Friday 23 August 2019

Dermot Gilleece: 'There is one really appealing aspect about Padraig Harrington's Ryder Cup appointment'

Padraig Harrington poses with the Ryder Cup. Photo: Action Images via Reuters
Padraig Harrington poses with the Ryder Cup. Photo: Action Images via Reuters

Dermot Gilleece

Arguably the most appealing aspect of Padraig Harrington's appointment as Ryder Cup captain for Whistling Straits next year, is that it couldn't have gone to a more deserving candidate. Which hasn't always been the case, certainly where Irish aspirants were concerned.

While timing is a critical element of all sports, it is especially so with the Ryder Cup captaincy. And it is clear that poor timing and blatant politics have deprived deserving candidates of the honour, not least in recent years.

Sandy Lyle, winner of two Major championships, was side-stepped at a time when he was eminently qualified. The same could be said of fellow Scot, Paul Lawrie. And a strong case could have been made for Spain's Miguel Angel Jimenez, who gained vice-captain's experience under Seve Ballesteros as far back as Valderrama in 1997.

As it happens, from 26 Ryder Cup captains on this side of the pond, only two have been more distinguished in the game than Harrington at the highest level. They were JH Taylor, winner of five Open Championships, who was captain in 1933 and the 2010 skipper, Nick Faldo, who is the holder of three US Masters and three Open crowns.

Yet golfing ability wasn't always the key requirement. "Christy O'Connor Snr clearly deserved the honour as a great player and a great Ryder Cup representative," Tony Jacklin told me. "Why were contemporaries Bernhard Hunt and Eric Brown honoured and not Christy?"  Jacklin went on: "You could also ask why Peter Alliss missed out, a fact that I think still stings him. There was a lot of politics tied up in these things.

"Some strange things have happened over the years on the European Tour that I haven't been party to. I would love to have been a fly on the wall when they decided to ask me to be captain in 1983 because I'd fallen out with all of them. They must have been desperate."

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When the biennial showpiece was awarded to The K Club, Dr Michael Smurfit expressed the view that there would have to be a very good reason not to hand the captaincy to an Irishman on home turf. Leading candidates on that occasion were Eamonn Darcy, Des Smyth and Christy O'Connor Jnr, all of whom had given admirable service to the Ryder Cup cause.

Yet it went instead to Ian Woosnam, on the grounds that he simply had to be honoured as winner of the US Masters in 1992. For the 2010 matches at Celtic Manor, however, the goalposts had been changed once more, so that Colin Montgomerie could be accommodated.

Meanwhile, the choice of venue also had political overtones, with English courses almost totally dominating, with the notable exception of Muirfield in 1973. Ireland's first serious chance came when Portmarnock was proposed for the 1993 matches, but on the casting vote of Lord Derby, chairman of the British PGA, it went instead to The Belfry. 

Eventually, the Irish captaincy breakthrough was achieved by Paul McGinley who set new standards for the position as Europe's victorious leader at Gleneagles in 2014. And having waited so long for that particular bus to arrive, we now have the irony of three Irishmen in four stagings, following on Darren Clarke's ill-fated captaincy at Hazeltine National in 2016.

Harrington's captaincy will be especially interesting for the daily jousting with the media, which has become a feature of recent stagings. And even at this early stage, one can imagine him looking with more than a little relish towards his first curved ball.

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