It’s the worst secret in golf and even Pádraig Harrington, one of the most affable men in golf, is tiring of being asked if he’s going to be the next captain of the European Ryder Cup team.
“It’s interesting getting asked questions about it when I know no more than anybody else,” he said ahead of competing in this week’s Turkish Airlines Open, which starts in Antalya this morning. “I keep getting asked the question and the second, third and fourth question keeps coming back to it when there’s not much I can say, bar, yes, I’d like to be Ryder Cup captain, my name’s in the hat and there are other names in the hat and nobody is fully sure when they are going to announce it.”
Harrington tees off this morning at the Regnum Carya Golf and Spa Resort in the opening round of the Turkish Airlines Open, the third-to-last tournament of the season as the Race to Dubai reaches its climax. Last year, he finished fourth here.
For now, Harrington continues to dodge questions as best he can while playing coy and suggesting that he isn’t the only horse in the race for the honour of defending the Cup in 2020 at Whistling Straits in Wisconsin. Harrington claimed there are at least two other names being bandied around for the gig — presumably Robert Karlsson and Paul Lawrie — but neither brings the resume of Harrington, a six-time Ryder Cupper and three times a vice captain.
“I certainly heard two (other) names in the hat,” Harrington confirmed. “You’ll figure it out yourselves, guys.”
The powers-that-be ought to figure out making an announcement, pronto.
“It puts me in an awkward position,” Harrington said. “I’d prefer the clarity.”
The only other possibility to rival Harrington being heir apparent in the hot seat for worst-kept secret is that Steve Stricker, a born-and-bred “cheesehead” from Wisconsin, will be his counterpart and responsible for leading the American side to victory on home soil in his home state.
“I know Steve from playing with him in the U.S. Solid bloke. Good guy. Tough. Yeah, I think he wouldn’t be a man to underestimate,” Harrington said. “This is a guy who has become a world class player a couple of times later on in his career without the firepower and arsenal that other players have.”
The latest European Ryder Cup player to back Harrington’s bid is Englishman Justin Rose, the defending champion at the Turkish Airlines Open, who noted that the potential candidates for the job are beginning to pile up.
“I think it’s his time. I think with someone like Pádraig who is a three-time major champion, his record certainly suggests that he deserves it,” Rose said. “I think he’s been brilliant in the team room in his vice-captain role. No job is too small. He’s happy to muck in and do the most menial of task or the biggest of tasks.”
To illustrate his point, Rose recounted a story he heard earlier this week about how Harrington played a pivotal role in lifting the spirits of Thorbjorn Olesen when the Dane was benched by fellow countryman Thomas Bjorn on Saturday at last month’s Ryder Cup.
“Pádraig was the one that was around him for most of that day and made his day much better, much easier,” Rose said. “I think that’s a big task. I think he handles his jobs as vice-captain really well and the players respond and respect that. It bodes well for a captaincy.”
Harrington has downplayed the support he has received from his peers who would like to see him land the job.
“I know a number of players have come out and said they feel I should be the next captain, but I think what they are really saying is that they liked what they saw and they would like a continuation of what they have seen and not to rock the boat too much,” he said.
Harrington would certainly qualify as a vote for continuity. He also should be a natural for the role, the type of leader unafraid to make the tough decisions that must be made to retain the Cup in two years time. He has learned from his various captains. He sees a bit of Bernhard Langer in himself and admires how Colin Montgomerie took best practices from his predecessors and didn’t reinvent the wheel.
“I don’t know if there was anything original in what he did, but he made sure that he didn’t make the mistakes that people had made before him,” Harrington said. “Obviously you can’t do as Faldo did and let everybody do their thing individually. There has to be a team element to it...I hope I would understand how to go about that and make sure that the sum of the parts is better than the individuals.”
Harrington has witnessed how the team dynamics have changed from his early days. He recalled how he was paired with Graeme McDowell in his first match for the simple reason that they were both Irish.
“We didn’t even know each other,” Harrington said. “That just goes to say, it’s not just the US who have got partnerships wrong.
“That’s how it was done 20 years ago. Oh, you two are Irish; you must play together.”
Before long, the European Tour will make a formality official and Harrington will be the tough, solid bloke, good guy with the final say on making the pairings for the Euros.