Pádraig Harrington might be one of the last great hustlers on the loose on the world tour but the Dubliner admitted he will be playing it straight if he’s a Ryder Cup assistant captain for Darren Clarke in September.
As he prepared to defend his Honda Classic title at PGA National in Florida this week, the 44-year old admitted he’s all but agreed to act as one of Clarke’s trusted lieutenants at Hazeltine in Minnesota.
“Yes, I have spoken to him and yes, we have discussed it,” Harrington said before adding that he needs to win at least twice this year to have any chance of winning his sixth Ryder Cup cap as a player.
Winning again will require great putting and while he believes he is coming back from the yips, the Dubliner admitted it’s a road without end.
“I don’t think you ever fully come back from it, no,” he said of the yips. “But certainly I feel a lot better on the greens, a lot less stress knocking in 2- and 3-footers.”
Having acted as an assistant to pal Paul McGinley at Gleneagles two years ago, Harrington is regarded as shoe-in for the captaincy himself some day with speculation growing he’d be the dream candidate if there was a 2026 staging at Adare Manor in Co Limerick.
“It’s like the Olympics,” Harrington said of his chances of making Clarke’s team. “If I starting winning and playing well, both the Ryder Cup and the Olympics are on the radar.
“As much I would like to play in both, they’re long shots, real long shots. So I wouldn’t be putting any money on making the team. And if I’m not in the team then I would love to be there as part of Darren’s backroom team.”
With Paul Lawrie, José María Olazábal, Thomas Bjorn, Lee Westwood, and/or Ian Poulter also believed to be on Clarke’s vice- captaincy short list. Harrington believes he would be called upon to fill gaps Clarke can’t fill with his larger than life personality.
In common with his role with McGinley, who banned him from speaking to the press at Gleneagles by telling him: “I don’t want you going off on any of your weird rants,” he knows he will be required to stay on message for Clarke.
“I think that is a good thing,” he said. That’s his position to dictate how the team is seen during the Ryder Cup. He doesn’t want anybody throwing something out there he has to make a recovery from or explain, even if it is on the good side.
“It is up to him to be the front man and decide who the image is going to play out in the media, how much he plays at being an underdog or being favourite. That’s his job to dictate that. The only reason anybody in the backroom team should be speaking should be to toe the party line.”
As for Clarke’s qualities as a captain, Harrington reckons he will surprise a few people with his meticulousness.
“Darren plays up to being the larger than life guy but behind the scenes he works really hard — a lot harder than people think.
“He will leave no stone unturned to get a good job done. This big vivacious guy we see is a bit of a front. Behind the scenes, he is a very, very hard worker.”
Harrington is also deceptive in that while he’s always smiling and friendly, he is granite tough inside — a product of being the youngest of five boys.
Twelve months ago he won on the PGA Tour for the first time since his 2008 US PGA triumph when he beat eventual PGA Tour Rookie of the Year, Daniel Berger in a playoff, despite having made a double bogey at the 71st hole.
He’s since become close to the 22-year old Floridian, who admits he’s never been allowed to forget that loss by his Irish mentor.
“I think of Pádraig like a friend,” Berger said with a grin. “I’ve been out to dinner with him probably five or ten times since then. He doesn’t let it go; he’ll let me know every time that he won the Honda Classic.”
Harrington finds it amusing he’s now an elder statesman of the game for youngsters like Berger and when asked what advice he gives them, he said: “If you want to be a professional golfer out here, really you’ve got to ultimately learn to hustle a bit, and he has that. He’s a fighter and if he hits a bad shot, he’ll try and get it up-and-down.
“He won’t worry about the bad shot, and you kind of get that when you’re competing a lot and out there the - the word we would use is hustle.
“That’s kind of missing in golf nowadays, everything is ordered. It’s all academies and things like that.
“A lot of the reason why Irish golf has done well is we were always brought up playing matches, playing games, competing. I don’t think I ever spent a day in my golf club where I wasn’t trying to win something off somebody.
“You know, that ultimately gets the focus.”
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