News & Opinion

Paddy zips to head of line for Europeans

BELEK, Turkey – As captain Thomas Bjorn celebrated with his European team after winning the Ryder Cup last month in France, the European Tour wasn’t letting any grass grow under its feet. The tour asked Padraig Harrington whether he would like to be considered for the next Ryder Cup captaincy.

It wasn’t an offhanded discussion but a legitimate request to a player who has been a team player in the Ryder Cup since his 1999 debut, at The Country Club in Brookline, Mass.

Of course, the assumption is that Harrington, 47, a three-time major champion from Ireland, would say yes. Which he did, but it was never a given.

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Padraig Harrington, with his wife, Caroline, helps the Europeans add to their recent dominance in the Ryder Cup with a 7-point victory in France last month.

Weeks later, at the British Masters, England’s Lee Westwood declined the invitation to join the potential captain’s list, making him a default vice captain for the 2020 matches at Whistling Straits in Wisconsin and the likely captain for 2022 in Rome.

The captaincy pipeline has stayed full as players age into the qualifying range: late 40s, still competing on tour, maybe a major champion and with current knowledge about the players. With few vacancies to accommodate such candidates as Westwood, Ian Poulter, Henrik Stenson, Graeme McDowell and Sergio Garcia, Europe appears to have too many qualified captains for too few openings.

If Harrington doesn’t get his chance in Wisconsin, he might not get another one. So, being on the short list puts the Irishman in the driver’s seat.

“I certainly heard two names in the hat. Three names – two with myself – I've heard,” Harrington said of the potential list of captains, without elaborating.

The decision on Bjorn’s successor involves a committee composed of the three immediate past captains (Bjorn, Darren Clarke and Paul McGinley), along with Keith Pelley, the chief executive of the European Tour, and one member of the tournament committee.

Harrington played in six Ryder Cups, compiling a 9-13-3 record as Europe went 4-2 in those matches, and he served as a vice captain in three others. The connections with McGinley, a fellow Dubliner, and Clarke, who is from Northern Ireland, are certain to help his candidacy.

As captain, Harrington can draw upon the experiences of those nine Ryder Cups. He likely would be the most boring captain in the history of the modern Ryder Cup, but he also could be one of the most prepared.

Harrington turned toward Colin Montgomerie, one of the most successful players in Ryder Cup history and captain of the Europeans’ 2010 winners, for inspiration.

“Starting with Monty, Monty gathered all the good stuff together and tried not to do the bad stuff,” Harrington said here at Regnum Carya Golf and Spa Resort, site of this week's Turkish Airlines Open. “I say this in the best possible way with Monty: I don't know if there was anything original in what he did, but he made sure that he didn't make the mistakes that people had made before him. He had the best of both worlds. He certainly thought things through but also instilled the confidence that he believed in his players.”

Although Europe trails in the biennial Ryder Cup series, 26-14-2, Harrington would inherit a program that has won nine of the past 12 matches, including the recent 17½-10½ rout at Le Golf National in France. Maybe his motto would be, Just don’t screw it up. Harrington sees Europe’s chances at Whistling Straits as being much better than they were in 2016 at Hazeltine National in Minnesota, where the U.S. used wide fairways and playable roughs to roll to a 17-11 victory.

Whistling Straits is a golf course that can’t be widened, and with the design, it’s a course that Harrington thinks will benefit what he hopes will be his team in two years.

“Home advantage is a distinct factor in the Ryder Cup,” Harrington said. “Thankfully, whoever is the captain next time around is playing at Whistling Straits, which is a European-style golf course. It’s a good course to go for [us].

“Let's face it. If we were going to Riviera, that would be so hard for the Europeans to win on that style of golf course,” Harrington said. “… Whistling Straits, at that time of year, hopefully it will be cold and windy for whoever is captain.”

The Europeans likely will decide by the end of the year on their 2020 captain.

Bjorn, who was appointed before Christmas 2016, thought that the announcement came too soon. However, Harrington is ready to get going and stop having to answer the question about whether he will be the next captain.

“Once you start talking about it, eventually it starts looking like, I think I am,” Harrington said. “It puts me in an awkward position. I'd prefer the clarity. I understand what Thomas is saying. It does distract and take away, but you know, the Ryder Cup, being the captain in the States, is different to being the captain in Europe. The European captain is heavily involved in setup of the golf course and different things. While there are responsibilities for the U.S., it's not the same. Look, we would like clarity, that's for sure.”

Alex Miceli is the founder and publisher of Morning Read. Email: alex@morningread.com; Twitter: @AlexMiceli