Monday 17 December 2018

Comment: Padraig Harrington’s 2020 vision becoming clearer but Ryder result in Paris may yet hold the key

Analysis

Padraig Harrington would draw on his popularity in America. Photo: PA
Padraig Harrington would draw on his popularity in America. Photo: PA

Brian Keogh

Pádraig Harrington has his sights firmly set on the 2020 Ryder Cup captaincy but there's a chance he could be forced to wait until 2022 should things not go Europe's way in Paris in September.

While a win in Paris would make life easier for chief executive Keith Pelley and newly-appointed deputy CEO and Ryder Cup director Guy Kinnings, it would also take the pressure off Europe to appoint a "hero" skipper for the trip to the Irish Course at Whistling Straits in two years' time.

England hasn't had a Ryder Cup captain since Nick Faldo's ill-fated tenure at Valhalla in 2008 and having won in 2002, 2004 and 2006, Europe felt an iconic Ryder Cup player was required to win back the trophy at Celtic Manor in 2010.

That meant bad news for Scotland's Paul Lawrie and the call for Colin Montgomerie to mount his white steed and ride to the rescue in Wales, even if it meant putting his biggest asset, his incredible Ryder Cup record, on the line.

Despite losing 17-11 - Europe's biggest defeat in 35 years - there was little flak for Darren Clarke in the aftermath of Hazeltine two years ago.

Yes, the Dungannon man had the firepower of Rory McIlroy, Henrik Stenson, Justin Rose and Sergio Garcia, but he also had six rookies and while Lee Westwood did not justify his wildcard, the controversy surrounding Danny Willett's brother was a destabilising factor he could have done without.

"They need to silence the pudgy, basement-dwelling, irritants, stuffed on cookie dough and p***y beer, pausing between mouthfuls of hotdog so they can scream 'Baba booey' until their jelly faces turn red," PJ Willett wrote.

Whether there are any potential PJ Willetts lurking in the undergrowth for Bjorn remains to be seen. But even with a far stronger, younger and hungrier team, a second successive European defeat might accelerate calls for Westwood to take the reins.

Harrington will be 49 in September 2020, while Westwood, who will be a vice-captain for the first time this year, will be 47 when the time comes to choose the man to lead Europe in Wisconsin.

Bar the selection of six-time major winner Faldo, who was elected to follow Woosnam when they were dually announced as captains in March 2005, Europe has avoided a dual nomination since.

With Ian Poulter and Henrik Stenson set to turn 44 in 2020, they appear more likely to challenge for the captaincy in 2024 or 2026 with Luke Donald (40), Graeme McDowell (38) and Justin Rose (37), the likely lads after that.

The public perception of Harrington as a mad professor type will not colour the opinion of the players, who know he would be as assiduous and potentially as wily as winning 2014 skipper Paul McGinley.

If it comes to a Ryder Cup beauty contest, Harrington might lose out to Westwood on his record - four wins from six matches as a player to Westwood's seven from 10.

But from a PR perspective, and given his age, his popularity in the US, his three Major wins and his greater experience as a vice-captain (3-1 to Harrington after Paris), it's hard to see past the Dubliner, who was vice-captain to Paul McGinley in 2014 and Darren Clarke in 2016.

"It would be good timing for me, 2020 for sure, in terms of where I would be in my career," he admitted in April.

"I've got All-Time Money Winner (status) on the US tour next year, and the year 2020 I'd probably be back playing in Europe, which as a Ryder Cup captain -if you were a Ryder Cup captain- you would need to be.

"There's a lot of official duties. You need to play a lot of European Tour events. The captain being away in the States wouldn't be a good thing."

That makes Westwood the ideal man to step into the breach in Rome in 2022 but should Europe lose in September, all bets could be off.

Asked if he saw himself as the "right man at the right time" for 2020, Harrington admitted two weeks ago that the 2018 result could be a factor.

"How can I be the right man before the next one is played?" he said recently, chuckling at the suggestion.

"I believe I can add something to the team but if Thomas wins in 2018 there is great pressure on the guy in 2020 and if Thomas loses there is still great pressure. Who knows who is the right man. We will have to wait until 2018 is done with."

With Adare Manor seeking the matches in 2026, Harrington knows he'll be too out of touch at 55 to do the job in Ireland, should the matches return here.

But should political instability in Italy lead to Rome defaulting on its 2022 commitment, and were JP McManus willing and able to come to the rescue, it's a whole new ball game.

Irish Independent

Sport Newsletter

The best sport action straight to your inbox every morning.

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport