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The strange world of a Ryder Cup captain

ESPN staff
August 29, 2013
© AP

It's a curious thing, being a Ryder Cup captain.

The prestige attached to the role has never been greater, and to carry a team to victory is to be held aloft on a continental pedestal, but the vast majority of the work is just ceremony.

Take Paul McGinley, Europe's elect for 2014. Qualifying for his team begins this week, fittingly at Celtic Manor, where McGinley has taken all the usual pictures and said all the usual things.

"Generally, all I'm concerned about at the end of the day is having the 12 strongest players to represent Europe at this time next year," McGinley told the gathered hoards.

McGinley has already been Europe's captain for nearly eight months. In total he'll serve more than 20 in the position and become an expert at posing with the trophy and playing the transatlantic ambassador.

But what about the golf?

Europe's finest celebrate in 2012 © PA Photos

In terms of the 12 players who'll he organise and motivate for three days at Gleneagles next year, nine will pick themselves. It's the way it has to be, but can you imagine a coach in any other sport being so utterly powerless?

Fate looms large. McGinley's biggest fear will be having too many of Europe's established Ryder Cup stars out of his automatic nine, but there's absolutely nothing he can do about it.

If he's handed a starting nine sprinkled with rookies he'll say all the right things and talk up their chances, but you know deep down he'll be cursing his luck. Fortunately for him, that's unlikely - Europe's best are too consistent and too dominant to be denied.

The wild card picks are perhaps the biggest influence a Ryder Cup captain can have - more so than his role during the event. This year McGinley will have three, one more than Jose Maria Olazabal did in 2012.

Ironically, the stronger his automatic nine, the easier his wild card picks. My guess, come September 2014, would be McGinley has just one really difficult decision to make in his selection. Jose Mourinho would take that in a heartbeat.

After that, it's picking the pairings, and the order of the singles. For the former, you stick guys from the same country together and rookies with wise old heads. For the latter, you send your strongest guys out early and late, and leave the weaker ones for the middle.

© Getty Images

Am I being overly cynical? Am I discounting the inspirational speeches, pats on shoulders and dedicated moments crouched by the side of greens?

Not one bit of it. Being a Ryder Cup captain is a strange and unquantifiable job, with limited influence, but there will always be something magisterial about the man in possession.

Next September in Scotland, when he's frantically buzzing around the course on a buggy, listening for updates on his warring empire, we should not forget that McGinley has earned his right to be there.

Perhaps the way we treat Ryder Cup captains is best described as a thank you for the career that came before.

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