There's nothing like some Ryder Cup politics to calm story waters. At least, that was the undercurrent of Pádraig Harrington's declaration on Tuesday that his relationship with Masters champion Sergio Garcia is “the best it's ever been” after they kissed and made up at Rory McIlroy’s wedding.
Not only that, Harrington also reckons Garcia would put their personal differences aside and back him for the 2020 Ryder Cup captaincy if he threw his hat in the ring and was considered the best man for the job.
Garcia was the first person Harrington met on his arrival at Ashford Castle for McIlroy’s high security wedding in Co Mayo last weekend.
And while the Dubliner was bracing himself for a frosty reception after clouding his post Masters comments about being “happy” for Garcia in his moment of glory by recalling how he’d been a “sore loser” in the past, he was amazed at Garcia’s reaction. Two weeks after the storm broke, all is calm again.
“I would say to you that right now at this very moment, my relationship with Sergio is the best it has ever been," Harrington revealed though he refused to be "the first" to give away any details about a wedding that might have been held in Area 52 given that not one photograph of the Ashford Castle nuptials has emerged.
Was Sergio wearing his green jacket? Did McIlroy put them at the same table out of mischief? No response. Just a smile.
“We have had a chat because clearly there was an elephant in the room about what I said and we have decided that we will look going forward at our similarities and the good in each of us rather than any other way," Harrington said. “We are in a great place. If anything, it has worked out for the better.
“It’s a situation that had to be dealt with and it was dealt with. Myself and Sergio are on a much better footing than we have ever been.”
For the record, Harrington gave a 2FM interview 48 hours after the Masters in which he said he was happy for Garcia in his moment of glory.
But when asked just why they had such a poor relationship, he didn't hold back and made headlines around the world.
"We were such opposites...I worked at it, grinded it out, got the best out of it.
"I’m very strong on the etiquette of the game, so I don’t tolerate people spitting in the hole, throwing their shoes or their golf clubs. That would be my attitude. That would be quite clear from where I came from.
"Then we would have went into the majors, and obviously I beat him. I gave him every out I possibly could have at the 2007 Open.
"I was as polite as I could and was as generous as I could be, but he was a very sore loser. And he continued to be a very sore loser.
"Clearly, after that, we have had a very sticky [relationship]."
Harrington did admit that he and Garcia were on better terms because of their association with the Ryder Cup but had said hello through "gritted teeth" at the Masters.
"The Ryder Cup improves it no end, but we say hello to each other every day we meet, but it’s with gritted teeth. There’s no doubt about it," he added
"It’s just one of those things...we’re rivals.
"I was delighted to see the emotion on the 18th green. Anybody watching that has got to feel for him. You could see in that moment in time that he has paid his dues.”
Harrington did reveal that just as the person you most want to avoid is always the first person to cross your path, Garcia was the first person he met in Ashford Castle (presumably, he wouldn't confirm or deny his presence) and they’d immediately sorted out any misunderstandings over the “sore loser” comments that made some many headlines worldwide.
After revealing that he will start hitting balls again on Wednesday after a six-week layoff following neck surgery, Harrington said: “Literally the first person that I met was Sergio. And I have got to say that Sergio made it very easy. He was exceptionally good about it and was well-informed.
“He had looked into the detail of the interview and he had understood that I was actually saying, ‘Wow, hadn’t he served his time. He deserved this and you could see it.’
“That’s what he took from it, which was good because that’s the way it was obviously intended.
“As I said, there are a lot of similarities between myself and Sergio that we have to embrace rather than look the other way and I think that that’s what we’ve looked at.
“I was delighted I didn’t have to explain myself. The gist of the interview was ‘Wow, you could see Sergio had paid his dues.’"
Harrington and Garcia may indeed be best buddies for the first time ever but when it comes to the Ryder Cup captaincy and how their relationship might now evolve, he was positive about the latter, if not yet decided about putting his hat in the ring for the former.
Asked if he could possibly captain Garcia in the 2020 Ryder Cup when he will be 49 or whether he could count on Garcia’s support were he to go up against Lee Westwood for the job, Harrington played down his interest in the role.
While he admitted it would be “a risky strategy” to wait until 2022 or 2024 to go for the job when the likes of Ian Poulter and Henrik Stenson could be candidates, he looked ahead to Whistling Straits in 2020 and said: “I’d like to play.
“Maybe I’ll be playing when Sergio captains me. There you go. In my head I am a player. On the face of it, it looks like you are saying I will be retired by 2020 and maybe I’ll be captain.
“That decision will have to be made in a year and a half’s time even though it’s three years away.
“In a year and a half I am going to have to put my hat in the ring. I won’t know for a year and a half. It all depends on how I play.”
Specualtion in the English press that Harrington's comments on Garcia could make him a non-runner for the Ryder Cup captaincy in 2020 when England's Lee Westwood will be a candidate has co-incided with a rapid mending of bridges.
It's in Harrington's interest to keep all his options open and while it was never likely that an personal enmity would colour his potential captaincy decisions, making up with Garcia is a smart move for him and Europe.
“No matter what our relationship is, it’s still the Ryder Cup and we’ve always gotten over it for the Ryder Cup and I think we are in a far better place than that now," Harrington said of Garcia's support should he go for the captaincy in 2020.
“Right now, I think I would have his support. Sergio wants to win the Ryder Cup in 2020. If he thinks I am the best captain in 2020, he will support me as captain. That’s the reality of it.
“That’s always been the way the Ryder Cup has gone. For the Europeans, we pull together and we know we have to get the best out of our team.
“If there was an alternative captain, Sergio would support him if he thought he was a better. It would’t be a personal issue. You don’t bring personal issues into something as important as that.
“If I am the right guy for the job in 2020 and Sergio wants to win the Ryder Cup, he will support the right guy for the job no matter what.”
Winning more majors and playing in more Ryder Cups is Harrington's main goal right now and he has five weeks to prepare for his expected return to action in the BMW PGA, quickly followed by the US Sectional Open qualifier at Walton Heath.
"It's six weeks tomorrow since my operation — they told me I couldn't hit shots for six weeks," said Harrington who had neck surgery in February after struggling for months after the injury came to a head at the Olympic Games.
"I felt like I was capable of hitting shots three days after the operation, but I've been very disciplined and waited and looking forward to it.
"Right now at the moment, I have a plan ahead of me of how I'm going to prepare and what I need to do but I'm basically doing my rehab and doing my exercises, and that kind of pushed me a little late this morning trying to get a few of those rehab exercises in. It's a bit of discipline.
"As regards my golf, yeah, I'm working away. I have got great intentions, that's for sure. I feel like I'm in a great place with my golf. Strangely enough, I obviously had a poor early start to the season, mostly because I had not gotten my preparation done during the winter. And it was a real eyeopener when you don't do your preparation, how hard it is to catch up.
"The goal would be me at the moment, I've got another five weeks before I play. It's about getting the right preparation, the right type of practise done. Definitely one of the reasons of having the operation and going and having it done as soon as I did, I didn't want to push it out that I would be stuck going into The Open Championship not ready.
"So at the moment, pretty much all my practise, I hit a few chip shots in the last week and everything I'm doing, even my thoughts about my driving, will be taking the ball flight down with my driver, working a lot more on chip and runs, a lot more hitting chip shots off hard pan and stuff like that so I'm ready for Open conditions.
"Yeah, as much as I want to be ready, I think my first event is going to be Wentworth in five weeks' time. There's no doubt that all my practise, when I do get going, will be more thinking about The Open championship, plus obviously the Irish Open is obviously two weeks before that, two weeks before The Open.
"You've got the French, Irish and Scottish all played on good golf courses, good preparation courses for The Open.
"So for those four weeks of the year, it is hopefully going to be a slightly different ball flight, a lower ball flight, and basically, a lot of my work will be done towards that.
"Even when it comes, maybe not the first couple of weeks, but when it comes a little closer to those events, I move away from practicing on parkland golf courses and start practicing on links courses and hitting wedge shots off links turf, because the ball goes a different distance with a wedge off links turf than it does off a parkland turf.
"It is important to actually physically get out there and do your wedge work in those conditions, not just off parkland turf. So little things like that
"But yes, you would be right to say my focus, as much as my focus is on coming back and playing, it is also very much on being ready to play The Open."
Asked if he'd step onto the first tee at Royal Birkdale believing he could win, Harrington explained that his chances of victory will depend on how he performs in the build up.
If we see him at the pointy end of an event or two before the gun goes in mid July, watch out.
A head to head with Sergio Garcia would be fun.
"If we were going to head to head [at Birkdale] and we have both said it, we would be trying our hearts out. Yeah, it’s amazing how things worked out".
An R&A Ambassador, Pádraig Harrington was speaking at Dun Laoghaire Golf Club during an R&A-organised roundtable as part of the build up to The Open at Royal Birkdale from July 20-23, where he won his second Claret Jug in 2008. The Open will return to Irish shores for the first time in 68 years in 2019, when it is staged at Royal Portrush.