Anyone who has followed the illustrious playing career of Pádraig Harrington and listened to his intense desire to get things right these past 15 years, or so, will have no doubt he is the right man to lead Europe into the next Ryder Cup at Whistling Straits in Wisconsin 20 months from now.
Yet, while the man himself has cast-iron self-belief in his abilities, his admission that he was taking the European captaincy for 2020 with trepidation and only after considerable thought was also typically Harringtonian.
This will be no box-ticking exercise from a man with an eye for the spotlight. The stars may have aligned to present him with this opportunity, but the 47-year-old is also fully cognisant of the reality that he will have to devote all his energies to the mission of delivering a successful defence of the cup regained by his immediate predecessor Thomas Bjorn on home soil last September in Paris.
That the job has become so onerous, Harrington only half-jokingly cursed Ireland’s original European Ryder Cup captain, 2014-winning skipper Paul McGinley. That he still accepted the appointment, having given it so much consideration, speaks to the heart of the three-time major champion’s innate spirit as one of Ireland’s greatest sports people.
“It seems like my timing, 49 years of age, coming to the end of the career, Senior Tour (eligibility coming up at 50), going to the States, I’m the right guy for the States. Everything was lining up, but I had to be confident that I wanted to do it,” Harrington said at Wentworth yesterday.
“I didn’t want to walk into this and being halfway through going, I don’t know about this. It’s a job I have to blame McGinley, not thank him, that you have to be committed to them. It is a 20-month job and I had to sit down and say: ‘Am I prepared to do this?’
“I have to give it 100%. We have seen once or twice in the past, once, anyway, where your captain has done a half-hearted job and it doesn’t end well. Just because you’ve been a successful player, I’m good at hitting a little white golf ball. Does that mean I’m good at managing? I have to ask myself these questions, am I prepared to do this, you know, and I was. That’s basically it.
“What I love doing is playing golf, but I’m prepared to put my golfing legacy on the line here. I could easily have just walked away from this and said, oh, it’s not for me, I’ve had a successful golf career. I’m doing something different now that I have to question.
“I think that I have the experience from the other Ryder Cups, but I have to question, you know, do you really have the ability to manage one of the most important sporting teams going. This is one of the biggest sporting occasions that there is and, you know, you’re being brought in to do it. You want to make sure you want to do it.”
Harrington was also honest in his assessment that he is putting his considerable legacy as a multi-major winner on the line in the court of public opinion by taking the captaincy. With only one shot at leading Europe, and that coming away from home, this could be a high-stakes gamble in terms of the Dubliner’s reputation, but he will not shy away from that potential negative and he was also candid in admitting that the American choice of venue — an inland, lakeside, links-type design on the shores of Lake Michigan — is as close as he will get to a European-style layout.
“It’s affected, yeah,” he said of the possible impact on his legacy. “There’s no doubt… It is part of who I am, going forward.
“I’ve never taken on anything where I haven’t tried to give it 100% and win and that’s what I have to get my head around and do this. How am I going to do this? and nobody is just going to walk me into it and push me into it, because it’s my time. I am committed and, yes, it will have an effect. Hopefully, a more positive effect than a negative effect, if I win.
“But it’s something you’d better embrace, because you know, it will have that asterisk if you don’t win it and, you know, I know it’s tough to win in the States, and that was another part of it, and yeah, you know, if we were going back, if it was back to Hazeltine, you know, there’d be another question of my appetite to go there.
“I strongly looked at the fact we were going to a golf course that is at least European-style. You know, I want to be a winning captain. I don’t want to be a winning captain at all costs, but I want to be a winning captain. You know, these are the things that you have to sit down and think: Can I do the job?
“I had to get it in my head that I wanted it for the right reasons and I wanted it not just because it was my time. You’ve got to be committed to this. Damn McGinley.”