By Brian Keogh
Paul McGinley has turned swing detective in a desperate bid to end his year-long confidence crisis.
But while he has had just one top-10 finish since he grabbed a vital fourth place in the Smurfit European Open 12 months ago, he knows his problems are dwarfed by those of bereaved pal Darren Clarke.
Ranked a lowly 158th in the world, McGinley spent hours with coach Bob Torrance at the K Club yesterday searching for the swing that made him a world top-20 player less than two years ago.
Yet he has spent even longer being a good friend to widowed Clarke, who has slithered to 126th since the death of wife Heather last summer.
Reflecting on Clarke’s tragic battle, McGinley knows that his on-course problems are mere blips on the graph compared to Clarke’s life-changing loss.
A regular visitor to Clarke's home, where they play football with their sons, McGinley said: “I think like most people who suffer bereavement, the after effects are only kicking in for Darren now.
“He realises that he is going back home to an empty house these days and he is only now beginning to see how much work Heather did in the background.
“Every decision that has to be made regarding the kids has to be okayed by Darren first now and that is tough. Nothing can be delegated.
"All you can do is be there to support him. I am no counsellor but you are there in your friendship and you go out and just try to act as normal as possible.
“A lot landed on his plate that he has got to deal with. But he will come back. He still has a huge amount of desire so once he has that, he will be alright.”
While Clarke searches for serenity in his life, McGinley is trying to rediscover the form that saw him break into the world’s top 20 with victory at Valderrama less than two years ago.
And he knows that were it not for the 126,685 Ryder Cup points he picked up in the European Open last season, he would have struggled to make the team.
Speaking at Hollystown Golf Club in Dublin, where he unveiled a sculpture celebrating the course's 15th birthday, McGinley admits that he is trawling through an inch-thick book of notes and statistics to try and rediscover that magical swing.
He said: “It’d be easy to blame everybody else, but the buck stops with me. I’m playing 15 years as a pro. I should know my own game.
“It’s easy to blame the caddie. It’s easy to blame coaches and all those kinds of things. But I’m going to have to figure out what the problem is myself.
“It’s very frustrating, extremely so. Yet the longer I go without success, the more I keep striving."
The Smurfit Course at the K Club proved to be a happy hunting ground for McGinley last year and he hopes it turns out that way again this week.
He said: “It was a week of destiny or whatever you want to call it. I thought I’d missed the cut and I was at the airport.
“But I got a good break the next day when I played in the morning and it wasn’t too windy. It blew a gale in the afternoon. I jumped through the field and then went well on Sunday.
“I’m battling like hell, I’m fighting like hell and I’m making all the cuts but there’s not enough quality in my game. I’m not raising it to the level I’m normally capable of playing.
“Bob Torrance and I still haven't gotten to the bottom of it. I am stuck underneath the club and I am either hitting block cuts or rolling my hands over and hitting a hook.”
The Smurfit Course at the K Club could be prove to be the Holy Grail for McGinley, who missed the cut five of the ten times he played the event on the Palmer Course that hosted the Ryder Cup.
He said: “I prefer this golf course to the other one, to be honest with you.I don’t know what that is. It just suits my eye better. It plays with more wind and has more of a linksy feel about it. I just feel more comfortable on it. I like it.
“Last year it certainly cemented my Ryder Cup spot, that’s for sure. Things went for me that weekend. Golf is like anything in life, it runs with momentum.
“The desire and playing in front of a big crowd is not what I’m missing. What I’m missing are the nuts and bolts of my game.
“The quality of my golf is not good enough. And I’m hitting so many balls and working so hard in practice that every round I play is taking a lot out of me.”