Harrington backs new Ryder Cup skipper Bjorn to keep his inner "Van Helsing" in check

Harrington backs new Ryder Cup skipper Bjorn to keep his inner "Van Helsing" in check
Padraig Harrington jokes about his vice-captaincy role at Gleneagles, where Bjorn played under Paul McGinley. Picture: Getty Images

Padraig Harrington jokes about his vice-captaincy role at Gleneagles, where Bjorn played under Paul McGinley. Picture: Getty Images

Pádraig Harrington insists that temperamental Thomas Bjorn will not be a liability as Ryder Cup captain and conceded that his own captaincy ambitions will have to be reviewed if he’s not to miss the boat in 2020 or 2022.

The 45 year old Dane was named yesterday by the European Tour’s five-strong selection panel as the man to lead Europe’s quest to win back the trophy at Le Golf National in Paris from 28 - 30 September, 2018. 

Bjron featured on three victorious European Ryder Cup teams as a player — 1997, 2002 and 2014 — and has also served as a vice captain on four occasions and as Chairman of the Tournament Committee since 2007.

His pedigree is excellent but in Irish eyes, he is remembered for a tempestuous playing record here — storming off the course “fighting demons” after just six holes at The K Club in the 2004 Smurfit European Open, then pumping four balls into the Liffey en route to an 11 on the 16th and a closing 86 when handing the title to Kenneth Ferrie the following year.

While he won the 2006 Irish Open at Carton House, there was to be no return to Co Kildare for the Ryder Cup later that year for the man they call “Van Helsing” for his "fighting demons” remark.

Welshman Ian Woosnam controversially overlooked him for a 2006 wildcard, handing them to Lee Westwood and Darren Clarke and provoking an unprecedented verbal attack from Bjorn, who branded his captaincy, “the worst I have ever seen.”

Bjorn apologised later and a decade removed, Harrington sees a more mellow Dane and natural leader for Europe in Paris.

“I’ve got to say, I was impressed with him as a vice-captain,” said Harrington, who was phoned by the new skipper as he spoke to journalists at the launch of “Champions 4 Limited Edition Prints,” an Irish American fund raising campaign in aid of Barretstown and the Press On Fund (supporting research into Children’s Cancer) in the USA.

Dismissing any concerns about Bjorn’s temperament, he said: “I think Thomas, because he has been Chairman of the Players Committee for the last number of years, he has understood his responsibilities in that sense. 

“You won’t see club throwing or anything, He understands the position he is in. He will be fine.”

As for Bjorn, he said all the right things on his appointment, which was decided by immediate past captains Darren Clarke, Paul McGinley and José María Olazábal, Players Committee nominee Henrik Stenson and Chief Executive Keith Pelley.

Bjorn said: “It’s a huge honour for me to be named European captain for The 2018 Ryder Cup in Paris. This is one of the greatest days in my career.

“I studied a lot of captains as a player and as a vice captain and always wondered what that feeling would be like to be the one leading out a team of 12 great players. Now it’s my turn to do just that and it is an exciting moment for me. 

“I have lived and breathed the European Tour for so long, and now I will do the same with The Ryder Cup for the next two years. I’m very much looking forward to taking on this task.”

An exact contemporary — the Dane pipped him for the rookie of the year title in 1997 — Harrington believes Bjorn is an astute leader who has thought deeply about the job.

“I can only be impressed with what I know and I couldn’t have disagreed with anything he said and did as a vice-captain,” said 45-year old Harrington, who made it clear he wants to play in Paris in 2018 and maintain his quests for more major wins as he enters the final competitive years of his career.

“I thought all his opinions were spot on and we did talk about future Ryder Cups at the end and how you would approach things coming from this Ryder Cup and again, everything he said made a lot of sense. 

Thomas Bjorn. Picture: Getty Images

Thomas Bjorn. Picture: Getty Images

“He’s been a vice-captain four times and he seems to have paid attention and learnt his stuff and he was right on the ball. I was suitably impressed.

"It is a different job being out front and from my own personal experience as a vice-captain, the hardest thing for the captain is that a lot of time during the tournament is taken up with things that don’t involve the team.

"He has to go and do the media and put the team in. He has to try and asses things. And there is a huge amount of distraction for the captain. He genuinely can’t be there watching his players all the time. He has got a lot ofcommitments and it is an interesting jobs in terms on the pressure and the stress of it."

They haven't always seen eye to eye with the pair clashing in 2009 over the moves to force marquee player to play six core events. But their friendship has endured. And given that it will now be McGinley, Clarke and Bjorn who will have the majority vote in the 2020 Ryder Cup captaincy stakes, Harrington might be a serious rival for Westwood. 

That's all in the future.

Harrington. who celebrated his 19th wedding anniversary yesterday — he revealed that he, McGinley and Bjorn married with a day of each other in  1997, 1996 and 1998 —  did not put his name forward for the captaincy this time around as he’s determined to make the team as a player and continue his quest for more major wins.

“There was a lot of consideration about whether I would have put my name in the hat but it does’t mean I would have got it over Thomas,” said Harrington, who could yet keep the McGinley-Bjorn-Harrington sequence going if he is captain in the USA In 2020. 

“He has served his time in the Ryder Cup, served his time as a vice-captain. He is chairman of the board and indeed, a very good player over his career. 

“I want to play again and as I said before, I ain’t getting these years back and I feel like I can be competitive…. I have got to take my chances when I am 45 and 46.”

Asked if he might put his name forward for the 2020 captaincy, he said: “Obviously, the idea is to see how I get on over these next two years. 

“Lee Westwood has put his name forward for 2020 at Whistling Straits. Certainly, I wouldn’t want to be putting it out any longer than 2020 or 2022 [in Rome].  

"The longer you leave it, the more of a queue there is and out of sight out of mind. Being in the States, profile wise it is hard when you are playing half a tour each side.” 

If Harrington is to make Bjorn’s team as a player, he knows he must break back into the world’s top 50 as soon as possible so he is exempt for all the majors, the four World Golf Championships and the big invitational events such as last week’s Hero World Challenge.

Given his winter break, he knows he's going to playing catch up when he returns in Torrey Pines or Phoenix at the end of January or the start of February and unless he returns to world's top 50 he's likely to be playing his 15th event of the PGA Tour season in the final regular season event, the Wyndham Championship.

"When I start up on the PGA Tour next year, I think about a quarter of the year is done, events wise," Harrington said. 

"I was going through the schedule with my manager and he is looking at me going to an event in Asia opposite an event in the States. But he said, 'if you go, you are going to struggle to make your numbers in the States.' That’s how tight the schedule is. 

"I might start in Torrey Pines. Ether there or Waste Management. But other guys could have 10 events played by then.

"If I was in the world events, this wouldn’t be an issue. But again, for 2018, to have a realistic chance of making the Ryder Cup team I really do have to get back in the top 50 in the world. So the four majors and the four world events, you have to compete in those or events like last week’s Hero World Challenge, where there are world ranking points. 

"That would be Ryder Cup ranking points at the end of next year. If you are right at the top of your form, yeah, you can probably get into the team playing a minimum number of events and picking up big points. But I know that for me to make it. I am going to have to gather points where I can.

"I have to play 15 events and I will play my 15th in the last event, the Wyndham unless I am in the FedEx Cup playoffs, then I am okay. I am not playing an event in Europe until the Irish Open."