Pádraig Harrington’s omission from the European Ryder Cup team ends a run which began in 1999 with his debut in the infamous Battle of Brookline.
It was the first of six successive appearances in the match for the Dubliner, who celebrates his 41st birthday on Friday. His record stands at 9 wins, 13 losses and 3 halved matches, not as good, perhaps, as many would have expected of a three-time Major champion. However, only time will tell whether Jose-Maria Olazabal was wise to overlook the experience Harrington brought to Celtic Manor two years ago when he helped a nervous Ross Fisher to wins in foursomes and fourballs.
Whereas it meant everything to Harrington to make the side early in his career, that hardly seemed the case in more recent times. He declined to play in the last counting event in 2010 and so needed a controversial “wild card” pick from Colin Montgomerie to make the side.
He adapted the same strategy this year, again opting for the non-counting Barclays tournament in New York. This time, though, a share of 19th was never going to sway Olazabal, who insisted the Irish man needed to produce “something extraordinary, at least a win”, to merit inclusion.
Harrington’s approach was altogether different back in 1999 when he had to come second in the final counting events, the West of Ireland Classic at Galway Bay and 3rd in the BMW International in Munich to claim the last automatic spot. Ironically, it was Olazabal’s decision to opt out of the first day foursomes due to poor form that secured Harrington’s first appearance and he and Miguel-Angel Jimenez played a tied match against Davis Love III and Payne Stewart.
He went on to win his singles encounter against Mark O’Meara, but it wasn’t enough to prevent a narrow defeat on an afternoon well remembered for over-the-top American celebrations.
Pádraig was accused of slow play (NBC commentator Dick Enberg maintained he gave “a new meaning to the Boston Marathon”) but the Irishman was quick to point out that “I was so nervous, I could hardly see the ball” and “the putt to beat O’Meara was the most important in my life up to that point.”
The next three matches, at The Belfry in 2002, Oakland Hills, 2004, and The K Club, 2006, all ended in European successes with three Irishmen, Harrington, Darren Clarke and Paul McGinley involved. McGinley will be remembered for holing the winning putt a decade ago and Clarke for the emotion surrounding his contribution to the demolition of the Americans four years later.
Harrington’s efforts invariably seemed to be on a lower key but no less invaluable. One of his outstanding wins came when he and McGinley recovered from the loss of the first two holes to hammer Tiger Woods and Davis Love 4 and 3 in a foursomes clash in 2004. However, there were also a few disappointing results. Having beaten O’Meara, Mark Calcavecchia and Jay Haas in his first three singles outings, he lost the next three to Scott Verplank, Chad Campbell and Zach Johnson. In each case, the Americans produced inspired golf that few could have matched with Verplank producing a hole in one at The K Club in ’06.
In Olazabal’s eyes, those results and a perceived diminution in his short game were the crucial factors that meant Harrington would have to sit out the Ryder Cup for the first time in 13 years. Few, though, would bet against him regaining his place at Gleneagles in two years’ time.
Olazabal claimed the Irishman had taken the news well and now Harrington turns his attentions to this week’s Deutsche Bank Championship, the second event of the FedEx Cup play-offs , in Boston where Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell will also be involved.
The European Tour moves on this week to the idyllic Crans-sur-Sierre high in the Swiss Alps for the Omega European Masters. The field for the €2.1m event includes a seven-strong Irish contingent of Darren Clarke, Michael Hoey, Shane Lowry, Peter Lawrie, Paul McGinley, Damien McGrane and Gareth Maybin.
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