ABU DHABI, Jan 18 (Reuters) - Paul McGinley sported a grin as wide as the 18th green at the Abu Dhabi Golf Club on Friday as he explained how he had been blown away by the reaction to his appointment as Europe’s 2014 Ryder Cup captain.
The 46-year-old Irishman was almost certain to miss the halfway cut at the Abu Dhabi Championship after carding a one-over-par 73 for a five-over tally of 149.
While McGinley was disappointed by his inability to make a mark on this week’s European Tour event, he took great comfort from the hordes of well-wishers keen to slap him on the back as he made his way to the clubhouse at the end of the second round.
“It’s been a whirlwind for the last 48 hours,” the genial Dubliner told Reuters in an interview as he wiped the sweat from his brow after another steamy day in the desert.
“It’s all sunk in now. You can’t help but think about the Ryder Cup because everyone’s coming up to you wherever you turn - tour staff, fans, players, officials, caddies,” said McGinley.
“It’s all been completely overwhelming. I had no idea the reception would be so genuinely enthused for me and it’s a really nice feeling to know your peers are so happy for you to have success.”
McGinley, who took a sideways glance at the clubhouse clock as he was expecting a phone call from Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny, said he had received hundreds of congratulatory text messages since his appointment on Tuesday.
“I’ve had nearly 500 texts and I haven’t yet managed to sift my way through them all,” he added. “I’ve had so many things to do so I don’t know who most of them are from.”
McGinley was not only “very excited” about what the captaincy would mean for him, he was also delighted at the positive spinoffs for golf in general, especially a project he is involved with in Africa.
“This is a real boost for me at this stage of my career because it opens so many doors for me, brings so much more worldwide exposure, and I want to use all that in the right way,” said McGinley.
“I‘m doing a lot of work in Ghana with Tullow Oil, the Royal and Ancient (R&A) and (golf club manufacturers) Taylor Made. They’ve all invested a lot in the project and now I‘m Ryder Cup captain I can bring a lot more to the table when I go there.”
McGinley said the oil company had found the biggest oil field in Ghana and decided to reinvest in the country.
”I sold them the idea, along with their golf-fanatic chief executive Aidan Heavey, of investing in golf and sport. They decided to do that and they’ve invested in Sunderland Football Club and in soccer academies.
“There is also a great golfing legacy in Ghana. They have 14 courses, most of them designed in the 1920s and 1930s by the British, but they’ve been left to rack and ruin over the last few years,” said the four-times European Tour winner.
“The rooting though is quite strong so I’ve already built three new academies and I‘m now going to start upgrading a couple of the courses too.”
McGinley said the R&A, one of the game’s two governing bodies along with the United States Golf Association, was thrilled with the project.
“The R&A are very much on my side, they’re contributing financially and I’ve got about 15 guys working in Ghana with Paul McGinley Golf Design upgrading one of the courses,” he added.
”I spent almost 30 days there last year which is a lot of time. I don’t know if I’ll be able to spend that much time there this year,“ the triple former Ryder Cup player added with a hearty laugh, ”but I’ll certainly be spending at least half that time there.
”I need to introduce new people to the game, send coaches to the schools and get the kids out for free golf lessons.
“We are lighting the golfing fire down there and it’s important for Ghana to take that on now and keep the fire lit for a number of years.” (Editing by Clare Fallon)