Pádraig Harrington insists that temperamental Thomas Bjorn will not be a liability as Ryder Cup captain and conceded that his own captaincy ambitions will have to be reviewed if he’s not to miss the boat in 2020 or 2022.
The 45-year-old Dane was named yesterday by the European Tour’s five-strong selection panel as the man to lead Europe’s quest to win back the trophy at Le Golf National in Paris from September 28-30, 2018.
Bjorn featured on three victorious European Ryder Cup teams as a player — 1997, 2002, and 2014 — and has also served as a vice-captain on four occasions and as chairman of the Tournament Committee since 2007.
His pedigree is excellent, but in Irish eyes, he is remembered for a tempestuous playing record here: Storming off the course “fighting demons” after just six holes at The K Club in the 2004 Smurfit European Open, then pumping four balls into the Liffey en route to an 11 on the 16th and a closing 86 when handing the title to Kenneth Ferrie the following year.
While he won the 2006 Irish Open at Carton House, there was to be no return to Co Kildare for the Ryder Cup later that year for the man they call “Van Helsing” for his “fighting demons” remark.
Welshman Ian Woosnam controversially overlooked him for a 2006 wildcard, handing them to Lee Westwood and Darren Clarke and provoking an unprecedented verbal attack from Bjorn, who branded his captaincy, “the worst I have ever seen”.
Bjorn apologised later and, a decade removed, Harrington sees a more mellow Dane and natural leader for Europe in Paris.
“I’ve got to say, I was impressed with him as a vice-captain,” said Harrington, who was phoned by the new skipper as he spoke to journalists at the launch of ‘Champions 4’, limited-edition prints, an Irish/American fundraising campaign in aid of Barretstown and the Press On Fund (supporting research into Children’s Cancer) in the USA.
Dismissing any concerns about Bjorn’s temperament, he said: “I think Thomas, because he has been chairman of the Players Committee for the last number of years, he has understood his responsibilities, in that sense.
“You won’t see club throwing or anything, He understands the position he is in. He will be fine.”
Harrington is an exact contemporary — the Dane pipped him for the rookie of the year title in 1997 — and he believes Bjorn is an astute leader who has thought deeply about the job.
“I can only be impressed with what I know and I couldn’t have disagreed with anything he said and did as a vice-captain,” said 45-year old Harrington, who made it clear he wants to play in Paris in 2018 and maintain his quests for more major wins, as he enters the final competitive years of his career.
“I thought all his opinions were spot on and we did talk about future Ryder Cups at the end and how you would approach things coming from this Ryder Cup and again, everything he said made a lot of sense.
“He’s been a vice-captain four times and he seems to have paid attention and learnt his stuff and he was right on the ball. I was suitably impressed.”
Harrington did not put his name forward for the captaincy this time around as he’s determined to make the team as a player and continue his quest for more major wins.
“There was a lot of consideration about whether I would have put my name in the hat, but it doesn’t mean I would have got it over Thomas,” said Harrington.
“He has served his time in the Ryder Cup, served his time as a vice-captain. He is chairman of the board and indeed, a very good player over his career.
“I want to play again and, as I said before, I ain’t getting these years back and I feel like I can be competitive… I have got to take my chances when I am 45 and 46.”
Asked if he might put his name forward for the 2020 captaincy, he said: “Obviously, the idea is to see how I get on over these next two years.
“Lee Westwood has put his name forward for 2020 at Whistling Straits. Certainly, I wouldn’t want to be putting it out any longer than 2020 or 2022 [in Rome].
“The longer you leave it, the more of a queue there is and out of sight out of mind. Being in the States, profile wise it is hard when you are playing half a tour each side.”
If Harrington is to make Bjorn’s team as a player, he knows he must break back into the world’s top 50 as soon as possible, so he is exempt for all the majors, the four World Golf Championships, and the big invitational events, such as last week’s Hero World Challenge.
“For 2018, to have a realistic chance of making the Ryder Cup team, I really do have to get back in the top 50 in the world.”
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