In the early 1980s, a young Rathfarnham lad passed the old iron gates into Grange every Saturday morning in his way to play soccer or Gaelic football and often wondered what it was like inside those gates. He played soccer for Newbrook Celtic, who played off the Whitechurch Road, close to the current 9th tee, and played Gaelic football for nearby Ballyboden St. Endas. He already played golf and often caddied for his father in Scratch Cups and Championships. The father was a member of Naas Golf Club and was an established competitor in the higher echelons of amateur golf.
His name was Michael McGinley and his sports-loving son was Paul McGinley, soon to become Grange’s greatest-ever golfer.
Because his father’s club, Naas, was not convenient for regular practice or play, Paul’s early golf career was something of a slow burner, with soccer and football being his main passions. He played U-14 and U-16 football for Dublin and won a Dublin minor medal with Ballyboden in 1986. However, a classmate of Paul’s in Colaiste Eanna was Patrick Groarke, son of Grange members John and Anne, and Patrick took to inviting Paul for regular games in Grange. It was during one of these games that Paul met Donal Moriarty, Past-Captain and the convenor, mentor and organiser of junior golf in the club. Donal saw Paul’s talent and keenness and promptly arranged for him to become a Junior Member of Grange. This enabled Paul’s career to really take off for not only did it give him unlimited practice possibilities, but he was joining a supremely talented and dedicated group of peers who were to dominate club golf in Ireland at Junior level for several years, and whose exploits are fully documented in Chapter 11.
Paul’s penchant for practice quickly came to the fore and nobody around Grange was really that surprised when, twenty years later, he holed a ten-foot putt to win the Ryder Cup at the Belfry, for they had seen him do it a thousand times before. As another of the young tyros, David Walker, now professional at Foxrock, put it: “He’d leave these big footmarks on one corner of the putting green. He could be there for hours grooving the same putt over and over, so much so that some of the members worried that he was going to wear a bare patch”.
While other buddies like British Boys Champion, Leslie Walker, could hit the ball prodigious distances, and might be hitting a flick of a wedge when Paul needed a mid-iron, Paul was methodically grooving a dependable swing through hours of practice in the new lands. Paul was to Nick Faldo as Leslie was to Seve.
Such dedication brought early success when Paul won the Leinster Youths title in 1985 and again in 1987 which led to him being selected along with future Grange course architect, Ken Kearney on a two-man team representing Ireland at the Belgian Junior Championship of Nations at The Royal Golf Club of Belgium in August 1987.
It was there that Grange member, Padraig O’Huiginn, Secretary to the Department of the Taoiseach, arranged for Paul to meet Eamon Gallagher, then Ireland’s senior E.U. Diplomat, who was to prove very helpful to Paul in securing a golf scholarship to the University of San Diego. Padraig also arranged for Minister of Sport, Frank Fahey, to visit Grange and play golf with Paul. The Minister was deeply impressed with Paul and his golf game and, although all the sports grants for that year were already allocated, Padraig guided the Minister through the maze, Sir Humphrey-style, to ensure that sports grant funding was made available to Paul to help him take up the San Diego scholarship.
With his competitive instincts being honed on the American inter-collegiate system, Paul’s next success was in winning both the Irish and Scottish Youths titles in 1988.
But that was a prelude to really striking it big in 1989. The Irish Close was held in Rosses Point that year and Paul approached it full of confidence due to regular telephone contact on aspects of his swing with his coach in San Diego, Gordon Severson. In a week of very difficult weather, even by Rosses Point standards, Severson encouraged Paul to stay patient in the conditions and it paid off for, after qualifying comfortably, he beat Colm McCarroll, Jim Carvill, Tom Cleary and Mick Morris to reach the final against Niall Goulding. Paul triumphed by 3 & 2, the highlight being a magnificent two-iron into a gale at the 11th to set up a winning birdie three. Including the two qualifying rounds, Paul’s aggregate scoring over seven rounds of golf was five-under par, remarkable golf in high winds and lashing rain.
He made his Senior International debut as No. 1 in the Home Internationals at Ganton that year.
While 1990 was a relatively quiet year for Paul, characterised by defeat in the final of the North of Ireland by his good friend Darren Clarke, it was merely the calm before the storm of success that 1991 brought. Having graduated in International Business from San Diego, he was encouraged by David Sheahan to compete in the U.K. with a view to making the Walker Cup Team for the match at Portmarnock later that year. Paul was very grateful to Grange for providing some financial support to cover his boat and accommodation expenses when finishing third at the Lytham Trophy in June, an event that is always on the Walker Cup selectors’ radar. His domestic campaign got off to a disappointing start when, for the second year in succession, he lost in the final of the North of Ireland, this time to Garth McGimpsey.
But the announcement in July that he was selected on the Walker Cup Team for the September matches, thus becoming Grange’s second Walker Cup golfer, following on from David Sheahan’s 1963 selection, provided the spark for Paul’s success in the South of Ireland at Lahinch later that month. A highlight of that campaign was his magnificent duel in the sun with his great friend and clubmate, Leslie Walker, when the pair swopped eight birdies and an eagle before Paul triumphed by 1 hole. He then defeated his future Walker Cup teammate Padraig Harrington by 4 & 3, before winning the title with a 2 holes win over the top-ranked Australian amateur of the time, Phil Johns. His lead-in to the Walker Cup was completed by victory in the Mullingar Scratch Cup.
Although Paul had a disappointing first day in the Walker Cup with two defeats, he signed off on his amateur career on Day 2 with a magic second shot to eight feet at the 18th to set up victory for him and his partner Liam White over the “unbeatable” Phil Mickleson and Bob May. This raised hopes of a famous GB&I comeback win but it was not to be as, without Paul’s involvement, the U.S. side proved too strong in the singles.
Paul turned pro immediately after the Walker Cup and the move brought swift reward with victory in the European U-25 Championship in Paris within his first month in the paid ranks. But he was to endure a frustrating wait before securing his first PGA European Tour Title. He had to settle for joint 2nd in the Lyon Open in 1993 and in that same year lost a play-off to Costantino Rocca for the French Open on the day after David Sheahan’s Captain’s Prize in Grange. Even harder to take was his play-off defeat to Jose-Maria Olazabal in the Mediterranean Open of 1994 after he finished double-bogey, bogey to lose a three-shot lead. While the near misses continued in 1995 with runner-up places in the big two Irish Professional events – in the Irish Professional Championship to Philip Walton and in the Irish Matchplay to Des Smyth – Paul was happy that he was making progress. “The graph was certainly going upwards” he said, “my thinking was better and I was making fewer mistakes”. This was evidenced by a final-round 63 in the French Open, a 65 in the Open Championship at Lytham, and a highly-meritorious second-place finish to Ian Woosnam in the Heineken Open at Perth. He finally shed the tag being “the best player on Tour never to have won” when, in the Austrian Open at Litscham in August 1996, a blistering final round of 62 saw him overtake Manuel Pinero to win by one shot. Indicative of McGinley’s new-found ability to think clearly in the heat of battle was the way he cranked up the pressure on Pinero. Given his position in the eighth-last group, Paul knew that his scores would go up after every third hole but, as the birdies began to flow, he told his caddie to inform Tour officials that they would be given his score after every hole so that Pinero would be very aware of his spectacular progress.
1997 brought his first Irish Professional Championship at Fota Island and his second European Tour victory at the Oki Pro-Am in Madrid – this time from the front. This Madrid win brought him past the £1 million mark in prizemoney after just six years on the circuit. But the climax to 1997 was when Paul and his old school colleague from Colaiste Eanna, Padraig Harrington, won the World Cup for Ireland at Kiawah Island, thus emulating the achievement by Christy O’Connor and Harry Bradshaw at Mexico City 39 years earlier. This was a magnificent achievement as Paul and Padraig outshone such as the American team of Davis Love and Justin Leonard to win by five shots from runners-up Scotland and early pace-setters Sweden.
A frustrating few years followed for Paul, with five more second-place finishes, before he secured his third European Tour victory in the Wales Open in August 2001 at the Wentworth Hills course at Newport. Shortened by rain to 36 holes, the first time a Tour event had been so shortened, Paul triumphed at the fifth extra hole of a three-man play-off with Darren Lee and Paul Lawrie. This win confirmed his automatic selection on the 2001 Ryder Cup Team and his date with destiny, although the event was not played until 2002 due to the terrorist bombings in New York. The extra year did nothing for Paul’s form for after a fine 2001 season, he often struggled in 2002. That was until Sunday, 29th September at The Belfry when playing Jim Furyk in a match that, due to Paul Azinger’s holed bunker shot minutes earlier against Niclas Fasth, would now decide the fate of the Ryder Cup, McGinley was faced with a left-to-right 10-footer for the Cup. It was then that the hours of practice, starting in Grange all these years ago, paid off as he drilled it in, dead centre. Cue wild celebrations and when Paul’s team-mates threw him into the lake by the 18th the only mild surprise was that he sank rather than walked on the water.
McGinley’s outstanding Ryder Cup record continued in 2004 when, after teaming up with old buddy Harrington to hammer Tiger Woods & Davis Love, he played a crucial role in the singles with a 3&2 win over Stewart Cink to help cement a whopping 18 ½ to 9 ½ win for the Europeans. He continued to be a mainstay of the European Team when the matches came to the K-Club in 2006, maintaining his undefeated record in Ryder Cup singles with a halved match against J.J. Henry. This was a moral victory for Paul, however, and a testament to the depth of Paul’s character, for with the overall match already decided and Paul within tap-in distance for a birdie four on the 18th, he conceded Henry a 25-footer for the only halved match of the singles. “I felt it was the right thing to do” said Paul.
The 2006 gold Ryder Cup replica, which every member of a winning team gets, was generously donated by Paul to Grange in 2008 and now sits proudly in the trophy cabinet on the main staircase.
Between these two Ryder Cups, Paul had his finest year as a Tour professional in 2005 for, after three second-place finishes in China, at the PGA Championship at Wentworth and in the World Matchplay also at Wentworth, he won the season-defining Volvo Masters at Valderrama. This was the biggest win of his career and was achieved by coming from three shots behind the overnight leaders Colin Montgomerie and Sergio Garcia on the final day to shoot a closing 67 for a 10-under total of 276 and a two-shot victory. Bogey-free for the final 53 holes on a brute of a course, who will ever forget his sand-wedge at the treacherous 17th followed by a ten-foot birdie putt. The cheers in the Grange clubhouse when that went in could be heard at the Yellow House and quite right, too, for Paul never forgets Grange.
He still remembers the extra balatas thrown in by Wattie when he went in to convert the many vouchers he won in his amateur days. He also still gives a wry smile when he recalls the late Shay O’Donoghue’s comment when Paul reached scratch. “Congratulations”, said Shay, “we are all very proud of you now that you are a ‘nought handicapper’ ”.
In 2009, Paul brought all his world-wide corporate sponsors to Grange for a thank-you day while who will ever forget the marvellous Paul McGinley Day on 26th July in this Centenary Year when Paul conducted a magnificent clinic, held a Q&A session, and participated in the full array of Club activities on the day. The fact that it occurred in the same week that Paul was nominated as a Ryder Cup Vice-Captain for the 2010 matches only made it all the more special Grange is very proud of Paul and of its role in helping to develop the career of one of Ireland’s finest-ever golfers and a true gentleman of the game.
Extract from “Golf in the Foothills” – A History of Grange Golf Club – by Brian Treston & Michael Forde.