Monday 14 October 2019

Perfectionist Harrington will leave no stone unturned in his Ryder Cup shot

Padraig Harrington and his wife Caroline with the Ryder Cup trophy at Wentworth yesterday. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile
Padraig Harrington and his wife Caroline with the Ryder Cup trophy at Wentworth yesterday. Photo: Brendan Moran/Sportsfile

Oliver Brown

IT was in keeping with Pádraig Harrington's restless, perpetually questioning nature that he marked his confirmation as Europe's Ryder Cup captain yesterday by admitting the job was "daunting" and one he would approach with "trepidation".

Where predecessors had used such occasions to talk gushingly of their pride or their sense of a dream fulfilled, the ever-obsessive Dubliner instead laid bare his frailties.

For all that his promotion to lead the team for next year's duel at Whistling Straits might have seemed a natural progression, Harrington gave a reminder here that he was anything but a product of central casting.

Although a vice-captain for the past three instalments, he has none of the brooding belligerence of his immediate forebears, Darren Clarke and Thomas Bjorn.

He is affable, garrulous - his interviews at Wentworth lasted the best part of three hours - and were disarmingly candid.

While Harrington did not go so far as to suggest that he almost turned down the captaincy, he explained that he accepted only after wrestling with his conscience.

"I don't think I would have walked away, but I had to get it into my head that I wanted it for the right reasons, and not just because it was my time," he said.

Harrington's perfectionism can consume him. Even mentioning a cup of coffee has been known to tip him into angst about how best to make one.

Once, at a tournament in Malaysia, a group of Americans looked on in bewilderment at the lone figure practising for hours in the sopping midday heat.

Were it not for the support on tour of his wife Caroline or her sister's husband, Ronan Flood, his long-time caddie, he claims that he would spend hours by himself in his hotel room, perfecting his swing in the mirror.

There is a risk, as he knows, of the Ryder Cup wreaking similar havoc with his mind.

With 623 days to go until the 2020 confrontation in Wisconsin, on the shores of Lake Michigan, Harrington is sure to exhaust more permutations than Pythagoras.

Winning this event on foreign soil is, as recent decisive scorelines at both Hazeltine and Le Golf National prove, perhaps the most difficult task in the game, and Harrington recognises that it will, in his words, "put my legacy on the line".

True to type, Harrington has already analysed the possibility of losing. In light of the beating suffered by Darren Clarke in Minnesota in 2016, he knows that he faces ominous odds on a tricked-up links course that will be designed to suit the Americans' longest hitters.

"When you're thinking of taking this job, you have to wonder, 'Hang on a second, I could do everything right and end up on the wrong side of this. How am I go going to feel about that?'

"I would probably take it pretty badly, but I'm comfortable with what I'm doing. I have to understand that this is very black and white.

"It's not like being a football manager, where if I lose one week I can still play the next, or, if I get the sack, I will still get another team. This is a one-time-only effort. You are 'one and done'."

Just ask Nick Faldo, who, for all the kudos of six Major titles, invited derision for his hapless leadership at Valhalla in 2008, when his son rode around in a buggy and team-room entertainment came courtesy of the drummer in Iron Maiden.

Harrington, while often tormented by the game he loves, appears a safer choice.

He is hugely popular on both sides of the Atlantic, as much for his three Major triumphs as his habitually sunny demeanour.


Having savoured glory in the 2008 US PGA at Oakland Hills, he is better placed than most to crack the code of American home-field advantage. He can be assured, too, of some ardent Irish support arriving from nearby Chicago.

As to the vexed rules over Ryder Cup selection, he is keeping an open mind so far.

Rory McIlroy courted controversy last week by describing the European Tour as a mere "stepping stone" en route to the top, justifying his choice to play most of his golf in the US, but Harrington was not about to cast doubt on his young friend's loyalties.

"I can only look at his actions," he said. "That man loves the Ryder Cup. He gives so much to it, and it gives so much back to Rory that he cannot get anywhere else.

"He's 30 years of age and he gets to be leader. He has the glory, the opportunity to be loved on the course.

"You don't have that day in, day out. I know there are words there, but the actions nowhere near match up. He is as European as they come."

Where the PGA of America has tried all manner of captaincy models, from the cowboy excesses of Hal Sutton to the stiff proprieties of Tom Watson, the European Tour has reached a point where it can summon captains like cabs off the rank.

Officials at Wentworth tried to present the announcement of Harrington as a surprise, leaving a chair empty on the dais in anticipation, but the news had been trailed weeks in advance.

Such is the luxury enjoyed by a European team who have elevated succession planning to a fine art.

An away win is a leap too far for many an ambitious captain, but Harrington, his players know, will expend every last breath trying to buck the trend. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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