Wednesday 22 November 2017

Harrington is missing points


Pádraig Harrington will be at Sunningdale GC on Tuesday afternoon, only a few miles down the road from the famous West Course at Wentworth. But instead of preparing for the flagship PGA Championship, he will be hosting a junior clinic in his capacity as a golf ambassador for the R&A.

An injured right knee is going to keep Harrington out of competitive action until June 9, when the FedEx St Jude Classic begins in Memphis as a build-up to the US Open. In the meantime, he can but watch as precious world ranking points go a-begging.

Two Open Championships and a US PGA title give him Category One status on the European Tour until the end of 2018 while effectively making him exempt for all the Majors during that period. But World Golf Championship (WGC) events are an entirely separate matter.

"I haven't looked at qualification for a tournament in a good few years and I'm hoping to produce a bit of form so that I don't have to start looking now," said Harrington yesterday.

At 43rd in the world rankings from a high of third in February 2009, the Dubliner could be about to tread dangerous ground. Irrespective of what happens over the next few months, he will be exempt into the Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone on August 4 to 7 as a member of last October's Ryder Cup team.

By October, however, he will need to be inside the world's top 50 if he is to qualify for China's HSBC Championship, the last WGC event of the season. Getting into all four WGC events is worth a minimum of about $200,000 to the participants.

"To miss out on the HSBC would not be good where the European Order of Merit and qualification for next year's Ryder Cup are concerned," said Harrington. There is also the fact that his two major, three-year contacts with Wilson and FTI, reported to be worth $10m and $12m respectively, are due for renewal later this year.

Yet there is no question of pressing the panic-button just yet. "I don't even know what ranking I am at the moment," he added. "All I know is that points will follow good golf rather than the other way around. If that was my priority, I would have accepted an invitation to play in Spain this weekend where there's massive world ranking points just for turning up.

"There are also big ranking points available next week. Winning at Wentworth will be worth about 70 points and a strong top-10 finish would be as good as winning a small European Tour event. But while I obviously need to bump up my ranking points, my priority is to give the injury the rest it needs to fully heal.

"My contracts are not a concern. As for my schedule, I'm still choosing tournaments which I believe will give me the best chance of preparing for the Majors. My attitude must be to simply play the best golf I can and whatever will be will be."

Whatever his innermost feelings, Harrington has always succeeded in projecting an image of calmness and control. So it was interesting to note his attitude towards the possibility of a further fall in his ranking position. "Next year could be a different story," he said. "I could then find myself chasing world ranking points, going where there were easy points on offer.

"I want to be in all the important events from the start of the next Ryder Cup qualifying campaign on September 1. With the schedule I have in mind in Europe and the US, I've got to be in the world events to get the bonus points crucial for the Ryder Cup. Qualifying for Medinah is a big target of mine."

Without saying as much, it is clear he doesn't want to find himself back in the qualifying mess he got himself into last year when he became a controversial captain's choice for Celtic Manor.

Meanwhile, he feels entirely comfortable about his Sunningdale assignment. "The clinic won't affect the knee," he said. "As it is, I can turn and hit shots, no problem. It's only repetitive striking especially on uneven ground which is the issue. If I don't rest it, it ain't going away so I am effectively taking two full weeks off."

On Wednesday June 1, he will be at Princes GC in Kent for a company day with Wilson. There, he will unveil a new bunker on the left edge of the ninth green, dedicated to another Wilson staff player, the legendary Gene Sarazen, who won the Open at Princes in 1932.

By way of marking the occasion, Harrington will play a recovery from the bunker with the original, hickory-shafted club used by Sarazen who is credited with having invented the sand wedge. And among those witnessing the deed will be Irishman Michael McGuirk, the owner of Princes.

The new 'Sarazen Bunker' covers a trap played by the 1932 champion on his way to a five-shot victory. And while Harrington is in that part of Kent, he intends to visit nearby Royal St Georges, scene of this year's Open Championship.

Clearly, the right knee is a cause for concern. But taking a broader view of Harrington's year so far, with freak rule problems among a series of set-backs, it would seem that his primary wish must be to get an overdue change of luck.

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