If the event goes ahead in September, Harrington may have to pick the entire team himself as rankings tables cannot be used. Here, John Brennan names his team to take on the US at Whistling Straits
Champion golfer of the year Shane Lowry admitted last week that he talks to European Ryder Cup captain Pádraig Harrington regularly – and that Harrington is not yet sure whether the Ryder Cup, one of golf's greatest events, will go ahead as planned in September.
Then there is the question of whether it will be with or without fans, whose raucous behaviour at the Europe-USA showdown is part of the attraction.
What seems certain now is that, if it does go ahead, affable Dubliner Harrington is going to have to pick all of the team.
Usually a Ryder Cup captain gets two, three or four picks, depending on his preference, with the rest of the 12-strong team being handed to him from a rankings table of over a year’s action in advance of the competition.
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But with professional golf sidelined since mid-March and not likely to resume in Europe before mid-July, the rankings tables that Europe use surely cannot be used to put people on the team.
They can be a guide for Harrington as he assembles his team for the Irish Course – yes, that's its official name – at Whistling Straits in Kohler, Wisconsin at the end of September.
But it seems he will have to take out a sheet of paper out and write down 12 names who will try to defend the trophy.
For me, seven of them are nailed on, all they have to do is to be fit for the matches.
They are (in alphabetical order): Tommy Fleetwood (GB), Sergio Garcia (Spain), Tyrrell Hatton (GB), Rory McIlroy (Ireland), Ian Poulter (GB), Jon Rahm (Spain) and Justin Rose (GB).
All have been there and done it, with the exception of Poulter all were playing well when golf ground to a halt. It’s a no-brainer to put them all in our Magnificent Seven.
(Poulter gets a pass because of his proven track record in the competition. And, also, because the Americans fear ‘Poults’ never-say-die spirit in matchplay).
But who will be the other five? Now that is where Harrington’s troubles will start.
We’ll begin with the last two Open Champions – Francesco Molinari of Italy and our own Shane Lowry.
Normally those words ‘last two Open champions’ would be enough to get the duo on any Ryder Cup team. But there are problems for both of them.
Firstly, Francesco has not played well at all since a horror double bogey on the famed par-three 12th at Augusta 13 months ago cost him the chance of adding a Green Jacket to his Claret Jug.
Does Harrington give him the nod? I say he will, because the Italian could renew the wonderful partnership he forged with Fleetwood at Le Golf National outside Paris two years ago, when they won every match they played.
Finding partnerships are huge in the Ryder Cup. A captain must always seek to use picks to create partnerships.
Ian Woosnam did it at the K Club in 2006, using his two choices on Darren Clarke and Lee Westwood, an obvious pairing of good pals.
Similarly, with Francesco Molinari already on the team in 2010, captain Colin Montgomerie picked his brother Eduardo. It made so much sense.
Remember, over three days and five possible matches, Ryder Cup players are only alone in the last game – the singles. Gelling with a partner is a massive thing.
That could help Lowry’s cause too, since he and Rory were a wonderful foursomes pairing for Ireland in their amateur days, going unbeaten.
Foursomes is the hardest form of golf to play. McIlroy/Lowry would be a gift of a pairing for their fellow Irishman.
But that’s the difficulty for Shane. He hasn’t played in the competition previously and he’s a compatriot of the skipper.
Pádraig has come straight out and said he would not pick the pride of Clara just because he’s Irish.
It would certainly help all concerned if Shane was to win, or go close to winning, one of the tournaments played in Europe or America before the Ryder Cup starts.
So who else will be ringing Pádraig, looking for a place?
Lee Westwood will for sure. A nine-time Ryder Cupper, the Englishman has played some really great golf over the last year after missing out on the 2018 selection.
Significantly, Harrington has not named the man who will captain Europe at the 2022 Ryder Cup, as one of his vice-captains this time around. Pádraig is waiting for Lee to be a big player for him this time around.
Graeme McDowell has also made a resurgent move over the last 12 months.
The current ranking tables show him as the 10th man on the list when nine would have qualified automatically. Yes, there’s again the problem of an Irishman picking an Irishman.
However ‘G-Mac’ sank the winning putt in Wales in 2010.
He’s a seasoned Ryder Cup warrior – that matters big-time.
England’s Danny Willett seemed to have the world of golf at his feet when he won the 2016 Masters. And then, for three years, it all fell apart with missed cut after missed cut and a poor showing at the 2016 Ryder Cup at Hazeltine.
Yet Willett, like Westwood, has come back, and he would make the side if Harrington was forced to go with the rankings list right now.
Sweden’s Henrik Stenson is another player who will be on Harrington’s mind. He has oodles of experience, and he ‘played three, won three’, in Paris two years ago
From the 2016 European team that lost, Rafa Cabrero Bello (Spain), Matt Fitzpatrick (GB) and Thomas Pieters (Belgium) are three players the captain will look at.
They have the experience, albeit on a losing team. Fitzpatrick played well last year and Pieters is a birdie machine. Yes, he makes bogeys too, so he hasn’t won a lot of tournaments of late.
But birdies win Ryder Cup matches. Stick the Belgian with a steady partner like Justin Rose, or an inspiring one like Poulter, and good things might happen.
And finally there are the guys like Victor Perez (France) and Bernd Wiesberger (Austria) who were on the fringe of the team when the action stopped.
In a normal golf year, they might well have played their way to a Ryder Cup cap.
Because that’s what rookies are usually asked to do – to play their way into the team.
Now with the proven talent Harrington has to call on, Perez and Wiesberger may just miss out this time.
So who are our ‘Famous Five’ to add to the seven?
Well, we say Lowry will get over the rookie issue and the Irish issue and be called up with Molinari, Westwood and Stenson. And there’ll be a right scrap between Fitzpatrick, Willett and McDowell for the last place.
My hunch is Fitzpatrick will get the last nod, but good luck sorting it out Pádraig!
John Brennan's European Ryder Cup 2020 team: Tommy Fleetwood (GB), Sergio Garcia (Spain), Tyrrell Hatton (GB), Rory McIlroy (Ireland), Ian Poulter (GB), Jon Rahm (Spain), Justin Rose (GB), Shane Lowry (Ireland), Francesco Molinari (Italy), Lee Westwood (GB), Henrik Stenson (Sweden), Matt Fitzpatrick (GB).