Pádraig Harrington invigorated by Ryder Cup challenge

Dubliner relishing opportunity to lead Europe at Whistling Straits next year

At the appointed hand signal from the television mandarins, a bearded Pádraig Harrington, hand-in-hand with his wife Caroline, slipped in a side door into the ballroom of The Wentworth Club. But there was no sense of surprise.

In fact, the only jolt would have been if it wasn’t him at all. For the grapevine had indicated for an age that the 47-year-old Dubliner would be handed the task to captain Europe at next year’s Ryder Cup at Whistling Straits in Wisconsin. And so it proved to be.

Even Julius Caesar, historically the most renowned master of surprise, a strategist of the ages who outwitted his opponents, would have found this a tough ask. No, no element of surprise. Harrington's entry into the room was orchestrated and expected and, to his credit, he took it all in his stride. A first step as it were on a journey for the next 20 months that will see him tasked with defending the trophy on American soil.

In its own way, that challenge of going to the USA as an away captain, with its increased challenges, was compelling for Harrington who has become the third Irishman of the last four to be honoured with the Team Europe captaincy. He follows Paul McGinley (2014) and Darren Clarke (2016) in the role, with Harrington – a six-time player and three-time vice-captain – indicating he will take "little pieces" from the nine captains he has served under into his own way of doing things.

Bearded, which has become his winter look, and the protective glove on his injured wrist removed so as not to detract from the sense of occasion, but with the plaster sticking out like a sore thumb, Harrington – almost relieved that the cat was finally out of the bag – donned his captain’s apparel like someone born to the task.

“I didn’t want to walk into this and being halfway through going, ‘I don’t know about this’. It’s a job. I have to blame McGinley, not thank him, (it’s a job) that you have to be committed to. It is a two-year job, a 20 month job, and I had to sit down and say, ‘Am I prepared to do this?’ I have to give it 100 per cent. 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. “Just because you’ve been a successful player, it doesn’t mean you’re going to be successful. I’m good at hitting a little white golf ball. Does that mean I’m good at managing?

“I have to ask myself these questions. I sat down and thought about it and said, ‘Look, I am prepared to do this and I am prepared to put this ahead of my golf’.”

So, like that, Harrington has morphed into Europe’s captain and going across the Atlantic to compete on American turf was part of the appeal.

“I’ve never taken on anything where I haven’t tried to give it 100 per cent and win and that’s what I have to get my head around and do this

“But it’s something that you’d better embrace, because you know, it will have that asterisk, if you don’t win it. I know it’s tough to win in the States [but] I strongly looked at the fact we were going to a golf course that is at least European style. You know, I want to be a winning captain. I don’t want to be a winning captain at all costs but I want to be a winning captain,” said Harrington.

Although the official confirmation of his appointment only came formally in the ballroom of the Wentworth clubhouse – where lines of clubs from Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player and Arnold Palmer among others are showcased in the corridors as a reminder of the club's rich history – yesterday, Harrington had received numerous text messages and calls of congratulations from his peers on tour.

“I have a reputation,” admitted Harrington, “and they want to play under me and see what I can give back. In some respect, I do feel that I see that with some of the conversations, that players are keen to see. They’re keen to be involved in a bit of the Harrington starey eyes type thing!”

And one of those he in turn is looking forward to working with is Rory McIlroy.

“That man loves the Ryder Cup. He’s become a leader in the team room . . . he gives so much to the Ryder Cup; the Ryder Cup gives so much back to Rory that he can’t get anywhere else. He is a leader.

“He’s 30 and he gets to be a leader. He gets the glory, the opportunity to be loved on the golf course. He gets the exuberance, the crowd. You don’t get that day in, day out on tour. He will be 100 per cent behind and in that Ryder Cup team, there’s no doubt about that. You just have to know the man behind the scenes.

“I know there’s words there, but the actions nowhere near match up. He is as European as they come. Yes, he’s moved to the States. His family’s there. He wants to win the Masters and those words are coming out, but his actions are not that way at all. His actions are so European.”

Harrington has yet to decide on how many wild card picks he will make. But probably take three. He has yet to decide on his vice-captains. But he knows about the desire for grooming vice-captains in to future captains within the European team room and backroom team.

And, speaking of templates that are in place, how about emulating Thomas Bjorn and agreeing to a tattoo? "You know, we're all about continuity on the European Tour. We're all about continuity."

And with that laugh of his, his eyes sparkling, the captain left the round table huddle. His first of many.

Philip Reid

Philip Reid

Philip Reid is Golf Correspondent of The Irish Times