Padraig Harrington: Legacy on line as Ryder Cup captain

Padraig Harrington was all smiles after being confirmed as Europe's captain for the 2020 Ryder Cup at Whistling Straits. Picture: Getty Images
Padraig Harrington was all smiles after being confirmed as Europe's captain for the 2020 Ryder Cup at Whistling Straits. Picture: Getty Images
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Padraig Harrington, a three-time major champion and winner of 30 titles in total around the world, believes he is putting his golfing legacy “on the line” by accepting the chance to become Europe’s captain for the 2020 Ryder Cup in the United States.

Speaking after his widely-tipped appointment as Thomas Bjorn’s successor was confirmed at a press conference at Wentworth, the 47-year-old Irishman openly admitted that he felt that taking on the job was a double-edged sword.

On the one hand, he is relishing the opportunity of taking over a cock-a-hoop European team that is likely to feature the majority of those players involved in handing out a 17½-10½ hammering to the Americans in France last September and leading them into battle at Whistling Straits in Wisconsin.

But, on the other, Harrington is acutely aware of the damage a Ryder Cup defeat can inflict on a captain’s reputation after being a player when Nick Faldo flopped at Valhalla in 2008 then serving as a vice captain to Darren Clarke as Europe suffered another defeat at Hazeltine in 2016.

“Just because it seemed like it was my turn, it wasn’t as though I just walked into it and said ‘yes’,” said Harrington, who was a clear favourite for the job after Lee Westwood, another potential contender, said he would prefer to wait for the 2022 match in Italy before being considered.

“It is possibly easier to be a captain at home. But I realised that, in addition to being good timing in my career, it was also possibly the best chance for the team going to the US (where he won the 2008 US PGA Championship a few weeks after making a successful Claret Jug defence in the Open Championship) to have me as a captain. I felt it was the right time and, talking to the players, I certainly had their support. When I talked to the other vice captains (from last year’s match) and potential captains going forward, it seemed to fit very nicely that I did the away match.

“Then it came down to whether I wanted to put my name in the hat and put what is a successful career on the line. You are putting it on the line when you become Ryder Cup captain because it is another element to your career – a different level. We know that a successful captain is great and a losing captain... it’s his fault. I am putting something on the line going out there.”

Having played in the biennial event in six consecutive matches from 1999-2010, four of which saw him end up on the winning team, before serving as a vice captain in the last three contests, Harrington is the right man to try and steer Europe to victory against a team that is likely to have Steve Stricker, a Wisconsin man, at the helm. As has been the case throughout his career, though, the Dubliner only has one thing on his mind – winning.

“Obviously I’m thrilled,” added Harrington, the third Irishman in four matches to hold the post after Paul McGinley (2014) and Clarke. “Thomas has left it in a very strong place. He did a great job. I liked the fact that Thomas relied on his vice captains to have things ready for him to make decisions and I would certainly be going down that road.

“I want to hopefully leave the European Tour in a better place after two years. I know we want continuity in Europe and, ideally, we’d play the Ryder Cup match tomorrow with the same 12 guys. But we are going to a new venue for an away match and, on average, we are going to have three rookies on the team. I have to ensure that I find an edge to make the team perform to the best of their abilities and hopefully get a win. I am really conscious that I have to find that edge and add to it. It is going to take a great deal of my time over the next 
18 months.”

After having his Ryder Cup appetite whetted by seeing the ten golf bags at Royal Dublin that marked Christy O’Connor snr’s appearances in the event, Harrington made his debut under Mark James at Brookline in 1999. He then played on teams captained by Sam Torrance, Bernhard Langer, Ian Woosnam, Faldo and, finally, Colin Montgomerie. “I’ve seen it all,” he said, smiling. “Personally, I’ve enjoyed the warm and fuzzy captains like Sam and Woosie who give you the belief and confidence. But that is probably not my personality. I’m more down the lines of the Bernhard Langer side.

“I will be organised and like a schoolteacher, I suppose. But I’m aware that I have to put a little bit of effort into making sure that my players feel comfortable and confident and believe in themselves. I have to be a confident captain and having the backing of the players is part of that.”