After 52 weeks and thousands of hours of golf, the race to make Paul McGinley’s European team for the upcoming Ryder Cup at Gleneagles will reach its denouement at this week’s 71° Open d’Italia Presented by DAMIANI.
With the nine automatic qualification places set to be determined on Sunday evening – four from the European Points List and five from the World Points List – McGinley knows that Ryder Cup D-Day is fast approaching.
“This is the last lap of qualifying for The Ryder Cup and from the World Points angle this tournament could make a contribution,” said the Irishman who is at Circolo Golf Torino this week to also compete himself after a number of weeks on the sidelines nursing a shoulder injury.
All eyes will be on Stephen Gallacher, the Scot needing to finish in the top two to force his way past Graeme McDowell into the final qualifying place, but the likes of Joost Luiten and Francesco Molinari will be among those hoping to impress McGinley in this final week as he weighs up his wild card options.
It has been a lengthy process since the qualification began at the Celtic Manor Resort during the ISPS Handa Wales Open 12 months ago, with the golfing cream rising to the top over that period.
On Tuesday September 2, McGinley will finalise the 12-man squad which will take on the United States in Perthshire from September 26-28, as the 47 year old names his three Captain’s Picks in the ballroom at Wentworth Club.
“I think a lot of what happens with the nine automatic qualifiers determines where you go with your picks,” said the captain.
“But it’s important that we have players who are on form – which I think the qualification process will provide. It’ll identify the leading nine European players throughout the world over a 12 month period and then it’s up to me and my vice captains to complete the jigsaw."
Of course, as someone once said, with great power comes great responsibility and McGinley is acutely aware that some of the aspects of September 2 will be more testing than others.
“Being a Ryder Cup captain, there are good bits of the job and there’s bad bits,” he continued. “And everybody has talked about how difficult it is calling guys, particularly friends of yours, to tell them they haven’t made the team.
“That’s going to be difficult, I know it is. But I’ve been very upfront with them, they know where they stand, and I’ve tried to be very open and transparent with where I was going with the picks and it was up to the players to show me some form and some reason why they should be picked.”
Since being made captain 19 months ago, the meticulous Irishman has traversed the world, delved into form guides, statistics, the Ryder Cup history books and more, but the preparation period is almost over.
With little more than four weeks left before the first ball is struck at Gleneagles, this week – and next week’s wild card announcements – represent the culmination of hundreds of hours of hard work.
“Once the picks are made, that’s a significant milestone in terms of the captaincy,” reflected McGinley. “You then have 12 players in place which enables you to start thinking seriously about tactics, about strategy. You start communicating with the players on a lot more of an individual level than you’ve done before.
“Before it was generic but after September 2 it’s right down to the nitty-gritty of when you’re arriving, what practice rounds you’re going to play and who your potential partners could be. It’s exciting.”