Letter from Europe
An outside-the-box Ryder Cup pick? Padraig Harrington is spending the next two weeks making his case
Jared C. Tilton
GULLANE, Scotland — Padraig Harrington was an ever-present member of six European Ryder Cup teams between 1999 and 2010. He was an assistant captain three times, to his close friend, Paul McGinley, at Gleneagles in 2014, to another Irishman, Darren Clarke, in 2016 at Hazeltine National and two years later to Thomas Bjorn at Le Golf National. Having served that lengthy apprenticeship, Harrington was in charge as non-playing skipper at Whistling Straits last time out.
So, one might think, he has served his time as far as the biennial gunfight between the United States and Europe is concerned.
Not so fast though.
At the conclusion of his second-round 66 in the Genesis Scottish Open at the Renaissance Club (where he serves as a design consultant), Harrington opened up about his desire to at least explore the possibility of one more Ryder Cup appearance as a player. While unusual, such a move from backroom to frontline is not unprecedented. U.S. captain in 1989, Ray Floyd played twice more, in 1991 and 1993.
Anyway, at least in Harrington’s mind, any possibility of the 51-year-old teeing up at the Marco Simone Country Club in Italy for European captain Luke Donald at the end of September will be determined by how he performs over the rest of the Scottish Open and at next week’s Open Championship at Hoylake (where he has missed the cut in each of the two Opens he has played there).
Luke Donald was an assistant captain for Padraig Harrington in 2021 at Whistling Straits. THe two have talked about Harrington behind a dark-horse pick for the 2023 European team.
“I’ve got these two events,” he said. “I’ll see where I am at the end of the Open. I’ll talk to Luke and see where I stand and if necessary I’ll change my schedule and come and play over here. I’m meant to be playing a few senior events in the middle of the summer. But I will change that and play European Tour events if I have a genuine chance. If it’s real.
“Luke rang me a couple of weeks ago,” continued Harrington. “He was actually on to congratulate me for my [Champions Tour] win. But he also said that it would be remiss of him to say he wasn’t watching. I told him we would talk again after the Open. He asked about my schedule. I said it will be very clear: How I play in Scotland and at the Open will determine everything. If I don’t have good weeks, it won’t be enough. I only play a few events, so that puts me under a fair bit of pressure coming in here. I know if I don’t perform well over these two weeks, that’s the end of that.”
Of course, Harrington being Harrington, he wasn’t finished. Not yet. He had more to offer on the subject of the Ryder Cup, in which he has amassed 10½ points from his 25 career matches. Most of all, he was at pains to point out that he is far from a certainty to make what would be something not far short of a sensational return.
“The [European] team looks good,” he said. “I have to say that. The good players are playing well. The young guys are coming through. And older guys like Justin [Rose] have come back into form. I don’t think they are scrambling to need me in the team. They are very solid. … It’s nice to have experience, but they are not crying out for it. I don’t want to talk myself out if it, but they’re not desperate to have me in the team.”
As for how Donald should be judging Harrington, he’s the first to acknowledge that his success on the PGA Tour Champions likely should not be taken into account. “It’s different golf. I should be judged on how I play in DP World Tour and PGA Tour events. That’s it,” Harrington said. “I’ve seen some nice form and I’m gradually getting better and better. All the way back to Abu Dhabi. I played well there but that was a good round with my back to the wall. This week has been better in terms of being stress-free. I like what I see this week.”
Then there is next week. His record at Royal Liverpool may be less than distinguished, but Harrington has two claret jugs sitting in his living room at his home near Dublin. He wasn’t saying so out loud, but there were enough hints in his 19-minute-long huddle with the media to suggest the thought of adding a third has not crossed his active mind.
“If I turned up and played the Senior Players Championship this week, I’d be telling you I know I can’t win the Open,” he said. “I know I have to be here playing links golf if I want to challenge in the Open. I still think I’m a serious player. I’m seeing good things. If I never hit the ball as well as I have the last two days, I’d be very happy. I wouldn’t change a thing from the last two days. All that means is I need the right break or hole the right putt to be right there in contention with a chance any week.”