Pádraig Harrington, who was confirmed Tuesday as Europe’s Ryder Cup captain for 2020 at Whistling Straits, does not do things by halves. He is the right man for the job – and all the more so because he has Caroline, truly a wife-in-a-million, at his side. He handles the golfing side of operations. She takes charge of everything else. So they complement each other.
The whole of the golfing world took it for granted that the 47-year-old Irishman would be the captain from the moment he threw his hat into the ring last April. At that point, though, he himself had still to shrug off a few reservations. “It’s like putting a successful career on the line,” he said during Tuesday’s lunchtime announcement at Wentworth Club in Surrey, England. “If you win, it’s great. If you lose, it’s your fault.”
This three-time major champion went on to run through a few of his other concerns. Could he, for example, make the players on his his team play to the best of their abilities in what is an away match and one that is being held at a first-time Ryder Cup venue? And how would his rookies – he thinks there could be three of them – make out in such circumstances?
“I expect Pádraig’s captaincy to be close to flawless.” – Paul Azinger
Almost inevitably, people wanted to know what he had learned from the nine captains under whom he had either played or served as a vice captain. This line in questioning ended up with his saying that he would be more like a Bernhard Langer than an Ian Woosnam or a Sam Torrance. Langer, he said, had a bit of the schoolmaster about him, whereas Woosnam and Torrance had been more of “the fuzzy, cuddly types who made you believe that they believed in you.” Much though he admired their overall results, Harrington made plain that he was not a “fuzzy, cuddly” individual.
Two things he knows for sure, thanks largely to Paul McGinley’s meticulous preparation, is that the captain’s role is “a full-time job.” Also, that he does not have to worry about Rory McIlroy. Apparently, we can forget about McIlroy’s somewhat derogatory comments about playing in Europe. When it comes to playing for Europe in the Ryder Cup he will be the dynamic Rory we all know.
At this stage of the proceedings at least, Americans and Europeans are on the same side as they marvel at the strength of Harrington’s credentials.
Paul Azinger, a fellow winner of the PGA Championship, was one of the first of the Americans to voice his approval of the appointment. “I expect Pádraig’s captaincy to be close to flawless. Europe’s captains have the undeniable ability to get the most out of their players. Ask yourself why would Pádraig be any different.”
And there is a not dissimilar paean of praise from Curtis Strange: “Pádraig is one of the hardest-working and most committed golfers out there. He will be the same way as a Ryder Cup captain. He deserves to be the captain and his guys will play hard for him.”
From the ranks of the Europeans, Paul Casey put it like this. “We all think we know Pádraig’s strengths as a golfer, his attention to detail, his unwavering quest to find the secret and his enthusiasm in general. … It’s always difficult to know how that parlays into being a captain but I, personally, have no doubt that he will be great. Though it goes without saying that you don’t really know till it’s actually happening.
“The example here would be Thomas (Bjørn). … He was unbelievable, the best of the captains I’ve played under in my four matches. But would you have predicted that?
“(Bjørn) has changed a lot over the years.”
When asked to name Harrington’s strongest suit, Howard Bennett – who coached Harrington for the 10 years before Harrington went to Bob Torrance, the renowned Scottish coach and father of Sam Torrance – opted for loyalty.
Few would disagree.
His long alliance with the equipment maker Wilson says it all. “Lots of manufacturers were after him when we were working together,” Bennett said. “But he always told me that he wasn’t interested in the money. It was more important to him to be the best player he could be. The Wilson clubs helped to make that possible and he was sticking with them.”
For a further example of the loyalty factor, Bennett told the story about being out to dinner with his family and fielding a phone call almost 20 years after he and Harrington had agreed that Harrington should switch to Torrance if he wanted to reach the next level. It was Harrington on the line giving Bennett a congratulatory call on the day of his golden wedding anniversary.
If Harrington is at odds with, say, a referee or the opposing captain, he will stand his ground and where necessary argue the point until the cows come home.
No less did Harrington do the right thing when, as he parted company with Torrance, there was a bit of a falling out. The moment he heard that Torrance was ill, he seized the chance to fly to Scotland to put things to rights. (Torrance died at 82 in 2014 after battling cancer.)
Harrington’s “gift of the gab” is on a par with his loyalty. He chats to all and sundry and, to the all-round relief of those members of the media who will be attending next year’s Ryder Cup, he has no problem in talking things through with the press. Before now, he has said he finds it therapeutic.
Meanwhile, in what amounts to a word of warning to those who make his team, he does not approve of those of his fellow players who give the writers short shrift. No one, more than this particular Irishman, understands that the media, like the golfers, have a job to do.
He will be unlikely to alienate any players when it comes to asking them to sit out a match. The news will be delivered quietly and only after much thought. Again, if he is at odds with, say, a referee or the opposing captain, he will stand his ground and where necessary argue the point until the cows come home.
His speeches will be as carefully crafted as his shots, and it is safe to say that he will not be winging it at the opening ceremony like a Nick Faldo. There will be shafts of humour along the way, many of which will leave people as deliciously bewildered as they are bemused.
Global Golf Post’s Steve Eubanks has never forgotten an occasion at that somewhat cheerless BellSouth Classic when, on happening upon Harrington on the practice ground, he noted that the top of the player’s shoe had broken away from the sole.
Harrington thanked him for pointing it out before explaining that it was actually a deliberate adjustment on his part. By taking a pair of scissors to the relevant shoe, he had given himself an extra 10 yards.
Europe vice captain Pádraig Harrington brings coffee to Thomas Bjørn during practice for the 2014 Ryder Cup. Photo: Paul Childs, Action Images
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