ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates – It wasn’t pretty or even particularly civil, but when the European Tour’s brain trust marched into the makeshift media center deep within the bowels of the sprawling St. Regis Hotel well past the dinner hour on Tuesday there was no question they had chosen the right man.
Paul McGinley, for those who don’t know, is a 5-foot-nothing ball of European energy, enthusiasm and understated class. Everything else you need to know about the Continent’s newest captain will have to wait until the 2014 Ryder Cup is played in Scotland.
The more relevant question American fans should have been asking is what kind of selection process delivers the 46-year-old Irishman to one of the game’s most high-profile posts?
“My career is quite modest compared to previous captains, but I did play extremely well when I played team golf,” McGinley said late Tuesday.
To put McGinley’s career in context, it would be akin to the U.S. tabbing Chad Campbell to skipper a Ryder Cup squad. Outlandish? They both have the same amount of victories on the respective tours (four) and similar Ryder Cup records (2-2-5 for McGinley, 2-5-2 for Campbell).
The only thing Campbell is missing is a system that eschews the status quo and secrecy and puts the decision in the hands of the people that matter the most at the biennial slugfest – the players.
To be fair, McGinley is also undefeated in team play in three turns as a Ryder Cup player, two as a vice-captain, two more as a Seve Trophy skipper and holds the distinction of holing the winning putt at the 2002 matches, but the comparison is no less valid.
Make no mistake, the European process for selecting captains is like sausage; you love the product but you just don’t want to know what went into it.
Feelings were hurt, fences were erected and a feverish media wallowed in a very public show of partisan politicking, but just past 10 p.m. on Tuesday night a haggard Thomas Bjorn announced the European Tour’s Tournament Committee had selected McGinley to face Tom Watson in ’14 at Gleneagles.
By comparison, the PGA of America’s selection of Watson has a distinct skull and crossbones feel to it. As best, anyone can tell phone calls were made and discussions were held in hushed tones among a handful of principles but little else is known about the process that delivered us Watson.
Although former American captains are included in the process, the truth is we don’t know who actually votes for U.S. captains. In fact, other than David Toms, who sent a letter of interest to the association, even the list of potential candidates for the U.S. gig remains a well-guarded secret.
The European process, however, is bathed in sunshine. These are the facts according to Bjorn, the chairman of the Tournament Committee: the debate lasted nearly an hour and included five candidates (McGinley, Colin Montgomerie, Sandy Lyle, Miguel Angel Jimenez and Paul Lawrie) and 10 players voted unanimously for the Irishman.
McGinley joked that the episode taught him the importance of Twitter, although he admits to not being a “twit.” Yet by any other name his ascension to the captain’s post was democracy in action.
“The committee is 100 percent behind this captain and that was obvious early in the meeting,” Bjorn said. “We listen to our players.”
As one Tournament Committee member explained Tuesday afternoon before the meeting, “the Ryder Cup is about the players and in the end you have to pick someone they are going to be comfortable with.”
Watson, a legend whose record as a player and captain is beyond reproach, may turn out to be the tonic the U.S. side needs to wrest itself off a schneid that has featured American losses in seven of the last nine matches. But that same record is why the U.S. should consider adopting a system similar to Europe’s.
Even in the face of growing public support, to name Montgomerie to his second term as captain – a move viewed by many players as reactionary following Watson’s appointment last year – was stymied by a system that builds consensus not secrets.
“I said this week that the Ryder Cup captaincy is an honor and it should be a one-time shot,” said McIlroy, who slipped into Tuesday’s news conference to congratulate McGinley. “When Watson was named the U.S. captain I didn’t think we needed to react to that.”
It’s hard to imagine Tiger Woods or Jim Furyk or even Jason Dufner publically campaigning for the next American captain. Even Dufner found that scenario hard to wrap his head around on Wednesday in Abu Dhabi.
“That’s not really my nature or style. I’m kind of a fall-in-line type of guy,” said Dufner, who made an impressive debut in last fall’s matches.
That doesn’t mean, however, he would be against a system that would give current players a little more say in the issue. “It’s definitely a hard decision and maybe some players’ input would help,” he said.
As America’s record in the matches suggests it couldn’t hurt.
Tuesday’s drama, and the contentious buildup to the announcement, wasn’t pretty or perfect, but for those that matter, the players, it was the proper outcome and for the reeling American side it provided a blueprint that may be worth emulating.