Wednesday 17 July 2019

Tommy Conlon: 'Challenge for Harrington is to do less rather than more in long build-up'


Pádraig Harrington with the Ryder Cup during a press conference to announce his captaincy at Wentworth yesterday. Photo: Sportsfile
Pádraig Harrington with the Ryder Cup during a press conference to announce his captaincy at Wentworth yesterday. Photo: Sportsfile

Tommy Conlon

With 20 months to prepare for a mere three days of action, perhaps the first move Pádraig Harrington should make is to take the next 12 months off.

Because if ever there were perfect conditions for a galloping case of Parkinson's Law, it is surely the Ryder Cup captaincy. The next renewal of golf's intercontinental bunfight won't happen until September 25-27, 2020. Harrington was officially unveiled as Europe's gaffer last Tuesday.

In 1955, a British historian and author named Cyril Northcote Parkinson wrote an essay for The Economist that expounded on inefficiencies in government bureaucracies. In a phrase that became known as Parkinson's Law, he wrote that "work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion". In other words, give someone a day to do a job and it will be done in a day; give them a week for the same job and they'll take a week; give them a month and so on and so forth.

Pádraig now has an absurd amount of time available for the completion of his task. For a chap with a famously industrious work ethic, and a scientist's penchant for experimenting, 20 months might be viewed not so much as a luxurious lead-in time, but a long period of nagging temptation.

One can easily imagine him being visited by a recurring itch to do something, if only because his guilty conscience will be telling him that he can't be doing nothing. And as he said repeatedly during his raft of media interviews at Wentworth golf club on Tuesday, he did not accept the job lightly, though it had been his for the taking from a long way back. He had thought about it thoroughly and rationalised it from every conceivable angle, as he seems to do with any subject that comes under the microscope of his forensic mind.

And having not accepted it lightly, he is not going to do it lightly either. It wouldn't be his style to do his work less than comprehensively anyway, for as we know he has frequently done it exhaustively, if not on occasion excessively. If ever there was a man capable of expanding a job to fill the time allotted to it, it is Harrington. If last Tuesday he'd been handed 20 years instead of 20 months, he'd probably have started thinking about it first thing Wednesday morning.

In reality, January 2020 would have been plenty of time to start taking a serious look at Rory McIlroy and Sergio Garcia and Ian 'Poults' Poulter and the rest of the contenders who might make up Europe's raiding party for Whistling Straits on the shores of Lake Michigan, Wisconsin. Presumably this year will be comprised mainly of ceremonial events and corporate gigs and any other assignment that will squeeze the bellows for extra plumes of promotional hot air.

Thankfully, he will have his own work as a touring pro this season to take his mind off the captaincy and fill the void that might otherwise be occupied to an unhealthy degree by Poulter's form, not to mention his state of mind.

Harrington made it clear he will not be an arm-round-the-shoulder kind of man-manager. He won't be a kick-up-the-backside kind either, but he will definitely not be getting into too much "emotional" bonding with his charges, as some of his predecessors did.

He will, he said, be more the Bernhard Langer type, who captained them to victory on American soil in 2004. Which reminded us of the time a German sports journalist with whom we enjoyed a few beers one night in Seoul dismissed Langer as "a typical German accountant". And of course Harrington was himself an accountant by training before he took full time to the fairways. "I'm not the fuzzy, cuddly type," he added for good measure to the assembled hacks at Wentworth.

It was at the same venue almost five years earlier that McIlroy publicly discussed the break-up of his romance with the Danish tennis player Caroline Wozniacki.

Various players were asked that day to throw in their tuppence worth on the sad sight of young love thwarted, but Harrington proved indeed he wasn't "the cuddly type" by replying: "Who am I (to comment)? I'm not a marriage counsellor. I'm no expert on this sort of stuff." So if any putative Ryder Cup players run into a spot of the proverbial woman trouble in the build-up to Whistling Straits, they needn't come crying to Pádraig with their woes.

That being said, his wife Caroline was at Wentworth for the announcement and duly posed for pictures with him afterwards. Theirs has been a long, solid marriage, which, without crunching all the numbers, tells us that he stands a better chance than say Hal Sutton, the US captain who was on his fourth wife when he led his team to a mortifying defeat - against Langer's side - at Oakland Hills in 2004.

Sutton had disastrously paired Tiger Woods with Phil Mickelson twice on the Friday, at a time when the two superstars were barely talking to each other.

"Maybe we should have known," remarked one American sportswriter, "that a man whose nickname is Halimony might not be the world's best matchmaker."

Then, of course, there was Nick Faldo's ill-fated captaincy in 2008, by which time he had somehow lost three wives out of bounds. It was thought that Harrington was referring to Faldo on Tuesday when he mentioned a previous captain who had done "a half-hearted job"; and, when that happens, "it doesn't end well".

Half-hearted will not be an issue for the Dubliner. If anything it will be the opposite: too much investment over 20 months, too much head and too much heart. The challenge for someone so conscientious might be in spending all this time doing less, rather than more.

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