HARRINGTON KEY TO RYDER CUP DEFENCE
Padraig Harrington brings many things to the European Ryder Cup team that should make him a key figure at Valhallah in September.
Padraig Harrington brings many things to the European Ryder Cup team.
Among them are an amiable nature and the gift of the blarney, as you might expect from someone who hails from Ballyroan, Dublin.
Another is an eye for precision in preparation and competition which comes from his accountancy training, a profession in which he would have carved out a living if he had not taken up golf.
But mostly, when the Europe team roll into the Valhallah Golf Club in Louisville, Kentucky, he will supply credibility. Major credibility.
Last time at the K Club in Harrington’s home town of Dublin it fell to Jose Maria Olazabal as the only European team member to have won a major, in the Spaniard’s case two US Masters.
This time it is Harrington who has two Open championships in his locker. Two Claret Jugs, one won in 2007 and the other this July at Royal Birkdale, which made him the first European golfer since James Braid in 1906 to retain the trophy.
No longer can the Americans mock Europe’s barren streak in golf’s most prestigious tournaments.
More likely when they are drawn against the popular Irishman they will remember the raking approach to the 17th green at Birkdale which set up an eagle virtually to clinch the Open.
It will take some mighty blow to beat that as the golf shot of the year.
That Open back nine, which Harrington completed in four under par in the most testing of conditions, announced him as one of golf’s huge talents, a player capable of walking the corridors of greatness every bit as much as such as America’s Phil Mickelson.
Harrington could never have dreamed of that when he turned professional 12 years ago, the same year Tiger Woods set off in pursuit of his legend.
Harrington, who became the highest ranked European golfer at world number three following his latest Open triumph, said: “The extent of my ambition was to keep improving and hope that one day I would be good enough to become a journeyman golfer.”
What singled him out as a potential champion, however, was his ability to play under pressure and, in particular, his penchant for matchplay.
It surfaced when he helped the Great Britain & Ireland team win the Walker Cup in 1995 and it has transported favourably to the Ryder Cup.
He says: “I turned pro on the strength of what I did playing for Ireland at matchplay. I never lost a singles match and, given that all the players I was beating were turning pro, I thought: ‘why not me?’
“Even now, I think my focus is so much better at matchplay than at strokeplay.
“My accountant’s training gets in my way when every shot counts. Everything is so calculated, whereas in matchplay I can freewheel more.
“I love the fact it really is one shot at a time, that you’ve only got one opponent to worry about rather than 155. I think I’m a good scrambler too, which is very distracting for the opposition. Put it this way: if every tournament was matchplay rather than strokeplay, I’d be a much better player.”
His two Open wins would appear to contradict that but there is a reason Harrington has been sent out in the first pair in the morning fourballs in the last two meetings with America.
Both times he has partnered Colin Montgomerie, the pair famously beating star duo, Woods and Mickelson, four years ago.
Whoever he partners in Kentucky, captain Nick Faldo can rely on Harrington setting the tone for the rest of the team.
There is no secret to his success, outside hard work and the input of his coach Bob Torrance, father of former Ryder Cup captain Sam and of whom Harrington speaks in reverent tones.
Harrington says: “Bob is the best swing coach in the world. I have total trust in what he says. Give Bob any swing and he will tell you what that player is and isn’t capable of.
“I did work with my swing on computers in the US and everything Bob says fits into that computer. It’s interesting to have the eye of a genius.”
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