Pádraig Harrington wants to play more Ryder Cups but following his appointment as one of Paul McGinley’s five Ryder Cup assistants he also admits that his experiences later this month might just tell him if he’s really cut out to be captain himself some day.
As soon as the matches end at Gleneagles, Harrington’s name will be mentioned along with those of Miguel Angel Jimenez, Thomas Bjorn and Darren Clarke as a potential skipper material in 2016 at Hazeltine, 2018 in France or in 2020 at Whistling Straits when he will be 49.
The Dubliner turned 43 just last weekend but as his career appears to be entering decline — he’s 287th in the world, winless in Europe or the US since 2008 and now without a full PGA Tour card for the first time in a decade — he knows that he may not be cut out to be captain after all.
The days of Ryder Cup captaincy being handed to major winning European legends died with Nick Faldo (and remained in Valhalla) in 2008 and McGinley represents the new way of doing things.
“As regards being captain, this is a step in the right direction to see whether I would be suitable in that position,” Harrington said on Newstalk’s Off The Ball, one of several TV and radio interviews he gave on Tuesday. “And just because you play good golf doesn’t mean you are suitable to man manage 12 players and do the stuff behind the scenes.
“To be honest, to be a good golfer is quite a selfish thing and being team captain is probably the opposite. I will have a better idea after this Ryder Cup whether my qualifications are starting to stack up in order to be putting my hat in the ring for a captaincy down the road.”
It’s clearly not a given that Harrington will ever captain a European team. Famously intense and something of a loner in pursuit of his own goals, Sergio Garcia will be pleased to know that Harrington has no plans to be an arm-around-the-shoulder guy in Scotland.
Nor is he likely to be given the task of taking a player under his wing. Instead, he’s there to be another set of eyes and ears for McGinley and to limit his serious opinions on players to the back room with his intimate knowledge of the US team regarded as his strong suit in a five-man vice-captaincy posses.
He knows he's going to get a hard time from Thomas Bjorn, who's had bow to Harrington as a vice-captain several times in the past.
"Thomas Bjorn swears he is going to get me back for the years that he was vice captain and sending me to make him coffee and get him bananas and things like that," Harrington said with a launch. "And to be honest, if he does, I will go and get them. If it was instant coffee it might be okay but I think, no matter how I make the coffee, it won’t be right for Thomas. He’ll be sending me back again."
Coffee maker and banana fetcher might be okay for now but captain some day? Even Harrington admits that it may not be his thing at all.
“You have got to look at the most successful European player in terms of winning majors in the modern era was Nick Faldo and we all know how that Ryder Cup went. So it doesn’t automatically mean that the captain, because he can play good golf, is the best man for the job. Paul is a good example.
"Paul has had a good career on the European Tour and won big events and played in the Ryder Cup but in terms of the stature of winning majors, he didn’t do that. Yet he is easily the best choice for Ryder cup captain at the moment. So his qualification for being captain were higher than just his playing record. The Ryder Cup is very important for Europe and it is about choosing the right guy to do the job rather than give it to somebody because he deserved it.”
Speaking to Sky Sports earlier in the day, he said: “My record might say, yeah, I look like being a captain, but being a vice-captain and getting in behind the scenes will tell me a lot more and tell the people in the know if I’m the right man to do the job.”
With Clarke, McGinley’s big rival for the Gleneagles job, left out of the back-room staff and committed to working for Sky later this month, Harrington has instantly moved up the list of candidates for the captaincy for Paris should Jimenez get the nod for Hazeltine in two years’ time.
McGinley insists that he decided to have five vice-captains rather just four having seen how well the system worked at Celtic Manor in 2010, when Sergio Garcia was a late addition to Colin Montgomerie’s back room team.
He also sees Harrington, a boyhood friend, as a man who can give him greater insight into the US Tour players or any problems some of his closer European friends might have (Bjorn springs to mind immediately.)
“Padraig is my oldest friend on Tour and is a guy I have known most of my life,” McGinley said. “We went to school together, came through the amateur ranks together and have been together in many contests for both Ireland and Europe over the years, so I know what he can bring to the team room.
“As well as being a three time Major Champion, Padraig is also still very active on Tour, obviously in Europe where all the players know him well, but also in the United States where he is familiar both with the Tour itself and its players.”
But having seen from personal experience how previous vice-captains overstepped the mark, McGinley has made it clear to Harrington how important it is to assume an advisory role and report only to him, unless told otherwise.
“We’ve discussed it a lot,” Harrington said. “Paul has gone into a lot of detail. It is a new departure for me and it is something different. Years ago I used to look at the vice-captains as being on a bit of a jolly but now I’m a vice captain I see there is work to be done.
“And I’ll have to give a special effort when I am there not to give the impression, in any shape or form, that I’m a competitive player.
“I am there to support them I am not there to look at them and say — I can beat you next week or I should be here or anything like that.”
“Paul has seen in the past that the odd time vice captains were picked that were the 12th or 13th guy who didn’t get picked.
“It kind of tends to create a little bit of tension between the guy who did get picked and they guy who didn’t get picked…. Paul was wise to do that this time because there is nothing worse than the guy, who is the next guy in, looking at you and reporting back to the captain on how you are playing. Of course he is going to give a true appraisal but there is a question whether it is going to be like that.”
Joking, he added: “Whatever they ask for, if Thomas Bjorn wants to have a bit of fun and he’s winding me up during the week, sending me to get him coffee and bananas, whatever he wants done, I’ll just say yes and go do it, so he’d better come up with some good ones!”
As for the task at hand, Harrington said: “I think the other two lads and Des Smyth and Sam have experience of the job from other Ryder Cups but I’m obviously a rookie when it comes to this vice-captaincy stuff.
“I do have experience of Ryder Cups but I think at the end of the day, I’m going to have to take a lead from those guys.
“Possibly for Paul I have more experience of who we’re up against. I play on the US Tour so, obviously, I know those guys pretty well. That will be a big part of me being there. I’ve got better knowledge of who we’re coming up against.
“I am absolutely positive nobody has put as much work into analysing a team as Paul has. But I think the US team are coming well into form.
“They seem to be playing well through the FedEx Cup and they are loving the fact that they are supposedly the underdogs coming into this and trying to play that up.
“There is a lot of talent in their team and I do think, they have the ability to pull together more as a team this time round.
“I think Phil Mickelson will be undisputed No 1 in the team room and will take the leadership role in the Ryder Cup and I think that will help their team.
“So I do think they will play better than their individual games in the Ryder Cup so we have got to be very wary of it.”
Speaking later on Newstalk he confessed that his role will be a throwback to his early days with McGinley, when the little Dubliner was the senior partner in the 1997 World Cup win at Kiawah Island and several other team events.
“He was the senior player and I was very much a rookie. So it will be similar to now,” he said. “I was just playing golf and he was running the show. If there was a ruling and anything to be done, Paul was taking responsibility. It works in partnerships and we will be looking at that for foursomes and fourballs.
“It is not always the bet of friends who play well together even though sometimes they can. Usually it is better when you have somebody who is a little more dominant, taking control of the match and let the either guy just concentrate on playing golf.”
At the 2010 Ryder Cup, Harrington was one of Montgomerie’s wildcards and he played an important role as a partner for rookie Ross Fisher. But as a vice captain he knows he’s going to have to work hard on taking his normally eye-popping intensity levels down a notch or two and lightning up.
He plans to look, listen and report, keep his opinions to the back room and try and be as supportive of McGinley as possible and do it all by being as laid back as possible.
”It’s not likely I am going to be taking any up front role with any player unless especially asked by Paul. It is not me who is going to be out there putting the arm around the shoulder of the players. Paul is doing that. I am there to tell him what I see behind the scenes.
“I don’t want to overstep the mark in any sense. There might be one or two players that Paul will say, ‘You know him well, what’s the story, he seems a little bit down, is he unhappy with his game, is there something else distracting him?
"Egos come into these things, a guy gets dropped and he takes it for the wrong reason and that’s Paul’s job to do it unless he physically asks me. I won’t be the one stepping out in the limelight. I will be taking as much of a back seat behind the scenes as I can.”