Padraig Harrington reckons Whistling Straits, venue for the 2020 Ryder Cup, is a course that will give Europe a chance of proving the biennial event is not simply down to home advantage but the Irishman insists the appointment as Thomas Bjorn’s successor as captain is no longer a one-horse race.
A month after Bjorn led the Europeans to a thumping 17½-10½ victory at Le Golf National outside Paris, Harrington, one of the Dane’s vice captains after filling the same role in both 2012 and 2014, is still a clear favourite for the post. But, speaking as he prepared for this week’s Turkish Airlines Open, the three-time major winner said he believed he now had competition from two other candidates.
“My name’s in the hat and there are other names in the hat and nobody is sure when they are going to announce it,” he said. “I’ve certainly heard two other names. I’m not even going to suggest who they are just because maybe one of them doesn’t want to be known.”
While Lee Westwood, another of Bjorn’s assistants in Paris, has said he doesn’t want to be considered as the 2020 captain, preferring to wait for the match in Italy two years later, it is believed that Robert Karlsson could be one of Harrington’s rivals. The Swede was the first vice captain appointed by Bjorn and was widely complimented by the players and other backroom team members for his efforts behind the scenes as Europe reclaimed the trophy following a 2016 defeat under Darren Clarke’s captaincy at Hazeltine.
The other name being rumoured is Paul Lawrie, though when asked earlier in the year about his hopes of becoming Ryder Cup captain one day, the Aberdonian said he felt the door had perhaps been closed on him by his lack of involvement at Le Golf National last month.
The 2020 skipper will be selected by a panel comprising the last three captains – Paul McGinley, Clarke and Bjorn – as well as Keith Pelley, the European Tour chief executive, and David Howell, chairman of the European Tour player’s committee.
Speaking earlier this month, McGinley said he believed Harrington was the “only choice” due to the fact there appeared to be no other obvious candidates at that time.
Justin Rose, Europe’s top-ranked player, said he saw Harrington as the “front-runner” for the post.
“I was asked at the Ryder Cup and very, very quickly after the Ryder Cup,” said Harrington, speaking at the Regnum Carya Resort in Belek, where he was in the mix 12 months ago before losing out to Rose in the battle for the Turkish title.
“But I know no more than anybody else and I keep getting asked the question and then every second, third and fourth question keeps coming back when I say ‘there is not much I can say bar yes, I would like be the next Ryder Cup captain’.
“Nobody is fully sure when they are going to announce it, but I certainly would relish the opportunity and the challenge and I will go into it mightily, that’s for sure. It is certainly not going to be easy for anybody going back to the States after we beat them in France as the US will be up for it.
“Thankfully, whoever is the captain next time around, Whistling Straits is a European-style golf course. If we were going to Riviera, that would be so hard for the Europeans to win on that style of golf course as it’s just US to the bone there.
“There’s so many golf courses that they could go to in the States. They should just turn up in Hazeltine every year, [it’s] their cup of tea and gives such an advantage. Whistling Straits, at that time of year, hopefully it will be cold and windy for whoever is captain.
“I think the [US] players aren’t that happy that it’s at Whistling Straits. They know that they have had a better chance of winning the Ryder Cup if they went back to a Hazeltine-style of golf course, rather than going to a links course in the States.”
It is now 25 years since the Americans won on European soil and Phil Mickelson, for one, was critical of the course set up in France, hitting out at the fairways being narrow and the rough being penal. In contrast, the fairways were wide and there was no rough at all at Hazeltine in 2016.
According to Harrington, Ryder Cup courses of the future are likely to be set up by a neutral party rather than having the home captain having the main say.
“I don’t think it’s going it happen very soon but I do think it will eventually if we keep winning in Europe and they win in the States.
“It’s not impossible to win away from home. We won at Medinah [in 2012]. It hasn’t happened for 25 years in Europe, though. It just gives a distinct advantage to the home team.
“I might have started the conversation off but it will take 20, 30, 40 years for that, maybe, to move to a neutral set-up. Somebody would have to give it up ten years down the road when we wouldn’t know who the captain is.”