Ryder Cup: Europe captain Padraig Harrington eyes big party in United States in September

The Ryder Cup will be a “seriously big party” if it can be played before crowds at Whistling Straits this September, says Europe captain Padraig Harrington.

The 49-year-old says it is “full steam ahead” as he prepares for his team to defend the trophy against the United States in Wisconsin, a year later than originally scheduled.

Speaking at a news conference before this week’s Dubai Desert Classic, Harrington also said he is unconcerned by Rory McIlroy’s continued winless run and stated he is on no rush to name the rest of his vice-captains.

Harrington also reflected on the appearance of Tiger Woods’ son Charlie in the recent PNC Championship in Florida, saying it was the appropriate way to lead the 11-year-old “into the limelight”.

This year’s Ryder Cup is uppermost in the Irishman’s mind though as he ponders how it might be further affected by the coronavirus pandemic, although another postponement does not seem to be an option.

“I don’t believe there is wiggle room for pushing this back,” said Harrington.

“From the discussions I’m having, from the work I’m doing, it is full steam ahead, as if everything, within reason, is going to be able to go ahead as normal, whatever the new normal is.

"I know if it does go ahead with full spectators, it will be a seriously, seriously big party. I think the relief for people to get out there and go to a sporting event of that magnitude will be palpable."

“And I’m sure the players will appreciate it. Maybe I’m being hopeful, but that’s exactly what I want to see.

“I’m an optimist, and I believe we will be good to go in a capacity for sure that the players will want to be there and enjoy it.”

Harrington reinforced his contention that McIlroy will be a mainstay of the European team despite failing to post a tournament victory since November 2019.

Last week the Northern Irishman finished third in Abu Dhabi after holding the lead going into the final round. “Wouldn’t we all like to play as bad as Rory McIlroy?” Harrington smiled.

“Rory is at his best when he’s trying to prove a point or two. Obviously there’s a bit of pressure on him, and there’s a bit of media speculation, let’s say, and Rory is always at his best like that.”

Harrington described Tyrrell Hatton, the man who beat McIlroy last Sunday and also move above him to number five in the world rankings, as “everything you would want in a player”.

The skipper is particularly impressed with how the 29-year-old Englishman ruthlessly closes out victories. Hatton is currently celebrating his third win in 10 lockdown-interrupted months.

“He’s a Ryder Cup captain’s dream, isn’t he? That’s exactly what you want, a player that has that gumption and can really get it done,” Harrington said.

Former world number one, Luke Donald, and Sweden’s Robert Karlsson have already been named as European vice-captains for this September’s contest and Harrington will reveal three more assistants in the build-up to the match.

The likes of Graeme McDowell and Lee Westwood are under consideration but could still play their way into the team. “I don’t believe there is a cut-off point,” Harrington said.

“It will come as it happens. We’ll see how players are playing. But it’s going to be some of the senior players who are vying for the team.”

Harrington is also committed to his own playing career and will use this season to see whether he is still capable of competing at the highest level. He turns 50 in August when he will become eligible for the lucrative Champions Tour.

But his thoughts also turned to opposite end of the age spectrum, having played with his son Paddy in the PNC Championship in Orlando last month. That event was notable for the appearance of Woods and his boy Charlie.

Harrington believes Woods did the right thing by introducing the youngster, who dominated television coverage of the event, to public life at the tournament. “Clearly he loves golf,” noted the three-times major winner.

“There’s going to be a huge amount of focus forever on him, and whether he was in that tournament or not, there’s videos of him playing mini-events and things like that.

“I think it probably was an appropriate way to bring him out, lead him out into the limelight.”

Harrington’s most fervent hope, though, is that it will be him in the spotlight this September, clutching the Ryder Cup. And, like everyone else, he would love thousands of fans to be present to witness such a moment.

Original article 27.01.21 on the BBC Sport website.

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