McGinley’s strongest supporters when an early power struggle looked set to emerge, and McGinley remains as optimistic as ever that McIlroy can get back on the major winning trail. Particularly now that he’s got one less distraction having stepped down from the PGA Tour Policy Board.

“I don’t think it will do him any harm,” he said of McIlroy’s decision to step down. “But, having said that, I think the last two years have fired him up. Rory is an emotional player. When his heart is engaged, it’s when he’s at his best and I think all the stuff off the course the last two years has inflamed that heart of his. We saw that at the Ryder Cup. He had his best-ever Ryder Cup in Italy and you saw in the car park how much he was bought into it. I think that’s the key with Rory. You get him emotionally invested in something and that’s when he’s at his best. We’ll have to wait and see. But I think he’s been a bit unfortunate when it comes to major championships.

“He’s certainly played well enough to win a few of them since and, St Andrews in particular, but someone just seemed to play better on the last day as things went for them as opposed to not going for him. He’s just got to keep doing what he’s been doing. His underlying stats have never been better. Even in 2014, his underlying stats through the bag have never been better than they are now. He’s a more solid player. He’s got less weaknesses in his game than he did when he was winning major championships and he’s just got to keep that standard up and wait for the golfing gods to shine on him and keep emotionally invested in what he is doing.”

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