Never in doubt: Why Harrington is the man to lead Europe in 2020

Golf News

For the third time in four matches Europe will have an Irish Ryder Cup captain as Padraig Harrington takes his rightful place at the helm, writes Mark Townsend

We all knew it was coming but the news is still just as welcome, Padraig Harrington is Europe’s Ryder Cup captain. We have a three-time major champion, six-time player, four-time winner and one of the game’s most fascinating brains in charge as we head to Whistling Straits at the end of September 2020.

His likely opposite number will be Steve Stricker which means we might have the two least spiky captains in Ryder Cup history.

For years, in amongst all the talk of the unlikely heroics of Christy O’Connor Jr, Eamonn Darcy and Philip Walton, the elephant in the room was that no Irishman had ever captained the team. Now Harrington will be the third in the past four matches.

Miguel Angel Jimenez and Padraig Harrington

The news comes as no surprise at all with Lee Westwood the likely skipper for Italy in 2022 and then it turns into a bit of a bun fight with the likes of Ian Poulter, Justin Rose, Graeme McDowell, Henrik Stenson and Sergio Garcia now in the right ball-park age to captain rather than play.

Harrington’s done his time on the sidelines having been a vice-captain for the past three matches and while the Sports Personality of the Year awards are something of a nonsense there he was on the stage alongside some of the players from France.

Supposedly Paul Lawrie and Robert Karlsson were the other names in the frame at one point or another but, with all the respect in the world to two of the very best people in the game, they probably won’t have stood much of a chance.

Harrington’s time is now, or rather in 20 months’ time, with the possibility of putting his hand up for the likely Adare Manor gig in 2026 coming too late.

“It would be too much of a risk,” Harrington said. “I would be somewhat out of touch with players by 2026, and there will be a lot of good players coming on the scene by 2026, good players who are playing now who would be looking for the captaincy, which would mean, if you’ve got five, six guys in, it’s creating a risk you’ll never get the job.

“As much as I’d like to be the captain in Ireland, I think the risk outweighs the reward of waiting.”

This is perfect timing for him, he has an All-Time Money winner exemption on the PGA Tour this year so will be back in Europe in 2020. And while it happened to Sandy Lyle it would be unthinkable to not have a multiple major winner at the head of our team not that that’s a sound recipe for success – see Paul McGinley and Thomas Bjorn’s captaincy for that.

Everyone likes Harrington – Rory McIlroy, Justin Rose and even Sergio Garcia have voiced their support for the Dubliner – and given that the panel to appoint the new captain includes Bjorn and the previous two captains and that all three have had him in their backroom team, it probably wasn’t too tricky a decision.

And the media? Well they won’t be able to get enough of him. In recent times the odd captain has been less than forthcoming with a few nice lines about what lies ahead, with Harrington you could fill a book. Last April, when he was asked about his Ryder Cup ambitions as well as a variety of other topics, he managed 5,000 words of nuggets in less than half an hour.

Padraig Harrington

The big thing, as we are repeatedly reminded every other year, is to let the players just play. It’s a long week despite just three days of golf proper, full of media duties, pictures, dinners, team meetings and general hype and hoopla, so preparation is key. Don’t turn up to Wisconsin with many stones left unturned.

This is how Harrington prepared for the 2007 Open at Carnoustie, the scene of his first major win.

“It would take me two full weeks and the week of the championship to get myself fully mentally focused. I would start working completely on my mental game two weeks out with no technical stuff whatsoever. It would take me that long to shut that bit down and to start reacting rather than thinking too much.”

And what lengths would he go on getting the visuals right?

“I would have done the whole day Sunday on the Saturday night, the whole morning onwards. And then the round, at least twice the night before and twice on the Sunday morning. So four times playing every hole, some good, some bad but I will have played every hole. I would have the pin positions and mentally rehearse the whole round.

Padraig Harrington

So what happens when you find water twice at the 72nd hole to look like throwing away The Open?

“Oh, I would picture bad shots. Bob (Rotella) would always make you visualise hitting a bad shot or missing a putt. I have won plenty of tournaments where I have hit one out of bounds but still won so the 18th could be used as a big positive in that if you could mess up a hole as badly as I did on the 72nd hole of The Open and still win then why would you worry about any mistakes?

“It is all spin, you are creating your own reality here. People who don’t believe in this stuff, they sit there and think this doesn’t make logical sense. It has nothing to do with logic, you are creating your own reality to get a better outcome. It doesn’t always work but over time it ends up with a better result.”

Playing in the States with the trophy in our hands ramps things up nicely so you want someone with class, cool, poise and brains at the helm. Harrington’s got all of these in spades.

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