Paul McGinley knows he must regain some semblance of his old form if he is to remain a credible candidate for the Ryder Cup captaincy.
The Dubliner, 44, has been tipped by triumphant Celtic Manor skipper Colin Montgomerie as the ideal man to captain Europe at Gleneagles in 2014.
But the three-time Ryder Cup hero admits that he must regain his form and remain in touch with the top players if he is to become the first Irishman to land the job.
A lowly 487th in the world heading into week’s Open de Andalucia, McGinley said: “It’s essential these days that the captain is very familiar with the players and knows how they play and knows their personality.
“That’s part of being a successful captain. So if I want to be captain it is important that my golf goes back to a decent level in the next few years.
“It’s not vital to getting the job but it is certainly something that will work in my favour. There is no doubt about that. But I admit I don’t look at the world rankings. I don’t want to depress myself.”
McGinley had the worst season of his career last term when he finished 123rd in the money list after undergoing his seventh knee operation the previous winter - a major fall from grace for a man who was third in the Order of Merit in 2005.
He’s been forced to change his swing to take the pressure of his damaged left knee and must use his status as one of Europe’s top-40 career earners (he’s ranked 21st with €10,567,068) to get tournament starts.
But while he knows the can’t compete with the game’s big hitters any more, he’s determined to prove that he still has more to give before he eventually retires.
McGinley said: “My immediate ambition is to play better. Last year was my worst year on tour. Okay, there were some mitigating circumstances with my knee but I am changing my swing a little bit to work around my knee and take the stress off it, making more of a rotational move through the ball rather than a lean onto my left leg as I have done most of my career. I’ve tinkered very little with my swing over the years.
“I want to play better and I have a lot of ambition and desire to play well and it really hurt to have as bad a season as I did last year. So I am working hard to rectify that and find a bit of form again.
“I still enjoy playing, I still enjoy travelling and competing and I want to keep doing that. But I have got to prove to myself that I am good enough to do that so I have got to get my form back sooner rather than later and prove to myself that I still have a future playing.”
Technology has overtaken McGinley, who was more than a match for anyone in the game if the golf course was playing hard, fast and tricky.
“There is no doubt that the game has changed since I had my best years and it is more favourable now to the guy who hits the ball a long way and the new kids on tour seem to hit it so far,” said the winner of the 2005 Volvo Masters at Valderrama, his last big tournament win.
“Having said that, there are opportunities for me. There are courses where I can still compete. Yeah the game’s changed and the odds are probably against me to a small extent compared to what they were, but for me it is about producing a score and playing courses that are going to suit me.
“It all depends on many factors and whether my knee keeps going and being able to swing better through the ball. If a win comes along that’s great but it’s important that I play to a higher level and a level I am capable of doing.
Pleased to played ‘half decent’ for Queenwood in last week’s Tavistock Cup at Isleworth, McGinley believes he has come on over the winter.
“Even now I am at so much better a level that in the last 18 months,” he said. “I want to get back to that level. I can’t hit it as far as the guys do nowadays. All I can do is worry about myself and play at my own level and that would satisfy because I know I will have plenty of opportunities to win if I can do that and play at that level.
“There will be courses that will suit me and opportunities for me, such as this week in Andalucia and next week’s event in Morocco. For example, I didn’t enjoy the desert courses this year. Courses that used to be firm and fast with really quick greens, it is now like a US Open in the middle of the desert. Just look at the winners of those events.
“I will look at my schedule and those three tournaments, if they are going to be set up the same way again, it’s likely I’ll miss them because they don’t suit me. But there are plenty of courses and opportunities where I can still play well.”
Self-managed now after amicably parting company with Chubby Chandler’s ISM towards the end of last season, McGinley is not worried about lack of tournament starts, despite the fact that he has been forced to rely on a top-40 career money winner’s exemption.
His big worry is a recurrence of the knee problems that kept him out of the game for the first three months of last year.
“I am in every tournament to be honest and those I’m not in I will have invites for. So I am not worried at all about my category. I am worried about me playing to my level and golf courses that are going to suit me, playing well and going through the year injury free.”
McGinley will have an old hand on the bag in Spain in the respected Scottish caddie Jimmy Rae, who toted the bag for two-time Senior Tour winner Marc Farry last year. But it’s not a permanent relationship.
Having parted company with Pete Futcher after two years together, McGinley said: “I am taking ‘Edinburgh Jimmy this week. I am still waiting to see what my next move is going to be. There is no point in me getting a full time caddie until May because the season is so stop-start between now and then. That’s the reality.”