Sport Golf

Tuesday 20 February 2018

Harrington's cup baptism of fire

Padraig Harrington doubts anything can match the intensity of his 1999 debut in Boston. Photo: Getty Images
Padraig Harrington doubts anything can match the intensity of his 1999 debut in Boston. Photo: Getty Images

Whatever Padraig Harrington faces at Celtic Manor in his sixth Ryder Cup, but first as a wild card, he is ready for it.

And he is ready for the simple reason that he doubts anything can match the intensity of his 1999 debut in Boston.

It was a week where tensions ran so high and the crowd was so rowdy that it was no surprise the book European captain Mark James wrote afterwards was called "Into The Bearpit."

Back then Harrington had won just a single Tour event and had played in a mere seven major championships. Nothing prepared him for what he faced.

The Dubliner's debut had been earned with second places in the last two qualifying events, giving him the 10th and last automatic spot just ahead of Robert Karlsson.

He would not have expected to play the opening session, but Jose Maria Olazabal's struggles with his game led to him being called into the foursomes alongside Miguel Angel Jimenez and they managed a half against Davis Love and Payne Stewart.

Next day they lost to Tiger Woods and Steve Pate, but the efforts of their team-mates meant Europe led by four points going into the singles, where Harrington was drawn against Mark O'Meara, winner of The Masters and The Open the previous year.

The Americans, fired up by a team meeting the previous night that included President Bush (Governor of Texas at the time) reading the account of "The Alamo" about resisting overwhelming odds, had come out all guns blazing.

They incredibly won the first six games to lead by two - and not one of them even reached the 17th hole that was to be the scene of controversy later in the day.

So there was no hiding place for Harrington in game seven.

"It was the intensity I remember most," he says. "It was easy to tell it was pivotal and I've never experienced excitement like it. It just built and built and built.

"The Ryder Cup is like a rollercoaster ride. You're not too happy when you're on it, but the longer you're off it the more you think it was a good idea.

"Mark James came up to me on the 16th tee, not to tell me the position in the match, just to tee me what clubs other guys had hit on the hole.

"Walking down the hole the crowd must have been 20 deep and there was just this roar - like the loudest loudspeaker in a disco."

Europe needed four of the six remaining points to tie and, as holders, hang on to the trophy.

Olazabal, Colin Montgomerie - heckled mercilessly during the event - and Paul Lawrie looked as if they might beat Justin Leonard, Stewart and Jeff Maggert respectively, but Jimenez was heading towards defeat to Steve Pate and Sergio Garcia was having a tough time against Jim Furyk.

Harrington was all square going down the 16th and had a chance there to nose in front, but O'Meara got up and down from off the green to stay on terms.

The fans who had positioned themselves around the 17th all day finally got to see some action then and the Dubliner was not the most popular person in Massachusetts because of the time he took to play his approach.

It did not turn out as well as he hoped, but the hole was halved and on the last Harrington was able to give a graphic illustration of what the Ryder Cup does to players.

"For my second shot I hit a wedge 154 yards. That's how pumped up I was - I normally hit it 128."

He had applied the adrenalin factor into his thinking, though, because 150 yards was how far he wanted to hit it and with O'Meara unable to match the shot Harrington achieved the first cup win of his career.

With that, of course, it was back to the 17th to see if his team-mates, odds-on favourites going into the day, could now turn the tide their way again.

Jimenez and Garcia had lost, but Lawrie had won. Two games left and Europe had to win both of them.

Olazabal had been four-up earlier on, but Leonard had suddenly found a magical touch on the greens and when he rolled in a 45-footer on the 17th there was pandemonium.

What those celebrating had forgotten, though, was that if Olazabal holed his putt from around 25 feet the match was still alive.

When calm was restored he failed to make it and the Americans had won, but their victory was overshadowed by what had happened.

"And Tom Lehman calls himself a man of God!" stated Europe's assistant captain - and next captain - Sam Torrance, incensed by the former Open champion's reaction to Leonard's putt.

Lehman was labelled the "Beast of Brookline" in one newspaper article, but he has served as captain since and now is one of Corey Pavin's assistants.

Into the Dragons Den then.

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