Padraig Harrington celebrates his 39th birthday today giving thanks that he’s a Ryder Cup golden oldie.
The Dubliner became only the fourth Irishman to earn a captain’s pick following Des Smyth in 1979, Christy O’Connor Jnr in 1989 and Darren Clarke in 2006.
And he knows that Colin Montgomerie’s decision to show faith in him and overlook world No 8 Paul Casey and two-time PGA Tour winner Justin Rose has nothing to do with form and everything to do with the masses of experience he has gained as a three-time major winner. All he has to do now is play like one.
The second oldest player in Monty’s side after 46-year old Spaniard Miguel Angel Jiménez, a relieved Harrington confessed that his status as a wily veteran and multiple major champion gave him the edge over Casey and Rose when the hard decisions had to be made.
Montgomerie ended up with a record six rookies in his side when Italian star Edoardo Molinari birdied the last three holes to win the Johnnie Walker Championship on Sunday and make himself an automatic choice.
When the rumpus finally died down, Harrington confessed: “I won’t normally play the age card, but this time it obviously suits me.
“It was going to be a difficult situation. As I’ve said all along, if you don’t qualify for the team you don’t have an automatic right to be on the team.
“It comes down to Monty’s decision and I think Edoardo Molinari did an incredible job birdieing the last three holes to force his hand and fair play to him.
“You’ve got to think that the picks are not generally reserved for rookies but, by God, did he deserve to get that pick. He did fantastic at the end of the day and fair play to him.
“But obviously that left a very awkward situation. Monty could only pick two out of four and there’s two good players who would have added to the team in any other year, left out this year.
“And it’s not like myself or Luke are going to make a huge difference compared to Paul Casey and Justin Rose, it’s as close as that.
“On my own side, it was obviously my experience (that swung it for me) as the team is a young team.”
Harrington learned of his nail-biting selection on the sixth hole during the final round of The Barclays, where he was paired with the unlucky Casey.
And the Dubliner confessed that he spent an awkward two and a half hours in the Englishman’s company as he carded a four over 75 to finish tied 47th as Casey hit a 69 to share 12th place.
Down one place to 19th in the world, Harrington said: “It was never going to be easy. My own head was swimming a bit out there. Once I got the pick, I couldn’t do much right for about five or six holes.
“It was an odd occasion in that sense. On one hand I’m happy for myself, but I did genuinely feel sorry for Paul. It’s not a great situation to be in.
“I commiserated with him. It’s not a nice place to be, I can tell you that.”
Harrington fell to spots to 57th in the race for the $10m FedEx Cup jackpot and now needs a top finish in the Deutsche Bank Championship in Boston this weekend to ensure he makes the top 70 who go on to tee it up in next week’s BMW Championship in Illinois.
The Irish ace insists that his failure to qualify automatically for the Ryder Cup team this time was a result of concentrating too much on making the side through the world rankings.
But the reality is that he missed the cut in three of the four majors this season and had he produced even average performances in those events, he would have qualified with ease.
The knives are out for the Dubliner in some sectors of the British media with several high profile commentators, including former tour star Robert Lee, insisting that Montgomerie didn’t have the “bottle” to overlook his old Ryder Cup partner in favour of Casey.
Now a pundit with Sky Sports, Lee rapped: “I don’t know if he is picking his mate but Monty’s quote was (about Padraig winning) three majors in the last three years when no majors in the last two years is more accurate.
“I don’t think he had the bottle to leave out Harrington and I think that Casey should have been the pick.”
Just as Bernhard Langer handed his former partner Montgomerie a wildcard in 2004, the Scot chose Harrington because he saw the Dubliner produce the good under pressure when they paired up in those matches at Oakland Hills to crush the US dream team of Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson.
Harrington knows that like controversial wildcard Ian Poulter two years ago, he will be under pressure to justify his selection.
But he’s ready for that challenge, insisting: “If you get picked, you have a real incentive to prove yourself.”