Pádraig Harrington whistling a confident tune ahead of tough Ryder Cup task

Captain believes Europe can thrive if they enjoy the experience at Whistling Straits

Ireland’s Pádraig Harrington jumps in the air with the Ryder Cup trophy after Europe’s win in the 2019 Ryder Cup at Celtic Manor. Photograph:  Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Ireland’s Pádraig Harrington jumps in the air with the Ryder Cup trophy after Europe’s win in the 2019 Ryder Cup at Celtic Manor. Photograph: Andy Lyons/Getty Images

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If you were to go by the average world rankings, you’d wonder should Europe bother showing up for next week’s Ryder Cup match against the United States at Whistling Straits.

The USA – with 11 of the top-16 players in the world – has an average world ranking of nine, compared to Europe’s average of 30. It is the largest points differential of recent times between the two teams (the closest was in 2016, where the US averaged 16 to Europe’s 27 in a match won 17-11 by the home team at Hazeltine).

“Clearly, if you want to focus, which we’re not, on the US, they are stronger than us in the world rankings. And, if a computer was deciding the result of this tournament, the Americans would win. But it’s not a computer, there’s more to it than that,” said European captain Pádraig Harrington in rising to the challenge that lays ahead if his team are to successfully defend the trophy won in Paris in 2018.

Harrington, indeed, is seeking to use the underdogs tag as a motivational factor. “I think, at the end of the day, we’re going to be motivated. We always have a point to prove . . . they are clear favourites and they should win on paper. We’ve got to find a way of managing our team and, essentially, I know I’ve got a very, very strong team [who] if they play to their abilities and not above, I think we can do the job.”

Deferred for a year due to the impact of the Covid pandemic, Harrington – and what he described as a “very balanced team” – get around to seeking to win on American soil for only the fifth time in this 43rd edition of the match: Europe’s wins came in 1987 (Muirfield Village), 1995 (Oak Hill), 2004 (Oakland Hills) and most recently in 2012 (the so-called Miracle at Medinah).

This latest match is further complicated by the fact that on-site European support is likely to be limited, given the restrictions on golf fans travelling from Europe to the United States. However, Harrington is hopeful that a large number of the Irish and European diaspora living Stateside will have managed to get their hands on tickets to at least ensure a presence at the rural course in Kohler, Wisconsin.

Europe’s Ryder Cup captain Pádraig Harrington poses with the Ryder Cup trophy. Photograph: Andrew Redington/Getty Images
Europe’s Ryder Cup captain Pádraig Harrington poses with the Ryder Cup trophy. Photograph: Andrew Redington/Getty Images

“It’s similar to the Solheim Cup, not a lot of people can get visas to go so there won’t be a lot of European-based fans there. But I’m hoping that, like at the World Cup, the stands will be full of Irish people, full of Europeans. How they get their tickets, I don’t know?

“Somehow I’m of the belief that there will be a substantial European support coming from people who are already [living] in the United States. So, we’ll wait and see,” said the Dubliner, the third Irishman – following Paul McGinley (2012) and Darren Clarke (2016) in four Ryder Cups – to hold the captaincy.

Harrington, who played in six Ryder Cups and acted as vice-captain in three matches, has a long link with the match and has confirmed that it is his intention to play all 12 members of his team in next Friday’s opening day’s play, which features a morning session of foursomes and an afternoon session of fourballs.

“It would be incredibly strange for everybody not to play the first day. So yes, my intention is everybody plays the first day. I think that is standard practice now . . . it would only not happen if there was extraordinary circumstances,” explained Harrington of his intent that all 12 players would give their competitive juices flowing on day one.

And the bottom line, trying to win, is achieved by actually enjoying the experience: “I want my players to have a great week and to enjoy it. Maybe I’m biased. I played my best when I enjoyed it. Maybe that’s the bit I’m trying to impose on them. Ultimately I want to win, of course. To get there, let’s try and reduce any stress than I can for the players,” said Harrington.

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