Pádraig Harrington insists that the European Tour membership is a must for Ryder Cup eligibility and branded suggestions to the contrary by the likes of Rory McIlroy as nothing less than “silly”.
McIlroy said recently that the match should feature “the best 12 players from Europe versus the best 12 players from the US,” adding that for him, “there shouldn't be anything to do with membership of tours” in the qualifying criteria.
While he did not mention the 27-year old Co Down man by name, Harrington vehemently defended the European Tour’s requirement you must be a member of the European Tour to qualify for the team.
“The Ryder Cup is far too important to the European Tour for the man on the ground to be turning around and saying, ‘Why not just select the top 12 in the world rankings and be done with it,’” Harrington said after the Turkish Airlines Open. “That would be silly, wouldn’t it?
“At the end of the day, the reason we have done well in the Ryder Cup is because of our selection criteria and how we have worked it.
“Just because we lost the last one and the US have changed their criteria doesn’t mean we should change ours. Ours was working just fine.”
Harrington is not in favour of big changes to the European system which compiles it’s team by selecting “the leading four Members on The Ryder Cup European Points List”, five from Ryder Cup World Points List and three captain’s picks.
“I would change the [final qualifying cut off] date and push it back two weeks. It’s just a little early, a month before it,” he said of a system that requires players to play just five European Tour events apart from the four Majors and the three World Golf Championships with the Ryder Cup and the Olympic Games both counting.
For the Dubliner, effectively denying the rank and file European Tour player a chance to achieve his dream and win a place in the Ryder Cup team would be to destroy the essence of the event.
“The Ryder Cup is all about the European Tour,” he said. “And the Ryder Cup, to be honest, it represents the non-Europeans who are members of the European Tour too. It is all about the European Tour. That is how I see it.
“It is absolutely a carrot used by the European Tour. If you want to play in the Ryder Cup and improve your career prospects and all that goes with it, you have got to be a member of the tour and play five times. It is not much to ask anybody.”
Quizzed about Europe’s recent Ryder Cup loss at Hazeltin — the first since 2008 — McIlroy told the “No Laying Up” podcast hat not having Paul Casey in the side contributed to Europe’s loss in Minneapolis.
“To have a guy like Paul Casey not on our team when he is playing some of the best golf in the world right now, it definitely hurt us,” Mcllroy said.
Lee Westwood felt the same, adding: “If you prove that you're world class on, say, the PGA Tour and not the European Tour, why should that have any bearing on whether you can play or not?'
The European Tour’s Chief Executive , Keith Pelley, suggested in Turkey that the Tour was at least wiling to consider changes.
“We're always talking to our top players,” Pelley said. “We're always listening to what they have to say.”
He added: “We will adjust the Ryder Cup qualifications if we feel that we need to… We won't be afraid to make the changes.”
Despite what McIlroy and Westwood might think, Harrington wants to make sure that non-elite players from beyond the world’s Top 50 will still have a chance of achieving their dream.
“I like the system in place personally,” Harrington said. “I fully understand the importance of the Ryder Cup to the European Tour and the rank and file of the European Tour. You would never want to take away. It’s like the golden ticket, isn’t it.
“Every rank and file player starting a Ryder Cup year thinks he can make a Ryder Cup team. You don’t want to take away that golden ticket. That’s what drives our tour.
“You’ve got to look at the ordinary guy on tour, the rank and file guy and give him an opportunity to make the team.
“I don’t think you should be taking opportunities away from the guys. The support of the grassroots guys for the Ryder Cup is very important for the players, not just when they play on Ryder Cup teams but the support of guys who haven’t played is important for teams.
“You can’t separate the Ryder Cup from the European Tour. It has to be kept relevant to the players in Europe who are playing in Europe.”
Harrington has two events to play this season and knows he can return to the world’s top 50 and secure a Masters place by Christmas if he wins this week’s Nedbank Golf Challenge in South Africa or the season-ending DP World Tour Championship, Dubai.
Pointing to driving as the key to success at the Gary Player Country Club in Sun City, he said: “You’ve got to drive it well because it’s at altitude and you can break the back of a lot of holes. It really is a driver’s golf course.”
Harrington is the only Irish player in the field with Shane Lowry opting to finish his season with the DP World Tour Championship in Dubai before partnering Graeme McDowell in the ISPS Handa World Cup of Golf at Kingston Heath Golf Club in Mebourne from November 23-27.