The juggler, trying (and succeeding) to keep a number of balls in the air. No matter where he goes these days Pádraig Harrington is followed by a question on the Ryder Cup captaincy, and he’d like clarity sooner rather than later on that particular topic, whilst also trying to do his primary job as a player which, it must be said, he has managed very well in recent months.
The balancing act, so far, hasn’t affected him. It has even, perhaps, invigorated him.
Captain? It looks like a one-horse race on that one, although – apparently – a number of other names remain in the drum (whisper them, Robert Karlsson, Paul Lawrie) before the anointed one will be announced for the 2020 job at Whistling Straits. When that actual decision comes remains to be seen, but Harrington isn't one for believing it should drag on too long. Let's just say he's itching for the chance to get on with it. If it's him, of course.
Player? Now, that’s beyond dispute. And although he has clocked up his fair number of miles on the clock, anyone watching him hit ball after ball through the towering trees on the range here ahead of the Turkish Airlines Open would be immediately aware that the hunger remains strong and the desire even stronger in the 47-year-old Dubliner, as he bids to add another tour victory onto his impressive career curriculum vitae.
Harrington – who has three top-10s in six tournaments since returning to Europe after finishing his work stateside at the Wyndham in late-August – is aiming to move on from getting into contention into the ultimate goal of securing another win. He hasn't won since the 2016 Portugal Masters but he is sniffing that scent again. His form, of late, has only accentuated matters.
“I think I’m energised because I’m trying to get a win,” he admitted. “I think that’s the difference. I changed my takeaway (at the US PGA). Once you start playing well, you start going, ‘okay, where do I get better?’ and you go, ‘okay, it’s a bit of focus here, it’s a little bit of this’, there’s a bit more short game wedge game sort of stuff but that’s where I’ve been. I’m keen to go play.”
He has also been minding himself by arriving to the course a little later than he used to and managing his time better. “I saw that years ago when I was a young lad playing on the tour, the older guys would come out late and play. I don’t like the stuff in between where you’re sort of getting ready and there’s not enough on the line on a Tuesday and Wednesday . . . . when you’re working on your routines and your mental game, you really only can do that when you’ve got something on the line and you’re under a little bit of pressure and you’re out there trying not to hit a bad shot.”
So it is that Harrington – currently 89th in the order of merit, but need to leapfrog into the top-60 in those standings if he is to make it to the DP Tour World Championship in a fortnight’s time – knows that he needs a good week here in Turkey to progress onto next week’s Nedbank Challenge and ultimately on to Dubai.
A year ago Harrington got into the mix in this tournament. So too Shane Lowry. In nine holes of practice Tuesday, the pair went about their business. Lowry couldn't resist pointing out where Harrington had chipped in. Or holed long putts. A reminder, if it were needed, that some degree of luck too can come into any equation.
“Putting has been dodgy now the last couple weeks, which is disappointing because it had been okay. I need to putt a bit better. But I’m working on that. And putting can come and go. It’s not like you can’t have a good week and I’m waiting for that to happen . . . . the tee to green stuff seems to be good, and the short game seems to be as good as ever,” said Harrington.
For now, Harrington can only keep on playing and see where it takes him. “I’ve got to push on to try to get into the Race to Dubai. Yeah, I’m quietly very happy about my game and where it’s going. I’m sure there’s some weaknesses there all right, but I’m focusing on the right stuff at the moment that gets the job done.”
As for the Ryder Cup captaincy? Well, it might seem like a done deal to those of us looking in from the outside. But the imprimatur of others is required, among them Paul McGinley and Darren Clarke, along with Thomas Bjorn.
“I don’t think if I were to be elected captain would have anything to do with the fact that I am Irish and both Paul and Darren are also Irish. The thing in my favour is that I have been vice-captain to the three former captains so , while I have worked with the three, I would be hoping they will make their decision without bias.”
The next Ryder Cup is an away match for the Europeans (in Wisconsin) and, although Harrington foresees a time when a neutral setup will be on the cards, that is something way down the road. In 20, maybe 30 years time. And that Whistling Straits, of all the American courses, is the one that could suit a visiting team.
“I don’t think ( a neutral setup is) going to happen very soon but I do think eventually if it keeps going, we win in Europe, they win in the States, (it will eventually) and for whoever is captain next time, I think the (American) players aren’t that happy that it’s at Whistling Straits. They know that they have a better chance of winning the Ryder Cup if they went back to a Hazeltine style of golf course, rather than going to a links course in the States.
“The players themselves are very aware that they would go to their traditional style golf courses, they would have an advantage over the Europeans. While they will try obviously to set Whistling Straits up to suit them, you know, from our side, we hope they don’t have as much wiggle room as they would have with the likes of Hazeltine .”
That decision, in time, will come – most likely his way too – but, for now, it’s about being a player. Sniffing another win.