Rory McIlroy is the massive favourite for Olympic gold in 2016 but newly named Irish golf Team Leader Paul McGinley insists we shouldn’t write off Shane Lowry or a resurgent Padraig Harrington doing the samba on the winner's rostrum in Brazil.
After leading Europe to Ryder Cup glory with his inspired captaincy at Gleneagles, the Dubliner was offered the role of golf Team Leader for the Rio de Janeiro Olympics more than a month ago.
His family told him to jump at the chance and he’s determined to take a bold step into the “unknown” as golf returns to the Olympic family after a 112-year gap.
Insisting he is “honoured” to help Ireland in what is an unpaid role, McGinley knows this is going to be a very different to the Ryder Cup captaincy.
He said: “There are no picks this time. It is strict qualification and the only way we can get three men into Rio is if Graeme and Shane were in the Top 15 in the world.
“Every country can have a maximum of four if they are in the Top 15 in the world so if Padraig and Shane were there as well as Rory and Graeme, we’d have an even better chance of winning a medal."
That looks a long shot right now but McGinley’s famous attention to detail will be key to ensure that everything in place to help Ireland’s golfers win medals in Rio.
Explaining that he’d already spoken to the three golfers in position to make the team right now - McIlroy, McDowell and Jordanstown’s Stephanie Meadow, — he knows that world No 44 Lowry or No 260 Harrington could also still make the team.
He said: "I spoke to the potential Irish guys who are in contention for places right now. At this moment in time the most important thing was Rory and Graeme, who are the two who are qualified at the moment. And Stephanie Meadow who is qualified at the moment.
"But I’ll be watching all the players. The qualification cut off isn’t until six weeks before the Games, after the 2016 British Open.
“We'll have to see what happens but right now, Shane is unfortunate in that he'd probably make 80 percent of the other teams.
"Stephanie was very excited. She couldn’t understand why I was texting her. I had a good 45 minutes with her on the phone. This was 10 days before she got her conditional card so she will play over there and a bt in Europe too. She is based in Florida and I will see her there when I fly over a bit and see her, play golf with her make it my business to get to know her. If there are any other irish girls that come up on the radar too, I will be involved with them too and with the Golfing Union (of Ireland) and the ILGU too. I will be that buffer in the middle and the glue that holds it all together."
Galway-born Alison Walshe has also declared for Ireland, making her a potential Rio starter. But there's also a chance that Harrington, given his dogged determination to make the team, could pop up too.
Pleased to see his old pal Harrington win for the first time in four years in Indonesia last weekend, McGinley flashed a huge, knowing smile and said: “For Padraig, the Olympics is probably his No 1 goal ahead of winning another major.
“He was texting me last night and he's passionate about it having helped the R&A push golf over the line and into the Olympics. And we just saw him winning last week, so never underestimate Padraig.
“When he is cornered, that’s when he is at his best and we all know, you never underestimate Padraig. So best of luck for him and all the others in 2015-16“
McIlroy and McDowell were blown away by McGinley’s Ryder Cup captaincy at Gleneagles and keen for him to get the Olympic job.
After Europe’s latest Ryder Cup, McIlroy said: "He has just been the most wonderful captain. I think I speak on behalf of all the 12 players and say he couldn't have done anything else. He was fantastic.”
But McGinley knows this will be a very different challenge and plans to visit Rio next year to check out the facilities and the new Olympic golf course, which has been plagued by planning delays.
Currently recovering from an eighth operation on his dodgy right knee, he plans to be back in action in six weeks and hopes to play 15 events in 2015, including the Olympic test event late in the year. Even if he doesn't play it, he'll still go there to watch the action and collate statistics on the golf course.
His family are keen to go to Rio too and he revealed that his two daughters were more excited that he was about this new role.
He beamed: “They were more excited about me taking this role than they were about me taking the Ryder Cup captaincy. They were saying, 'Wow dad, do we get to go?' It just shows you how big the Olympics is.
“And I see my role as quite a big one because we are going into the unknown and there’s an even bigger team element to this that there is to the Ryder Cup.
“In Ryder Cup captaincy I knew what I was doing, I knew what a Ryder Cup was about and how it all happened.
“With this, it’s a big question mark and my role will be in getting all the information and making it as seamless as possible for the players to go and play and hopefully win a medal for Ireland.
“It was a great honour for me over the last two years to represent Europe as captain and I am now delighted to have the opportunity to help my country as Team Leader of the Men’s and Ladies Irish Golf Team at this phenomenal event.”
Winning medals is the goal and McGinley knows that we have a great chance with world No 1 Rory McIlroy keen to do his bit for golf after finally ending speculation about his interest in the Olympics by declaring for Ireland when asked about it during the Irish Open this summer.
He said: “We’ll stay the Olympic Village at some stage during the week. Rory certainly wants to get involved in the spirit.
“He enjoys other sports and having spoken to Rory and listened to him talking about it, he really embraces what the Olympics is about.
“He understands his role as the No 1 player in the world and the platform he has to project the game of golf as the No 1 player is very important.
“We all know the challenges facing golf right now and that’s why it is so important for us that we are part of the Olympics, the biggest sporting event in the world.”
“There's a huge team element to this because we are not just part of golf but of Team Ireland.
“I am looking forward to seeing people like Katie Taylor and getting to know them.”
The Dubliner will be heavily involved in planning Ireland's Olympic challenge over the next 18 months but he flees from questions about the set up of golf's return and the decision to opt for 72-hole, individual strokeplay rather than some team matchplay.
"Already in the last month, since Redmond [O'Donoghue] called me. I've had a number of conference calls, gathering information for myself. Speaking through it with Ty Votaw there is a going on behind the scenes as the reasoning for having it as an individual competition.
"But I don’t know. There is a question mark for everybody in the golf industry because we haven’t been involved in the Olympics in our lifetime. Things will evolve and hopefully after this Olympics, we will learn a lot of things and hopefully it will evolve for the next one. The big thing is we are there. We are a sport that is going to participate. It is a learning curve, an adventure for all of us."