A wise-old mantra holds that, within elite sport, if one is not improving, they are going backwards. Standing still and rigidly holding on to what has brought past glory is never enough. Rather, a willingness to continuously evolve and expand one’s arsenal is necessary for sustained success. In light of Europe’s resounding victory at the 2018 Ryder Cup in Paris, it would be easy for European structures to stagnate and firmly hold onto what brought recent success. But the American team will come back a stronger, more dynamic force in Whistling Straits in two years’ time. They will undoubtedly evolve and refine their system following their Paris humiliation. As such, Europe must be prepared to adapt and tweak their structures to cope with an oncoming US onslaught.
Padraig Harrington is the man to bring about the added impetus that the European system needs and captain the side in 2020. First and foremost, Harrington is a ruthless winner who will quickly stamp out any complacency or self-righteousness within the European team. Unlike recent years, Harrington would not allocate wildcard picks based solely on what a player has achieved in the past ( a la Lee Westwood and Martin Kaymer in 2016) or on purely sentimental grounds (like Stephen Gallacher and Ian Poulter in 2014). Harrington is strong-willed and has sufficient standing in the game to disregard players’ reputations where necessary and make tough decisions others would shy away from. He will command the instant respect of star players, as well as offering excellent support and advice to the rookies.
Harrington is an undisputed pioneer of European golf. A three-time major winner, the Dubliner became the first European to win the PGA Championship in 78 years, as well as being the first to retain the British Open in 102 years. He gave belief to European golfers during a period when major winners from the continent were scarce in supply (a record twelve majors were won by Europeans in the nine years after Harrington’s breakthrough, encapsulating the revival he sparked). Just as he did on the course, overriding evidence points towards Harrington being able to galvanise European golfers off of it. A six-time Ryder Cup player himself, Harrington’s mentoring skills have been exemplified through the encouragement and guidance he offered his younger Irish colleagues, Paul Dunne and Shane Lowry, as they adjusted to life on the tour and progressed up the ranks. Harrington’s stellar playing career and exceptional analytical skills give him a unique ability to contextualise and rationalise situations. Having maximised his own talent to the utmost degree, Harrington has acquired coveted knowledge and insight into all things golf related. But most pertinently, it his intelligent and articulate manner which enables him to pass on such knowledge to younger players and offer them guidance and direction. As Ryder Cup captain, European golfers would benefit tremendously from being under the Stackstown native’s tutelage.
Additionally, Harrington’s case is strengthened by him serving as a vice-captain at the last three Ryder Cups, most importantly shadowing Paul McGinley in 2014. McGinely’s captaincy was extremely well received and Harrington would have gained invaluable insight from observing his compatriot’s work. But, most crucially, Harrington is a strong independent thinker. Somewhat of a maverick, Harrington has always done things his own way; be that practising his drives replicating the Happy Gilmore technique, playing tournament golf using the ‘step and hit’ drill or readily tinkering with his swing in an endless pursuit of perfection. A willing innovator, Harrington will inject fresh enthusiasm into the European set-up and seek to reform and modernise its structures to keep pace with that of the U.S. team. He would lead with the extraordinary diligence and attention-to-detail which characterised his illustrious career.
Critics have suggested that a third Irish captain in four Ryder Cup editions would be disproportionate, and some have vouched for the appointment of Miguel Angel Jimenez, Paul Lawrie or Luke Donald as European captain. However, ‘The European Tour’ must recognise that the U.S. team are a wounded enemy priming themselves for a shot at redemption. The Tour’s appointment simply must see beyond such inane political arguments and focus on choosing the candidate with the best credentials for enhancing the European set-up. Appointing Padraig Harrington is the best means of halting a US revival and maintaining a strong hunger and drive within the European dressing-room.
By Jack Stokes – Sports Editor