By Brian Keogh
Damien McGrane and Padraig Harrington could become the Ryder Cup pairing from hell.
Following his amazing nine-shot maiden victory in the Volvo China Open, dogged McGrane is just one win away from making the team and No 1 fan Harrington says he’d be proud to partner him in the Ryder Cup at Valhalla in September.
Up 73 places to 148th in the world, McGrane is 16th in the Ryder Cup standings, sixth on the money list and shooting for the stars.
Assessing his Ryder Cup chances, McGrane said: “Whenever I was asked about Ryder Cup and I always said you have to win golf tournaments to make that team.
“At least now I have won one and hopefully now I can use it to my advantage and move forward again.
“If I can get my game together and play really solid in the really big events anything is possible.”
Harrington has always been a huge admirer of McGrane’s dogged style but only recently realised that there is a lot more to the Kells native than meets the eye.
With razor-sharp short games and a never-say-die style, the duo would be an American's worst nightmare in a Ryder Cup scenario.
And Harrington insisted that he would have no worries about McGrane if he was called upon to tee it up in the pressure cooker cauldron of the Ryder Cup at Valhalla.
Harrington said: “He is the sort of character that you want in the Ryder Cup. A guy who will turn up and just play solid, not play any better or any worse than what he can play.
“The last thing you want is people who are trying to play above themselves. Damien knows he will play his game and that’s all he can do.
“I do believe he will go on and win again and I do believe he has a chance of the Ryder Cup this year.
“I for one would be very happy to partner him because he’s not going to get upset or distracted from what he needs to do. He’ll do this thing and that’s ideal for those bigger occasions.
Harrington is not the only top pro who has been impressed by McGrane and enjoyed his company and off-beat sense of humour.
World No 1 Tiger Woods spent 36 holes joking and laughing with the Knightsbrook touring professional at the Dubai Desert Classic - losing to him by a shot in the third round before putting on a masterclass with a final charge round for victory.
Woods even asked McGrane if he knew DJ Carey, the Kilkenny hurling star that he first met during the 2002 WGC American Express Championship at Mount Juliet.
And Harrington has no doubt that Ireland’s latest tour winner has all the savvy and know-how you could ask for in a Ryder Cup situation.
He said: “You’d send Damien out against anybody. The bigger the name that Damien is up against, the better!
“When he played with Tiger, someone said that it would be a new experience for both of them.
“I asked Tiger about him and he said he had a great time with Damien. He said they had a good laugh going around the golf course. And that would be Damien. He treats everyone the same.”
Totally underestimated by almost everyone, Harrington reckons that it’s McGrane’s mental game that sets him apart.
Harrington said: “A lot of pros have come to me, who have played with him over the years, and said: ‘How come Damien McGrane does so well?’
“I always put it down to his never-give-in style. But he is actually far more polished than that. It is so easy to underestimate him.
“He has always been a dogged player but he has turned himself into a very experienced, accomplished pro. There are very few people who understand themselves as well as he does and have a better approach to what they do.
“His mental game is excellent. He would be ahead of 99 out of 100 pros in that department. You would struggle to find 100 pros who are as comfortable as he is with himself.
“I look at people like Damien, like Monty and try and learn from them. Damien is somebody who everybody could learn from. He’s very much in the mould of Miguel Angel Jiménez.
“If you want to compare Damien to somebody, Jiménez is the man. It’s about him doing his thing, repeating it and being comfortable with that.
"Of all the players out there, you’d go a long way before you’d find somebody who has as much self confidence about his golf game as Damien. I know he likes to play it down but he is only playing it down.
“That’s his nature. It’s his dry sense of humour. He just likes to keep everybody thinking just a little bit.
“Maybe I might have missed it a little bit myself. Damien has always been the dogged player, the guy you’d always be worried playing against as an amateur, while as a professional, he’s the guy I believe most people should look up to and learn from.
“Yet the interesting thing is he really knows a lot more than he likes you to think. He really knows what he’s doing. He plays that down a bit.
“I think he likes to give the impression that he’s plodding along and oblivious to it all but he’s far more clued in to what he needs to do to produce the best golf that Damien McGrane can play.
“I think that’s the key. He’s trying to play golf like Damien McGrane. He’s not trying to be anyone else. He’s just doing his own thing. I think he knows how to get the best out of himself.
"He knows not to get caught up in short term results. He knows when to get out and practice and when to ease off it. So this is a victory for the mental side of the game and a very savvy professional golfer.”