Rory McIlroy’s tense stand off with a fan at the Ryder Cup has convinced Pádraig Harrington that golf should embrace moves to make it more entertaining.
The Dubliner confessed that McIlroy admitted to him this week that he was about to “wade in” to the crowd at Hazeltine when he “locked eyes” with a heckler who roared “Suck A D—k” at him.
Instead, McIlroy kept his cool long enough to pointed the fan to security and have him ejected from the Ryder Cup.
But Harrington, who was following the match as a vice revealed that was he was relieved he wasn’t forced to wade into the crowd in support of his team mate.
And he insisted that bringing out the passion of fans with new initiatives like music on the tee and novelty exhibitions is good for the game.
Asked about plans to have music on the range and the first tee at January HSBC Abu Dhabi Championship, Harrington said: “I love it. I am right in there.
“I fully believe that we have four majors in a year and maybe the Ryder Cup and the rest of the time we are absolutely in the entertainment business.
“It’s the crowd and the support that’s making the Ryder Cup. So I’d be more trying to get the players to embrace the crowd and ignore whatever’s happening rather than curtail it.”
Part of the charm of the Ryder Cup is its electric atmosphere, even if it sometimes threatens to get out of hand.
Revealing he had visions of ending up in a free-for-all in Minneapolis because McIlroy got so pumped up, he said: “Ask nearly everybody who watched the Ryder Cup on TV, here or around the world — one of the biggest reasons for watching was the boisterousness of the crowd.
“The atmospherecreated by the crowd, that little bit of niggle created by the crowd, it was all that was part of what made it so watchable.”
With one side of his face swollen as he’d just come from an extraction at the dentist, Harrington grinned and added: “I shouldn’t tell you this but I’ll blame the drugs.
“I was walking with Rory in his matches and I try and keep a nice distance away.
“So I was about 10 yards behind him when the incident happened with the guy and Rory was genuinely going in over the ropes.
“We wouldn’t be used to this but it is a team event so all I was thinking about was, ‘I am going to have to wade in with him.’ That’s all I am thinking.
“I thought, ‘If there is a second or third fella beyond the ropes, what then?’ But I wasn’t close enough to give him the pull back because I am trying to catch up from 10 yards back.
“So I am going, ‘Aww no, Rory, don’t go in. I am going to have to go in too.’
“But it just goes to show what a team event can do. If that was an individual tournament, I think I might have been pulling out my phone, videoing it.
“Rory was that close to going in there and he told me last night it was because he saw the guy eye-to-eye. And I would have had to go in after him!”
New European Tour CEO Keith Pelley has brought in many changes in recent years with shorts in pro-ams, night golf exhibitions and even on-course interviews during tournament rounds.
And Giles Morgan, HSBC’s Global Head of Sponsorship and Events, revealed during the recentGolf Business Forum in Florida that next January’s HSBC Abu Dhabi Golf Championship will have walk-on music on the first tee, just like a boxing or darts event.
Traditionalists are already up in arms but Harrington welcomes the innovations, which may also include night golf early in the week at the Turkish Airlines Open.
“Clearly when it comes to something like an Irish Open, for me that is a bit more serious,” he said. “But maybe because I’ve gotten a little bit older, when I go to an event I am much more relaxed about what is going on.
“Having guys come in a play a par-three with me is great. Maybe when I was 24 years of age, I probably would have gone there and thought, this isn’t real golf. Now I realise, ‘It ain’t disturbing anything.’ Not a bit.”
Tournament organisers have tried to ape the success of the 16th hole in the Waste Management Phoenix Open at TPC Scottsdale, which is surrounded by 20,000 grandstand seats and corporate skyboxes with giant LCD screen urging beer fuelled fans to "Make Some Noise”.
“The whole world is trying to copy the 16th hole,” Harrington said. “And I think the guy who is up first, he should get to choose the music.
“The worst thing is the guy who tries to get the crowd to quieten down. Forget that. Constant noise is ideal. If you don’t like it, play another event.
“There are very few players who aren’t spoilt for choice. Yes, there are some players who have to play an event but most of the southern hemispehere guys or even the southern Europeans, they wouldn’t go to the Dunhill if it wasn’t a what, $5.5m event?
“If every event on the tour was $5.5m, they’d say, I’m not going there because it is cold.
“I am going around at the Dunhill thinking, this is lovely. And Rafa Cabrera Bello is dressed like McGinley with the hat, the polo neck and the gloves and he’s frozen. But because it is a big event, he will play it.
“All I am saying is that every event, there are reasons to play or not to play. Having some sort of exhibition to bring a different spectator to the event and create some sort of buzz, that gives a player an opportunity to say, that’s a bit over the top.
“But nobody is asking anyone to stand on the 18th tee in last last round, tied to win a tournament, and having something going on then
‘But in the evening time or early in the week, or on the range, it’s no problem. You just have to be smart with what you are doing."
Harrington was speaking at the launch of the Champions4 project which has seen renowned artist Jace McTier immortalise the Dubliner and fellow Irish major winners McIlroy, Darren Clarke and Graeme McDowell in paint.
To help raise funds for Barretstown in Ireland and the Press On Fund in the USA, a series of 400, unframed, limited edition prints of the four portraits has been produced.
Costing €300 each and measuring 28.5”x 36”, these unique prints come with a certificate of authenticity signed by all four champions and the proceeds go directly to the two charities.
Speaking about the project, Harrington said: ”I’m delighted to be involved with the ‘Champions 4’ project, it’s for a fantastic cause and the quartet looks great.”
The Champions 4 project was inspired by Brennan Simkins, a 10-year old cancer patient and budding artist and golfer, who was at one point given less than a one percent chance of survival.
“I thought it was a unique idea,” said McTier, who was inspired by Brennan’s four year fight in surviving four bone marrow transplants to defeat Acute Myeloid Leukaemia.
Brennan’s father took him to visit McTiers’ studio while recovering from his fourth transplant and on seeing the Irish Major Champions portraits, the youngster suggested to McTier that he join all four paintings together with a four-leaf clover.
His father, Turner Simkins, has written an inspiring new book, “Possibilities” which tells the story of how his fighting spirit changed the lives of others and laid the foundation for new, proven therapies and trials in the fight against paediatric cancer.
To reserve your limited edition print, please contact Carol Murphy on 086-6055966. Or visit www.champions4.com.