Pádraig Harrington kicked off his 2020 Ryder Cup captaincy by stating his total confidence that Rory McIlroy would be fully committed to the European cause at Whistling Straits.
McIlroy, a four-time major winner and a five-time Ryder Cup player, ruffled feathers on this side of the Atlantic last week ahead of his seasonal debut on the PGA Tour in Hawaii when saying that the European Tour was merely a stepping stone to the more lucrative American circuit.
The Holywood golfer, currently ranked eighth in the world, had in November expressed doubts about retaining his European Tour card in 2019, because of his reluctance to play the minimum number of four tournaments required for membership (other than majors or World Golf Championships co-sanctioned with the PGA Tour).
He is since understood to have rowed back from those statements, but they caused concern among the Tour hierarchy.
Though Harrington heard those words from his fellow Irishman, the 47-year-old could not square them with what he has seen from McIlroy during their times together in the European team room at Ryder Cups. Harrington played the last of six Ryder Cups in 2010, the year McIlroy, now 29, made his debut at Celtic Manor and has been a vice captain on three of McIlroy’s teams since, most recently last September at Le Golf National when Europe trounced the United States 17½ to 10½.
Yesterday, as the three-time major champion was confirmed as the next man in to lead Team Europe in the biennial contest, Harrington said of McIlroy: “I can only look at his actions. That man loves The Ryder Cup. He’s become a leader in the team room. The Ryder Cup, he gives so much to The Ryder Cup; The Ryder Cup gives so much back to Rory that he can’t get anywhere else.
“He is a leader. He’s 30 years of age and he gets to be a leader. He gets the glory, the opportunity to be loved on the golf course.
“He gets the exuberance, the crowd. You don’t get that day in, day out. You don’t get that regularly. He loves The Ryder Cup.
“His actions are all about The Ryder Cup. He will be 100% behind and in that Ryder Cup team, there’s no doubt about it.
“You just have to know the man behind the scenes. I know there’s words there, but the actions nowhere near match up. He is as European as they come. Yes, he’s moved to the States. His family’s there. He wants to win the Masters and those words are coming out, but his actions are not that way at all. His actions are so European.”
McIlroy was one of 11 players on Thomas Bjorn’s victorious 12-man 2018 team, of which Harrington was a vice-captain, who were full PGA Tour members. Yet, the 2020 skipper was not concerned that such a fact was to the detriment of the Ryder Cup effort or damaging to the European Tour.
“Just look at The European Tour. The European Tour is a global tour. Everything is becoming global, there’s no doubt about it. You say 11 guys are members of the US Tour, but they are really playing around the world. They are members there, because they are playing the world events. They are playing the majors. It is just golf has become very global. It’s not just our own tour is playing in so many different regions, so many places. We have been for years. The US tour, even they are embarking on moving around the world. It’s just the nature of the game. It’s become much more globalised. They have made it a lot easier in the States to be a US [Tour] member.
“When I started out, it was tough to get your 15 events in, but now... eight of those events are majors and World events, and you know, with two or three of them now in Asia themselves. It’s just globalised. It’s just the way it is.
“I want the best team of 12 players that match up the best. I’m happy that they are playing around the place, but they are playing enough in Europe.
“They will come home and in their actions, if you saw the guys in the team room, how they interact with each other, how much they embrace the European team, I have no fear of will I have the best team.”
Speaking of his appointment, Harrington said it had been important to have the confidence of current Ryder Cup players in addition to the five-man selection panel, which appointed him and comprised the three most recent captains, Paul McGinley, Darren Clarke and Thomas Bjorn (all of whom he served as a vice captain), as well as European Tour chief executive Keith Pelley and Tour Committee representative Edoardo Molinari.
“It is important to me that I got that support. I wanted to be a confident captain and I’ve got to believe that I’m the right guy. The fact that the players want me, you know, I take a little bit of confidence. Players are interested in being under me as a captain. They want to see what I have to give, which is nice. I have a reputation and they want to play under me and see what I can give back.
“Certainly, when I was a player with different captains, the captain gives more of himself as a captain than he would as a player. You know, he wants to win, so he’s going to do everything he can, and the captain is far more open about, you know as you get older, you get far more open, but I don’t have any trade secrets, if you know what I mean, whereas as a kid, you think, ‘oh, I know something. I’m going to keep it to myself’. In some respect, I do feel that I see that with some of the conversations that players are keen to see and hear.
“Keen to be involved in a bit of the Harrington starey-eyes-type thing!” said the Dubliner.