Padraig Harrington still was talking an hour and five minutes into a scheduled 20-minute phone interview. The 2020 European Ryder Cup captain doesn’t know the meaning of the word “brevity.” Verbose seems inadequate to describe his loquaciousness. Why use 10 words when 100 will do?
The Dubliner seemed reassured when I told him I’d only need 20 minutes of his time. He phoned on the dot of 7 p.m. as promised. Yet at 8:05 p.m. on a Tuesday night he still was talking. I was worried about the batteries in my old tape recorder and having to transcribe over an hour’s worth of quotes.
Therein lies perhaps Harrington’s biggest challenge as Ryder Cup captain: fulfilling all his media duties and still having time to plan Europe’s defense at Whistling Straits in September 2020.
He’s not waffling when he answers questions either, unlike other sportsmen who seem more intent on giving the answer expected than the correct one. You can almost hear the wheels clicking in Harrington’s head as he dives ever deeper into any question, even one as innocuous as, “If you had one shot you could play over, what would it be?” He took 15 minutes on that one!
Harrington is a three-time major champion, has won 30 tournaments worldwide and played on six Ryder Cup teams, four of them victorious, through diving deeply into questions about his game. It drove the late Bob Torrance crazy.
“He never stops thinking about his swing; he’s always asking questions – even when he’s swinging it great,” said Torrance, who coached the Irishman for most of his career.
There’s a well-known anecdote about Harrington having a house guest who found him in his pajamas hitting balls in his indoor practice studio in the wee hours of the morning. The Irishman woke up with a swing thought and wanted to test it out immediately rather than wait until morning.
The 47-year-old will approach the Ryder Cup captaincy with the same inquisitive mind he applies to his game. He has to. The fortunes of the European Tour rely heavily on the Ryder Cup. It’s the cash cow that keeps the tour ticking.
The Ryder Cup’s importance was hammered home in 2008 after Nick Faldo’s botched captaincy at Valhalla. Following that 16.5-11.5 loss, the European Tour’s tournament committee got together and decreed that anyone who took the job had to put his heart and soul into it.
“I have to give it 100 percent,” Harrington said. “We have seen once or twice in the past – once anyway – where your captain has done a half hearted job and it doesn’t end well. I’m good at hitting a little white golf ball. Does that mean I’m good at managing?
“I’ve never taken on anything where I haven’t tried to give it 100 percent and win, and that’s what I have to get my head around and do this. Nobody is just going to walk me into it and push me into it because it’s my time? I am committed.”
Harrington follows an already-established European Tour model. The last four European captains – Jose Maria Olazabal, Paul McGinley, Darren Clarke and Thomas Bjorn ¬– each served as vice captains before taking the top job. Harrington had three stints as a backroom member, experiences that opened his eyes to the enormity of the task before him.
“It is a huge shock, the difference from being a player where you are just so focused on what you are doing and can’t understand why you’re not playing all five matches, to being a vice captain and seeing everything that’s going on, seeing the distractions, the different pressures and pulls on the captain’s time, the choke points in the week of stress and pressure, and understanding how the captain, the vice captains relate to the players.
“I just can’t believe I was a player and didn’t know. That’s what fascinates me.” Gwk