The PGA of America distributed its championship pairings: US Ryder Cup team captain Steve Stricker will go out with American hopefuls Billy Horschel and Daniel Berger. European captain Pádraig Harrington will tee it up with American Phil Mickelson and Australian Jason Day.
“Well, I can guarantee if this was the BMW PGA Championship in Britain I would be playing with two potential qualifiers, so I would expect nothing else,” Harrington said with a laugh.
Then he noted that he actually prefers it this way, wanting his players to focus on the next three majors and the Olympics.
“It’s probably quite tough on the two potential guys to be paired up with Steve when it’s a major week,” he said.
“Personally, as I said about the Europeans, I really don’t want to take away anything from their chances this week of … you know, make it as relaxed as possible for those guys, because when it comes to the Ryder Cup, the best thing my players could do for me is win majors, be major champions coming into the Ryder Cup.
“This is not the week for getting in guys’ heads. This is not the week for having dinners and things like that. This is a tournament week, serious business for these guys. Anybody who’s in contention to make the Ryder Cup team I hope has the ability to come and win here.”
Harrington has a lot of decisions to make over the next few months as players try to lock themselves into the nine automatic spots that come off the World and European points lists.
There is a glut of experience among players currently situated on the outside needing a captain’s pick to play at Whistling Straits.
That is creating some headaches for Harrington as he tries to establish his roster of vice captains.
Currently Luke Donald and Robert Karlsson are his only assistants to be announced.
Among the pool of players that will get a call to be either a pick or vice captain at this point includes Justin Rose, Sergio Garcia, Ian Poulter, Henrik Stenson, and Graeme McDowell.
Harrington is naturally reluctant to pull the trigger on any of them.
“I must admit I’ve just mentioned at the European Tour that I will be looking to announce my next one very soon. I haven’t told him that,” he said. “I have to give him the news.
“Most of my vice captains are players, and players who potentially could have made the team. So telling a vice captain that we’re going to announce him is kind of … it’s not great news in some ways for that person.
“But look, I actually need more vice captains. Myself, Luke, and Robert have a Zoom meeting next Monday, and I was just sitting there looking at it and saying, ‘It’s time that the other guys get on board.’”
One player it won’t be is Lee Westwood. The 48-year-old reigning Race to Dubai winner who duelled American heavyweights Bryson DeChambeau and Justin Thomas to the wire at Bay Hill and the Players this spring to play his way onto his 11th Ryder Cup team.
“It’s a bonus for me that Lee has played his way into the team because you need leaders in your team,” Harrington said.
It’s incredibly important to have a leader that people will look up to. What he says in the locker room will command respect.
“I have talked to Lee, and that will be very much part of his job during the week will be — I’ll expect more from Lee than just playing golf. I’m quite chuffed that he has played his way in,” he said.