Ryder Cup makes Paul McGinley national hero
On the Emerald Isle, Paul McGinley suddenly is a national hero. All because he had the good fortune to be in the right place at the right time.
The place was the 18th hole at The Belfry. The time was 4:54 p.m. local, on the final day of the 34th Ryder Cup Matches. It was then that he holed a 9-foot par putt against Jim Furyk, good for the half point that clinched an improbable victory for Europe.
Across Ireland, that was front-page news. (My favorite headline was “Putt Of Gold.”) McGinley is the third Irishman, joining Phillip Walton (1995) and Christy O’Connor Jr. (1989), to figure decisively in a European Ryder Cup victory.
How appreciative are the golf-crazy Irish? The passenger lounge for a Dublin-bound flight from Birmingham erupted in spontaneous applause Monday afternoon when Padraig Harrington and O’Connor Himself walked in.
“Heroes are made in the Ryder Cup,” Thomas Bjorn said. “Paul McGinley, Phillip Price – big heroes today. For Phillip to go out and beat the world’s No. 2 and do it in style was just magnificent.”
McGinley (0-1-2) played well in streaks, but he was hardly the most productive among seven Ryder Cup “rookies.” David Toms went 3-1-1 for the United States. Scott Verplank was 2-1-0. McGinley and Harrington lost their foursomes match to rookie Stewart Cink (1-2-0) and Furyk.
Price, a humble Welshman, arguably played the most significant rookie role for Europe. Slotted two spots behind McGinley in the singles draw, the unheralded – indeed, much maligned – Price scored a resounding singles victory over Phil Mickelson, the aforementioned No. 2.
The other two rookies, Swedes Pierre Fulke (0-1-1) and Niclas Fasth (0-2-1), matched McGinley’s point total. But timing and American determination conspired against their dreams of heroism.
“I spoke to Phillip and Pierre and McGinley before we went out, and told them we might get to do the honors today if the stars behave. And they certainly did,” Fasth said.
“And it looked like I was doing the honors (against Paul Azinger, who deprived Fasth by holing a bunker shot at No. 18). But I left it to McGinley.”
Calling these seven “rookies” is something of a stretch. Their average age is 33. Among them they’ve won 22 times on the PGA Tour or European Tour.
“I don’t feel like a rookie,” said Toms, who counts the 2000 PGA Championship among his seven victories. “(Phil Mickelson) . . . just kept pumping me up, and that carries over to the singles matches. You think, ‘Hey, I’ve done this and I’ve done it all week and I feel comfortable.’”
Some teammates, however, never looked entirely comfortable. Others couldn’t conceal their indifference. Indifference might be too strong; let’s just say the Ryder Cup doesn’t inspire the same level of passion on the American side as it does over here. Europe’s zeal for the matches made all the difference at The Belfry.
Take Price, for example. “To be able to win a point in singles when it mattered meant more to me than anything you can imagine,” he said.
As obscure to European fans as Price was to Americans, Verplank made his mark, too. Not only was his play exceptional, but he also delivered one of the best quotes of the week.
Asked about partnering with Scott Hoch, whose unvarnished commentary is legendary, Verplank replied: “He’s the kind of guy you want on your team, because I guess to some other people he can irritate them. You want that guy on your side, where you don’t get irritated.”
Such candor and deviation from the team script is rare in Ryder Cup press rooms. Chalk it up as one of the few rookie mistakes committed at The Belfry.