Europe’s Ryder Cup captain on overcoming adversity

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At a recent EY event in London, Paul McGinley explored the leadership and team-building challenges that he faces as Europe’s 2014 Ryder Cup Captain. In this extract from the event, Paul gives his take on overcoming adversity.

I loved playing Gaelic football when I was younger. I played golf for two months every summer, when the school holidays came along, but Gaelic football was my focus when I was growing up in Dublin.

At the age of 19, I was just about to break into the Dublin first team. But disaster struck when I broke my knee. I was on crutches for nine months. I was devastated because I could no longer play the sport I loved.

At that stage, I was about an eight handicap in golf. I could no longer be a professional Gaelic football player, but becoming a professional golfer was, at that time, a million miles from my mind. Nevertheless, when I came off the crutches I started to play golf.

Having already studied for a diploma in marketing, I worked for the European Community in Brussels for six months, and then for an investment company in Dublin. But I didn’t particularly like sitting behind a desk every day.

Meanwhile, I was getting good at golf. The idea was coming into my mind that I might have the ability to become a professional golfer. I was a one handicap, but I was still not even in the top 100 players in Ireland at that stage, let alone at world-class standard.

I didn’t know what I was going to do for a living, and I wanted to delay my decision. So I wrote away to numerous colleges in America, seeing if I could kill two birds with one stone by studying on a golf scholarship.

All but one said no. They told me I was too old and not good enough. But this guy in San Diego wrote back to say he’d take a chance on me. I wouldn’t get a scholarship during the first year, he said, but if I made the golf team, I’d get one for the next two years. So I missed the first semester to save on costs and then I got a student loan. I got the money together and off I went.

In those two years, I went from being outside the top 100 golfers in Ireland to making the Great Britain and Ireland team for the 1991 Walker Cup – the amateur version of The Ryder Cup. The next year, I turned professional. And here I am now, 22 years later, Captain of Europe’s Ryder Cup Team.

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