Imagine the uproar if it had happened in the United States.
Just for a moment close your eyes and imagine the full-scale firestorm, the spittle-flecked fury, the apoplectic outrage that would have erupted among American media if Tiger Woods had come out and actively lobbied for, say, John Cook to be the Ryder Cup captain. And imagine if, while doing so, Tiger had also hinted that he didn’t want a previous captain to make a return engagement, even if said captain was a legend.
Imagine the headlines and the breathless commentators filling airtime with conspiracy theories about the power grab and what this means for the future of one of the game’s most storied events.
Oh, it would have been an astounding spectacle, one that, of course, would never happen. Tiger is far too skilled at avoiding such diplomatic landmines. Given all he has been through, he would be more likely to wrestle a polar bear than venture into that sort of controversy.
But it happened on the European side and nobody said so much as Boo.
Paul McGinley, the affable Irishman with a grin that is much brighter and broader than his resume, was always near the top spot for the 2014 Ryder Cup captaincy, but with Colin Montgomerie’s name being thrown out as a possible counterweight to Tom Watson and other weighty options like Sandy Lyle, Paul Lawrie, and Miguel Angel Jimenez in the air, McGinley’s fortunes seemed to rise and fall like the Irish tides.
Then Rory McIlroy rode in to calm the roiling waters. Using his formidable charm and favorite public forum, Twitter, McIlroy launched what we in America would call a “full-court press,” on behalf of his friend and former Seve Trophy captain.
One such Tweet, McIlroy read, “(Ryder Cup) captaincy should be a one-time thing…everybody deserving gets their chance and moves on…(I) would love to play under Paul McGinley.”
Soon Ian Poulter, Justin Rose, Graeme McDowell and Luke Donald jumped on the ship, but McIlroy was still at the helm. He let all who asked know that McGinley was his first, last and only choice.
“To have the support of someone like Rory and all the other players (helped),” McGinley said. “To lead the cream of the crop in the Ryder Cup is going to be a huge honor. ... To be quite honest it’s a very humbling experience to be sitting in this seat.”
McIlroy even joined in the announcement celebration, calling McGinley, “probably the best captain I’ve ever played under.”
“There's a couple of good things happened for me in terms of getting this role, and one of them was the fact that Rory and Graeme McDowell played in the first Seve Trophy, which was my first captaincy as well,” said McGinley of the event best described as a European intramural Ryder Cup, pitting a team from Great Britain and Ireland against one from Continental Europe. “Rory was not the star then that he is now. I think it might have been his second year on Tour, maybe his third. I knew it was a very weakened team compared to how strong the Europeans were if you compared it to world rankings.
“Rory and Graeme were huge for me that week. So I think I was fortunate that I had that situation where Rory had played underneath me and that's why I think he spoke with such authority on the subject.”
McIlroy also spoke with authority because his peers respect him, not just as the No. 1 player in the world, but as a good judge of character. And he was fearless. Never once did McIlroy worry about what members of the press might say or do or even think. Instead, he did what he has done since he first hit the world stage: he told everyone how he felt in the most open, honest, and heartfelt way he knew how.
So when McIlroy said, in essence, ‘Paul McGinley is a good guy; he’s my friend, and he’s the man I’m championing for Ryder Cup captain,’ nobody reacted with malice, because no one believed it was a power play. Rory was simply being Rory.
There were no commentaries railing that the process had been subverted, because Rory isn’t a subversive guy. He doesn’t wield his growing power and influence like Pharaoh’s scepter, and he isn’t known for “Big Timing” anyone in the game. Quite the opposite: Rory is always the most gracious and self-effacing player in the room.
That has earned him a lot of leeway, enough so in fact that when he really wants something, like his choice for Ryder Cup captain, he gets it without so much as a hint of controversy.
“I’m thrilled with the decision,” McIlroy said just after the press conference in Abu Dhabi. “As you know I made my feelings known on the captaincy. He was not only my choice but the choice for most of the players on the Ryder Cup team. I think he will do a brilliant job at Gleneagles.”
Then McIlroy took that message back to the medium he loves best, posting on Twitter, “Common sense prevailed in the end. Paul McGinley 2014 Ryder Cup captain!!! Couldn’t be happier for him. Roll on Gleneagles.”