Sport Golf

Sunday 25 February 2018

Title hopeful Harrington backs Seve as face of 'Race to Dubai'

Rory McIlroy has impressed Padraig Harrington with his mental toughness this season
Rory McIlroy has impressed Padraig Harrington with his mental toughness this season

Padraig Harrington usually fields leading questions at press conferences but yesterday he posed one instead.

Ireland's triple-Major champion asked why the European Tour used Harry Vardon's image on the logo for next year's $20m Race to Dubai, suggesting Seve Ballesteros would have been the perfect choice.

Harrington last week lamented European golf's failure to use its most charismatic champion in an ambassadorial role and he went one step further at Valderrama.

Ballesteros is fighting for his life in a Madrid hospital after a series of operations to remove a malignant tumour deep in his brain, and Harrington said: "It's only when something like this happens, you can see how much he's missed.

"Hopefully Seve will make a recovery and, going forward, the Tour can build more of a relationship with him," he added. "Why do we have Harry Vardon on the Tour's new logo? Why isn't Seve? He's the man. When you think about it, he's the European Tour.

"Today's players love and idolise him. We all did growing up. It's when you feel like you are losing someone like Seve, you wish you'd made more of your time with him."

Vardon won The Open six times between 1896 and 1914 and is revered in England as the world's first touring professional. The current Order of Merit Trophy, and that to be awarded to the winner of next year's inaugural 'Race to Dubai', bears his name. Yet Seve's image would be far more relevant to the players who'll contest Europe's greatest prize from 2009.

An unprecedented seven Irish made the 57-man field for this week's final Volvo Masters, the $4.25m showpiece which has for 20 years brought the European season to a climax.

Exciting

Harrington yesterday paid special tribute yesterday to the youngest of them, Rory McIlroy (19), arguably the most exciting prospect in professional golf, for fighting back from a mini-crisis in the middle of his first full season on Tour to claim 81st place in the World Rankings.

"Coming strong at the end of the year is a testament to Rory's character," Harrington said. "Setting out on Tour as a young guy, you can be very confident but you're always going to hit speed bumps at some stage and only those that are really good come through that.

"In the middle of the year, it would have been very easy for Rory to get lost on Tour but he has come back very strong and looks like the can continue to improve and become a world-class player."

Meanwhile, the world may be on the brink of financial oblivion, but the Major-winning business is as lucrative as ever.

As his golfing stock continues to soar, Harrington revealed yesterday that money really doesn't matter as much to him as prestige titles and pride of place in the world pecking order.

The Dubliner has banked nearly €30m in prize money since turning professional in 1996, yet that figure will be dwarfed by his earning potential from sponsorships and endorsements following his three victories in golf's Grand Slam championships.

For example, the new contract Harrington signed with Wilson Golf last week was worth a reputed $10m for three years. Yet, the Tour is rife with rumour that Nike offered the Irishman that much each year to use their and balls and wear the Swoosh from cap to toe, while Callaway reputedly made an $8m-per-annum pitch for his services.

Harrington's determination to stick with a winning formula certainly was stronger than his hunger for cash, leading one observer to ask: "Does the money matter any more?"

Harrington, a qualified accountant, naturally averred to the current parlous state of the world financial markets as he replied: "Thankfully, I am in the great position that I can be very much focussed on titles first, with Majors being right on top of that, followed by the World Rankings.

"Those are the things you get focussed on," he added. "Throughout my career, I have been motivated by going out there and winning. Achieve that and the financial stuff follows."

Never will that be more true than on Spain's Costa del Sol next Sunday, when victory in the 21st and final Volvo Masters would put Harrington on top of the European Order of Merit and earn him the Harry Vardon Trophy for the second time in three years.

Not that he's obsessing on the €297,425 gap between him and leader Robert Karlsson at the top of the money list. Asked if it would bother him if he didn't win the Order of Merit, Harrington candidly replied: "Well, I'm not even leading it, so, no, it would not bother me very greatly at this moment in time.

Excellent

"I'd like to win the Order of Merit. A number of players have performed very well this year so it's a very good year to win it. I think Robert has been excellent and Lee Westwood has really come back into form, so whoever finishes on top on Sunday really will have earned it."

Some might find it strange that the winner of two Major titles in the one season would not also lead the Order of Merit, but there is an interesting precedent.

Europe's only other double-Major winner, Nick Faldo, who lifted the US Masters and British Open titles in 1990, finished 12th behind Ian Woosnam in that year's final Money List on this side of the Atlantic.

At that time, the dollars the Englishman won in Augusta didn't count in Europe but even if they did, Faldo would still have finished no better than fifth.

And with cold, north-westerly winds and driving rain likely to sweep across the course over the four days of the tournament, Valderrama will play as tough as any Major venue, improving Harrington's prospects of grinding out a result on a course which doesn't fit his eye.

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