McGinley relishes a new experience

Golf: The Open; Andy Farrell sees an Irishman who is riding high after past disappointments
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Paul McGinley has never won a thing for his six holes in one, and he did not earn much in the way of words of comfort from his caddie. A one on his scorecard at the short ninth gave McGinley an opening half of 29. "When DJ Russell played the front nine in 29 here," Jimmy Rea recalled, "he was playing with Jack Nicklaus. Nicklaus turned to him and said: 'Now, I'd like to see you play the back nine in 29'."

McGinley could not quite manage that, but level par on Lytham's harder half is no disappointment. The 29 year old from Dublin has known plenty of that. Such as missing the cut in each of his three previous Opens and finishing second four times on the European tour.

But the biggest disappointment of all came in 1988, when he smashed his left knee in a training accident while playing Gaelic football. "When I was young, I never played boys golf for Ireland or anything like that," he explained. "I did not have much interest in golf and only played in the summer. In the autumn I'd go back to Gaelic football and hurling. Gaelic football was what I was best at and loved most."

McGinley was on crutches for nine months and only after recovering did he turn his attention to improving his four-handicap game. First, he worked for a year in Brussels on the Year of the Environment project, and with an investment broker. Then he got a scholarship to study marketing at the US International University in San Diego.

"That's where my golf took off," McGinley said. "My luckiest break was when I met the coach there, Gordon Severson. I learned more from him than anyone else. He took me from a shabby amateur to a golf professional. Now I work with Bob Torrance and he has taken me from a shabby professional to a good professional. He has got me hitting the ball more aggressively."

As a testament to the skills of Severson, McGinley's younger brother, Michael, who has followed Paul to San Diego, won the North of Ireland Amateur Championship last week. As a testament to Torrance's support, he was on the range at 6.30am yesterday to supervise McGinley's practice. "I had told him not to bother because all his other players were off in the afternoon, but it meant a lot that he was there," McGinley said.

For a man who turned late to golf, he has been absorbed into the game. He is a part of the ISM management group of the former tour player Andrew Chandler. His girlfriend is Allison Shapcott, also a golf professional. Shapcott has put in more appearances on the men's tour than the women's tour this year, which explains my being overtaken by her sponsored car driven by McGinley on the M40 recently. They are getting married in December.

A final part of McGinley's education came shortly before earning Walker Cup honours and turning professional in 1991. He was one of 30 young players to attend a two-day seminar given by Nick Faldo at Welwyn Garden City. Asked for a rookie to watch the next season, Faldo named McGinley. "It was a great experience," McGinley said. "Watching him hit shots and being around him was a big help. It took away the aura you have for the top stars. I came away from there knowing that he was an ordinary human being.

"His great strength is that he never gets ahead of himself. He is so patient. That's where I have had a big problem in the past. But there is no pressure on me tomorrow. Winning the Open is a long way at the back of my mind. This is an experience that I have not had before, but no one will be able to take it away from me. Whatever happens, I can always say I have been in the last groups in the Open."