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Harrington was today announced as the captain for the 2020 Ryder Cup,
Harrington was today announced as the captain for the 2020 Ryder Cup,
Image: Adam Davy

The Alchemist: Why Pádraig Harrington is an ideal fit for the Ryder Cup captaincy

The Dubliner has been announced as Europe’s captain for the 43rd instalment of the Ryder Cup.
Jan 8th 2019, 8:00 PM 13,773 11

PÁDRAIG HARRINGTON COUNTS The Alchemist by Paolo Coelho among his favourite books.

It’s a short novel that tells the story of an Egyptian boy setting out on a quest to discover treasure visited upon him in a dream, and in unspooling themes of self-realisation and other such revelations on the path to glory, the book proved to be a useful source of inspiration for Harrington on his own road to three Major wins.

Now that he has been entrusted with the role of European captain at the 2020 Ryder Cup, the book’s title may provide Harrington with a narrower muse.

Few roles in sport build success from abstract materials to the same extent as the Ryder Cup captain, meaning they all become alchemists of a kind.

The primary goal is ‘chemistry’, the catch-all title for a pair of golfers who win together. The ‘Molliwood’ duo of Francesco Molinari and Tommy Fleetwood was the rock upon which Thomas Bjorn built last year’s success, while Paul McGinley accentuated its importance by trotting across the world to dine with Victor Dubuisson, in the name of a quest to discover whether he’d be a suitable partner for Graeme McDowell.

Nick Faldo, by contrast, threw a few things together and had it all blow up in his face.

It’s a role that should suit Harrington well. He has been involved in all but one of the last 10 Ryder Cups – six times as a player (winning four times) and, most pertinently, three times as a vice-captain. It means that Harrington can learn from Bjorn and McGinley’s respective successes… along with Darren Clarke’s failures.

McGinley’s was built on an unerring eye for detail, to the point he had the hotel carpeted blue and gold to foster team unity. Harrington may not be phoning the upholsterers, but he is not one to wantonly ignore small details either – this is a man who, while rehabilitating his swing in 2012, consciously moved his tongue so as to relax his jaw.

He will command the respect of the players he sends out on the course – heck, even Sergio Garcia. “If he’s selected as captain and I am in the team, I will do everything possible to help him in any way I can to make the team as good as it can be,” crooned Sergio last October.

Golf - 37th Ryder Cup - USA v Europe - Practice Day Two - Valhalla Golf Club Harrington and Garcia in action for Europe at the 2008 Ryder Cup at Valhalla. Source: PA Archive/PA Images

Rory McIlroy agrees, saying that “I’ve always thought Pádraig would be a good captain in the United States”.

Harrington has excelled in team formats – he won the Walker Cup in 1995, the World Cup in 1997 and has won the Seve Trophy three times – while he has spent his career imparting tips and advice to, among others, the Irish rugby team and the Dublin footballers, showing an ability to refit personal experience for collective enlightenment.

He should also avoid the tetchy relationship with the media that undermined Faldo in 2008: such is his rapport with the fourth estate, the Association of Golf Writers made him the inaugural winner of their Arnold Palmer Open Award, which recognises golfers who have been particularly helpful to the press.

Home-course advantage is increasingly critical in the Ryder Cup, with the narrow fairways, unforgiving rough and slow greens of Le Golf National of huge benefit to the European team last year, just as Hazeltine gave the Americans an edge in 2016.

Whistling Straits, the venue for 2020, should be somewhat benign for European visitors, however. Of the three USPGA Championships staged on the course, none have been won by Americans (although all have featured American runners-up) while Martin Kaymer won on the course in 2015. Harrington has the added advantage of having played in all of those tournaments.

He will, however, also face challenges on this front: Paul McGinley hailed his impact in 2014 at Gleneagles in proposing Europe trim the rough – a level of control that will be denied him in the States.

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Ultimately, Harrington will be reliant on his players being in form come 25 September 2020, and, perhaps, some further discontent in the American camp.

Beyond this, there is a further intangible that should suit Harrington. In being so obsessed with self-discovery, he has learned plenty about others. The transference of his experiences across different sports testifies to this. Here’s a small nugget Johnny Sexton gleaned from Harrington, recorded in Becoming a Lion. 

“Pádraig Harrington says that you can tell the size of someone’s ego by the size of the first letter of their autograph.”

Surely someone studying others in such granular detail can be relied upon to strike the right formula?

– First published 15.42, 8 January

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Gavin Cooney


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