Brought to you by

One of Ireland’s golfing legends, Paul McGinley talks about how his love for Gaelic football and the team environment brought him to the role of Ryder Cup captain and leading Team Europe to victory in 2014.

I’m a big believer in fate. We all have a destiny.

I never had ambitions of becoming a professional golfer. Gaelic football was my passion.

Growing up in a traditional Irish Catholic house like mine, representing your village, your county, and your team was the dream. My Dad played for his county, Donegal. That was the path I wanted to follow with Dublin. When that dream was taken away from me with a horrific knee injury, my path shifted.

I came into professional golf through the back door, but I genuinely believe, that was where I was destined to go.

My club Ballyboden St. Enda’s were the best in Leinster. We’d a strong team with lots of ambition. The great Jim Stynes was midfield for us. We were winning all around us.

I was 19 years of age when I shattered my knee. I had a massive operation and a steel plate put in. I was on crutches for six months. It was devastating.

I was under the best knee surgeon in Ireland at the time in the Blackrock Clinic, Jimmy Sheehan. I’ll never forget him breaking the news to me on the hospital bed that my Gaelic football dreams were over. He asked if I played any other sport and I mentioned that I played a bit of golf. He encouraged me to put my focus into that.

It was a big life lesson, but I shook myself off and got on with it. What felt like the end was only the beginning. Opportunity knocks, and you have to be ready to answer.

After I finished my marketing degree, I met a guy in Brussels who happened to be friends with a golf coach in San Diego. Through him, I was offered a golf scholarship in the US to study International Business. That environment provided me with the opportunity to really excel at the game of golf. It was only at that point, in my twenties, that I seriously considered the idea of becoming a professional golfer.

I’d come home during the summer and my golf was just getting better and better. I made the Irish amateur team and began to dominate. After I graduated, I went to tour school where I came second. That was my first step on the escalator to becoming a professional golfer.

Golf never came naturally to me. I had to work hard at my game, but I was also very lucky, because I emerged into a golden era in European golf in the last 20-25 years, from Seve Ballesteros, Nick Faldo to Sandy Lyle right up to Rory McIlroy now. I was around these guys and I was learning all the time. Everyone one of those superstar golfers in the Ryder Cup for the last three decades, I’ve either played under, played with, or captained myself.

In 1997, I won the World Cup, for Ireland, with Padraig Harrington, that was a big milestone for me. I represented Ireland and Britain in the Seve Cup. By then, I knew the Ryder Cup was an achievable goal for me. When you sense something is achievable, it gives you a new sense of purpose.

That sense of purpose drove me all the way to the 18th green at the Belfry and a 10-foot putt to win the 2002 Ryder Cup for Europe. It might have been a long way from being stretchered off at Ballyboden, but it was where I was meant to be.

As grateful as I was for that moment in 2002, it could not have been the height of my ambitions. I set my sights on becoming Ryder Cup captain. I was fully aware that it would require me to break the mold that had existed for decades. In general, the players that were captains before me had far superior records than I did. I was a good golfer, but I was no superstar.

I may not have had the major wins but what I did have, was a huge amount of education and experience behind me. Leadership comes naturally to me. Unlike many of the guys on the tour, I was born to be part of a team. I thrive in that environment. I’m comfortable taking on leadership roles despite all the pressure, expectation, and criticism that can bring.

In my own mind, I broke down the barriers to realising the ambition to be Ryder Cup captain.

Show me the correlation between “the better the player, the better the captain” in any sport. There is none. It’s simply not a hard and fast rule.

Looking back at some of the greatest leaders in sport, very few of them – if any – have been real superstars of the game themselves. Nick Faldo is the perfect example. He was the most successful player that Europe ever produced. But he was lost in the role of captaincy. He didn’t have the skillset for it. His mind was chiseled a different way. He was driven in a single focus, to be the best himself.

I was almost the opposite. At times, I wish I believed in myself as much as a golfer as I did as a leader.

Ultimately, I was chosen by the players. There is no greater endorsement than that. It fuels your self-belief and, equally, I believed in the players. I believed we had a great team dynamic. I believed we’d win the Ryder Cup. I knew the consequences that lay in store for me if we didn’t do it. But I didn’t stop to look around at the critics. I was too focused on bringing that team to the top.

Golfers are individuals by nature. You have to be. You won’t survive in that dog eat dog world unless you are. So, when I became captain, I tried to apply some common sense to my approach. I recognised that they’d come through their entire amateur careers and made it to the highest level because they were trained to be selfish individuals dedicated to their craft. Then, for one week of the year, every two years, they are asked to become team players. That’s not an easy transition to make.

It’s very different to managing a rugby or football team. The half back might have a key role to play to help the forward play their game. The man in the back row in rugby will have a very different role to play than the guy in the front row. You speak to those teams collectively. They build together toward a crescendo of matches.

Golf is different. The Ryder Cup is a sprint of 18-hole matches. It’s just you and your partner and you’re going out there to win one point. That’s all.

Therefore, I key factor for me was acknowledging that I can’t turn them from lone sportspeople into team players overnight. It would be counterproductive. So, I tried to keep them in their own little bubble.

Our team meetings were no more than 15 minutes. All my management was done on a one to one basis. It was all about each individual buying into why that Ryder Cup was going to be important to them, to their careers and to their own destiny.

I put an emphasis on fun. I told them, “we might not have a trophy by the end of the week, but we will have fun.” If you have fun doing what you do, you’ve a high chance of expressing yourself and performing.

There’s genius in simplicity. When you read passages from these worldly scholars, or listen to a speech from a great orator, what they’re saying is often very simple. My experience of meeting highly influential and intelligent people is that they don’t blow you away with something you haven’t heard before. They just put it in very simple terms.

As a golfer, it’s important to stay focused on your game. It’s very easy to come into a Ryder Cup team when you’re not used to that environment and to lose your focus. You can come in and try too hard to be a team member and then the energy that you used to channel into yourself gets leaked. My job was to give a player the simplicity of his role and not worry about what anyone else is doing.

The more I treated them as individuals, the more they bonded as a team.


September 2020.

Paul McGinley will be part of the Leaders Lounge virtual event taking place on 3rd November 2020 where he’ll join former Dublin Senior Football Manager, Jim Gavin and Leinster Rugby Senior Coach, Stuart Lancaster as they provide invaluable insight into the tenets of leadership and inspiring high performance.

This inaugural online event has been designed for CEO’s, Management Professionals, Business Executives, and those in wider leadership/coaching positions. For more information or to reserve your place visit

If you enjoyed Paul’s piece you might like to read Jim Gavin’s – “The Higher Purpose“.

The Sports Chronicle brings you stories from the world of sport by the players, the coaches and the unsung heroes, all in their own words.

You can also check out our Podcast. Subscribe today for more.