Europe’s new Ryder Cup captain Padraig Harrington said more on his first day yesterday than many of his predecessors disclosed in six months.
If this is what he is dishing up on a ceremonial day filled usually with rah-rah cliches, the next 20 months should be compelling.
It was intriguing enough during the formal announcement when he became the first captain not to resort to blandishments such as ‘it’s an honour’, but admitted to a sense of ‘trepidation’ and feeling ‘daunted’ at the scale of the task.
Padraig Harrington has been named as Europe’s captain for the 2020 Ryder Cup
The three-time major winner succeeds Thomas Bjorn, as Europe bid to defend the trophy
Harrington was announced as captain at a conference at the European Tour’s Wentworth HQ
What followed, though, was spellbinding, as one nugget followed another. For starters, he will be advocating a tweak to the qualifying system, with three wildcards instead of four.
He followed that with the revelation there will be no place for close friend Paul McGinley on his backroom team. There was a robust defence of Rory McIlroy after his controversial remarks about the European Tour being a ‘stepping stone’ to the PGA Tour, before a dig at Sir Nick Faldo’s captaincy in 2008.
As ever, each point was thoughtfully delivered, with plenty of humour, too. Asked whether there was any chance of him following in the footsteps of Thomas Bjorn and getting a tattoo done where the sun doesn’t shine, he replied: ‘I think it’s time we rear-ended that tradition, don’t you?’
Let’s start with McGinley. Such an inspirational skipper at Gleneagles in 2014, why wouldn’t you call on his wisdom as a vice-captain? ‘I will be relying on Paul, of course but not in an official capacity,’ said Harrington.
‘He doesn’t need to be coming back. I feel the job has moved on and it’s incumbent on the captain to bring players in as vice-captains who could be future captains. It’s too important a role now, and no longer a jolly, if it ever was.’
You might have thought he would get his feet under the table before tackling the qualification process but, again, he displays impeccable logic. ‘I’m having stats done to see if they back up what I feel anecdotally but I’m leaning to three picks instead of four,’ he said.
Harrington has served as a vice-captain at the last three Ryder Cups and played six times
‘I find it hard to think how you would overlook the ninth player in the qualifying list, when you’ve got four picks, and my experience is that a player who finishes ninth feels more comfortable and has more belief in himself when he’s qualified rather than getting a pick.’
What about McIlroy — is it damaging to team morale when he is so disparaging about his home tour? ‘I read what Rory said but look at his actions,’ argued Harrington. ‘That man loves the Ryder Cup, and he gets so much from it that he can’t get anywhere else. He’s not 30 yet and he gets to be the leader in the team room. He gets the glory and the opportunity to be loved on the course.
‘He will be 100 per cent behind us, don’t worry about that. Yes, he’s moved to America, and his family is there. He wants to win the Masters, and so those words come out. But if you know the man behind the scenes, he’s as European as they come.’
Harrington appears such a natural fit, it comes as something of a shock to hear he wrestled long and hard before taking on the captaincy.
Harrington said he is ‘thrilled’ to be captain but admits some ‘trepidation’ at the responsibility
‘I can see it’s a natural progression after being a player on six occasions and a vice-captain three times, but it’s not something I’ve taken on lightly,’ said the 47-year-old Irishman.
‘Just because it might seem to be my time doesn’t mean I didn’t think deeply about it. There’s a certain trepidation because I really want to leave the Ryder Cup and the European Tour in a better place.
‘But I know as captain you’re putting it on the line and you’re great if you win or it’s your fault if you lose. It’s exciting but also daunting thinking I’m going to have to find an edge if we’re to beat a very strong American team on home soil.’
Underlining the scale of the task he has taken on in defending the trophy at Whistling Straits in Wisconsin next year, only once in the last 15 years has the away team won — and that needed a miracle at Medinah. To prepare, Harrington will call on the counsel of every captain from the last 20 years. Well, all but one.
‘Eight put their heart and soul into the job, so they will certainly be a help, while one did it half-heartedly, and that didn’t end so good,’ said Harrington.
Just in case anyone had doubts as to the identity of the miscreant, Harrington added: ‘It shows that just because you’re a successful player, it doesn’t mean you’ll be a great captain.’
It promises to be a revelatory 20 months, doesn’t it?