Padraig Harrington knows talent when he sees it but while he’s a huge admirer of Martin Kaymer, Rory McIlroy and Korea’s Noh Seung-Yul Noh, he’s looking to a group of ageing young ones to make their mark at last.
As the song says, they won’t be the young one very long. So isn’t it about time Luke Donald and Paul Casey stood up to the plate? Harrington certainly thinks Europe’s bumper 2010 season might be the prod they need to take it to the next level.
Ballesteros, Langer, Lyle, Faldo and Woosnam paved the way for Jose Maria Olazabal and Paul Lawrie. Harrington inspired Graeme McDowell and McDowell gave Kaymer the belief that he too could win a major.
Following this train of logic, many expect McIlroy to ride McDowell’s coat-tails to major glory before long. But Harrington believes that we may be forgetting the obvious European candidates to take their place on the major stage.
“Yes, you could say that they have a lot to live up to,” Harrington said of the task facing McDowell and Kaymer in 2011. “But there is actually a bunch of guys just behind these guys and definitely guys you would have picked out before these at the start of 2010 - the likes of your Paul Caseys (33 years old), your Luke Donalds (also 33), a lot of really good players who are starting to mature.”
Harrington could also have mentioned Justin Rose, who turns 31 at the end of July. In fact, there’s a new European big five waiting to happen, or maybe even a big six if you count 17-year old Italian starlet Matteo Manassero.
“They are no longer young kids, they are starting to mature and they may step up and win the majors,” he said of ‘the Donalds and the Caseys’ during a 30-minute stint in the Sky Sports commentary box on Sunday, as he watched Kaymer and McIlroy trade blow over the opening holes in the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship.
Could having their thunder stolen by the likes of Kaymer and McDowell be just what Donald and Casey need to take that extra step in the majors?
“Even though it looks as though Martin and Graeme are going to have great years again I do think that Europe is going to go from strength for a good period of time,” Harrington told Ewen Murray, one of his biggest critics over the past two and a half years. “This is a reason why Rory is staying in Europe - it is a better place to learn how to compete and win.
“We are producing more players who are trying to win every week. You can get a little bit lost in the US, there are a lot of people there taking the attention. Whereas over here, Rory is expected to contend every week. Every week he has to contend or it is not a good week.”
Harrington’s first taste of Kaymer came in the 2007 Volvo Masters when he played alongside the then 23-year old German at Valderrama. It was the week the Dubliner lost the Order of Merit race to the eventual tournament winner, Rose.
If he’d been paying attention, Harrington would have seen that Kaymer was a star in the making. But he may have been too distracted to notice given that he became so upset by a clearly incorrect (and advantageous) drop that was awarded to the German on the par-five fourth hole in the final round that he completely lost his rhythm, his concentration and the money title.
Watching on Sunday, Harrington was highly impressed by Kaymer’s demeanour and while he didn’t name Tiger Woods, you could tell that he believes that the unflappable German is in the same mould.
“Martin Kaymer is a formidable player when he is leading,” Harrington said as Kaymer launched another perfect drive. “He doesn’t seem to have any emotions in that situation. It doesn’t seem to affect him. I’d love to see his record when he leads a tournament because he just seems to always keep going when he gets in front.”
Informed that Kaymer had led going into the final round of four of his previous eight wins, Harrington said: “That’s the sort of thing a special player does. He seems to intimidate the rest of the field into believing that if he gets in front, he’s going to win.”
As Kaymer rolled a birdie putt home at the third to move seven shots clear of McIlroy, he said: “He is a beautiful putter. On top of all of the striking, he has a beautiful putting stroke. When you are winning tournaments he is holing consistently, on top of playing good golf.”
McIlroy also impresses Harrington enormously because he has been carrying a heavy burden of expectation since he was a mere boy.
“I have followed Rory since he was 14 years of age and the great thing or the tough thing for Rory is obviously the expectations have been there for a long time,” said the man who didn’t turn professional until he was 23. “He has always had it. That is a tough thing all the way from 14 years of age - (the pressure) not to have a lull in your career, not to have a step back.
“He has gradually improved all the way up. There have been very high expectations and he has done phenomenally well. He’s one of the best players in the world at 21 years of age. He has everything ahead of him and it really is fantastic under that pressure.”
McDowell is another player who impresses Harrington because of his ability to play his best golf when the chips are well and truly down.
“He’s just phenomenal. He’s played fantastic golf. I love Graeme’s ability to play under pressure. As he showed in the Ryder Cup, he has a very dependable game, he knows his game and he’s not in any shape getting complicated out on the golf course and it’s shown up in his results and it’s definitely something everyone can learn from.”
Harrington’s most recent tournament victory came in Malaysia last October, when he won the Iskandar Johor Open by three shots from Noh, who won the European Tour co-sanctioned Malaysian Open as an 18 year old last season.
Many US and European commentators writing off Phil Mickelson as a major force, but Harrington can’t wait to take to his left-handed friend about his impressions of Noh after they played together in the final round in Abu Dhabi.
“I don’t know if Phil has played with him before but I am sure he will get getting quite a surprise,” Harrington said as he watched the pair head down the back nine on Sunday (Noh won their duel 67-70).
“This guy - there is nobody who strikes the ball as well as him in the game. He is up there with Charl Schwartzel - these guys are phenomenal strikers of the ball. He is obviously very young and as he matures as a player you will hear and see a lot more of him. He really can play this game.”
With guys like Noh, McIlroy, Kaymer, McDowell, Manassero and the South Africans Schwartzel and Louis Oosthuizen all playing brilliantly, Harrington is wondering if the golden generation of English players will finally step up to the mark.
You get the impression that he’s already put his money down.