Team Europe needs a strong hand on the tiller as it voyages to the US to defend the Ryder Cup next year and Padraig Harrington looks certain to get the nod next week, even if he takes over with his left wrist in a splint.
The Dubliner (47) is widely expected to be the man named as Europe’s 2020 captain at Wentworth Club next Tuesday after the European Tour yesterday announced a 1pm “Ryder Cup Press Conference” at its Virginia Water HQ.
Had things gone smoothly over Christmas, Harrington would be hitting thousands of balls in preparation for his first two events of the 2019 season in the Middle East.
Instead, he’s nursing a broken bone in his left wrist and working on his putting after suffering a fall on the stairs shortly before Christmas and won’t return to action until next month’s AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am at the earliest.
”Over the Christmas period I discovered that I had broken a bone in my wrist,” Harrington said in a statement on his website yesterday.
”I had slipped whilst walking down the stairs at home in mid-December. Whilst it continues to heal, I need to keep it in a splint a little while longer so, frustratingly, I will need to miss the first two planned events of my season in Abu Dhabi and Dubai.
”However, I should be fully fit for the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-am on the PGA Tour in early February.”
Later on Twitter, he explained: “A simple slip and sprained wrist mid- December has turned out to be a broken bone in my wrist. A few extra weeks off is now needed in a splint. If only practicing your putting all winter would make your a better putter.”
While he will be frustrated not to be back for the start of the European Tour’s Desert Swing in a fortnight, injuries have rarely stopped the man widely endorsed by his peers as the best man to lead Europe into battle on US soil in two years’ time.
His trademark ability to overcome all odds has elevated him to the status of European Tour legend, despite his health scrapes.
While he’s not the first golfer to suffer a fall on the stairs —Dustin Johnson missed the 2017 Masters after slipped in his stockinged feet in his rented house in Augusta— Harrington's mishaps have only served to illustrate his innate ability to bounce back from any reverse.
When his old neck injury flared up during the third round of the 2002 US PGA at Hazeltine, requiring his Australian physio Dale Richardson to put him in a choke hold, he refused to withdraw and fought through the pain to finish tied 17th behind Rich Beem.
As it turned out, his neck trouble may have been triggered by a vigorous workout on a virtual-reality boxing game he’d played in a video arcade the previous evening.
And there were more bizarre injuries to come.
While his troublesome neck forced him to miss nearly nine weeks of the 2017 season after undergoing surgery on a trapped nerve, he had only battled back to full fitness when an amateur he was coaching hit him full on the elbow with a practice swing during an outing in the US a few weeks later.
“I thought it was the end of me playing competitive golf,” Harrington tweeted. “There’s no truth in the rumour that it was the amateur’s best strike of the day.”
That accident didn’t stop him playing the following week's US Open or returning for The Open at Royal Birkdale, where he had overcome a wrist injury to win back-to-back Claret Jugs in 2008.
The Dubliner had injured his right wrist hitting an impact bag the weekend before his title defence but went on to lift the Claret Jug again with one of the great major performances before going on to overcome dehydration to win the US PGA a fortnight later.
With six Ryder Cup appearances as a player and three successive vice-captaincies under his belt, his bulletproof confidence and easygoing demeanour has made him the ideal man to lead Europe’s Ryder Cup defence.
Sergio Garcia, Francesco Molinari, Rory McIlroy and Justin Rose have all backed his candidacy while Shane Lowry, who’d love to make his debut under the Dubliner in Minnesota, reckons there’s no better man for the job.
“He will be captain when he wants to be,” Lowry said. “If he wants this one, I am sure he's going to get it. He will be great.”
With Lee Westwood saying last year that he’d prefer to be considered for the Rome match in 2022 and that Harrington was the man best placed to take over, Ireland will have its third Ryder Cup captain in the space of four matches following Paul McGinley’s successful stewardship in 2014 and Darren Clarke’s ultimately ill-starred captaincy at Hazeltine three years ago.
“I won't put my name forward for this one," Westwood said at British Masters last season. "I'd prefer to do it in Rome if possible. I think Padraig is a better candidate for the next one than me and we need to pick the best man for the job.
"He is the right age, and he's still in touch with the players because he's still playing out here."
While Europe has won just once away from home since 2004 — the Seve Ballesteros inspired Miracle at Medinah under José María Olazábal in 2012 — Harrington has said he believes Whistling Straits could be the most European of all possible US venues.