Padraig Harrington barely raised a smile as he spoke for the first time as Europe’s new Ryder Cup captain.
In fact, as he discussed his thought process before accepting the position, the challenge awaiting him over the next 20 months and its potential impact on his golfing legacy, the role already seemed something of a burden for the easygoing Irishman.
“It’s not something I take on without a certain amount of trepidation,” Harrington, a three-time major champion, said.
He used the word “daunting.” He acknowledged he was putting his golfing status on the line. He questioned whether he would find the “edge” needed to lift Europe to a win over what will be a strong American team at Whistling Straits in 2020.
So did he really want a job that will consume his life and effectively put his playing career on hold for the next two years?
“I was certainly thinking and considering it,” he said, when asked if he contemplated turning the offer down. “I don’t think I ever thought I wasn’t going to do it, but I wanted to make sure I was doing it for the right reasons.
“I wanted to be clear that I didn’t just walk into this because it was the next thing in my career, but that I believed in it and wanted it.”
Harrington did say he felt it was the right time to become captain. He played in six straight Ryder Cups from 1999 and was on the winning team four times, collecting 10 1/2 points. He has served as vice-captain for the past three Ryder Cups, most recently under Thomas Bjorn last year when Europe regained the trophy outside Paris.
He has learnt from some of the great European captains and golfing figures — Bernhard Langer, Colin Montgomerie, Paul McGinley — and said he will take little bits from each in a bid to maintain Europe’s dominance in the event.
The Europeans have won nine of the last 12 Ryder Cups.
But as something of a perfectionist and an over-thinker, Harrington said he was concerned about the facets of the job that were “outside my control.”
“I have had a successful career, and you want to always be successful in the golfing sphere because of what I’ve done,” he said. “But I think more of it is you are trying to beat a U.S. team away from home. They are great players, a great team. It’s just not an easy task. I am well aware that it’s a win or nothing. It is daunting.
“I am aware that I could have passed up on this and just kept on going as a nice tournament golfer. I am, as a Ryder Cup captain, putting a lot of the history of your game, your legacy, on the line.”
Harrington has been encouraged by what he said was the “unanimous” support of Europe’s players and former captains. He had been the overwhelming favorite to replace Bjorn, especially after Lee Westwood said he preferred to be captain in the 2022 match in Italy.
“I know they want continuity,” Harrington said, referring to Europe’s top players, “and it is a very important thing. Their confidence in me is hopefully going to be well-placed. It does make my job easier. They have spoken to me publicly and privately.”
The last of Harrington’s 30 professional wins, which included three victories in a span of six majors across 2007-08, came at the Portugal Masters in 2016. He finished 2018 as the world’s 191st-ranked player, his lowest end-of-year ranking since 2014, and it is likely to be even lower when the Ryder Cup rolls around.
Bjorn went to Paris as a career-low No. 853 in the world.
“I have reached the stage in my career where I enjoy playing golf,” Harrington said. “I am not as stressed about everything that goes with it. In the younger times in my career, if I didn’t eat the right food, get in the gym, have my physio, there was an element of, ‘How can I perform?’
“But I don’t put myself under the same pressure, I don’t worry about it so much.”
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