Ireland and US World Cup attitudes are oceans apart

IRELAND and America have long and deep traditional ties. But you would not have thought so when listening to the different views of their respective teams in the lead-up to the World Cup.

It begins at the 7,134 yard, par 72 Real Club de Golf Seville this morning.

Whereas all of Ireland’s top players desperately wanted to represent their country, the Americans had to go out into the highways and byways to field a side and even tually came up with Scott Verplank and Bob Tway, ranked 22nd and 57th respectively in the world.

Ireland are represented by Pádraig Harrington and Paul McGinley, who have carried the flag since making their debut together with a memorable triumph at Kiawah Island in 1997.

Even then, McGinley would have been displaced by Darren Clarke, who was keen to resume his place for the first time since 1996, but was unable to get out of a tournament in Asia. As luck would have it, Clarke won the event in question, the Visa Japanese Masters, last week.

“You wish that everybody would turn up and put this next to a major,” said Harrington.

“Obviously the World Cup is not that high in people’s minds. The timing is hard and officially the year has ended in America. It’s slightly different coming from a small country. It’s very important for Irish people to represent their country. It’s part of our heritage, especially as this is one sport at which we’re quite successful.

“Any sport in Ireland, once you represent your country, is a big deal. We’re brought up that way in Ireland. There’s no chance I would miss the World Cup. A chance to represent my country? It’s like having golf in the Olympics. It would be an incredibly big deal to have golf in the Olympics and to represent Ireland.”

When Harrington’s patriotic views were conveyed to Scott Verplank, the American looked decidedly embarrassed.

He said: “Yeah, I agree with the Irish. I’m happy to be here. I like playing for the United States. I was a little shocked that the guys ahead of me didn’t take the opportunity.”

Verplank’s partner Bob Tway confirmed: “I would be way down the list but when Scott asked, I couldn’t wait. I can’t speak for the others. If I was way up there and playing well, I’d love to play. So I don’t know, you’d have to ask them why they’re not here.”

It’s not just because the US has sent a second rate side that the field is regrettably short of what it should be for a tournament of such great tradition and prestige.

A prize fund of $4 million seems to be far short of what the stars demand.

For the second successive year, South Africa are represented, not by Ernie Els and Retief Goosen, but by Rory Sabbatini and Trevor Immelman. They duly came out on top at Kiawah Island.

The South African pair will again be among the warm fancies this week when 24 countries are represented.

Those most likely to challenge Sabbatini and Immelman are Ireland, England, for whom Ryder Cup teammates Paul Casey and Luke Donald should make a powerful pairing; Miguel-Angel Jimenez and Sergio Garcia for the host nation; Joakim Haeggman and Fredrik Jacobsen for Sweden; Thomas Levet and Raphael Jacquelin for France; Eduardo Romero and Angel Cabrera for Argentina and Stephen Leaney and Nick O’Hern for Australia.

Ireland are seeking their third victory in the event after Harry Bradshaw and Christy O’Connor Senior triumphed in Mexico City in 1958 and, of course, Harrington and McGinley seven years ago.

The World Cup is decided by fourballs and foursomes on alternate days, a format that suits the Irishmen given how well they get on.

Friendly and all as they are, Harrington and McGinley will not be reading the lines of putts for each other this week.

“That is one thing that will not happen,” said Harrington, “we have a terrible track record at reading putts.”

McGinley interjected: “I say black, he says white.”

All spoken in jest, of course, for these two golfers from the same part of south county Dublin are genuinely close. Will there be a few pep talks between them?

“Paul gave a strong talk going down the 3rd in the Ryder Cup match against Woods and Love and it worked very well there,” said Harrington.

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