McGinley was born December 16, 1966, in Dublin, Ireland. He stands 5-foot-7 and weighs 160 pounds. He has a wife and three children. He lists his interests as football, music and Formula 1 racing. McGinley was a Gaelic football player until he was 19 years old, which is when he broke his kneecap. That ended his football career, but opened the door to his golf career. He turned professional in 1991.
McGinley was a decorated amateur golfer in Ireland. In 1988, he won the Irish Youths Championship and the Scottish Youths Championship. The next year, he won the Irish Amateur Championship. And in 1991, shortly before he embarked on his professional golf career, he was victorious in the South of Ireland Championship.
McGinley joined the European Tour in 1992, when his best finish was second place at the Playboy Charity Challenge. He scored second-place finishes in 1993 and 1994, and three top-five finishes in 1995, before he claimed his first victory in 1996, at the Hohe Brucke Open. He finished at 19-under par to win that event. To do so, he made 11 birdies during the final round and came from eight shots behind. His other European Tour victories include the 1997 Oki Pro-Am, the 2001 Celtic Manor Resort Wales Open, and the 2005 Volvo Masters.
McGinley has played in all of golf's major championships, beginning with the British Open Championship in 2002. He missed the cut in that event, but has four top-30 finishes in his career at the British. He has excelled in the PGA Championship, twice finishing in the top 10. His best finish, in 2004, was a tie for the sixth position.
In 2005, McGinley was pictured on a stamp in Ireland. The next year, he gained notoriety for his actions during the Ryder Cup. As American golfer J.J. Henry was lining up for a long putt on the final green that would tie their Ryder Cup match, a streaker broached the green. After that occurred, McGinley extended his hand and offered a handshake to Henry.