NEWPORT, Wales – Padraig Harrington has spent the last month defending his selection to the Ryder Cup team.
He’s not about to apologize for it.
Never mind that Harrington hasn’t won a tournament in two years. Or that he hasn’t won a Ryder Cup match since 2004. Or that European captain Colin Montgomerie chose him over two players who some thought were more deserving – Paul Casey, who is No. 7 in the world ranking, and Justin Rose, who won two PGA Tour events this summer.
“All of us could give you a list as long as our arm about why we should have been picked,” Harrington said. “It really just comes down to the personal preference, the team captain and how he sees it. Thankfully, maybe with the balance of the team – the six rookies and the age profile of the team – it certainly swung in my favor.
“I do have to defend my position. Things like apologizing and those sort of things, they don’t have a place in golf here. You’re putting your neck on the line every time.”
Now that he’s in uniform, it’s time to make hit some shots and make key putts.
Harrington is the only active European player with three majors, although he hasn’t played like that in some time. His last official victory was the 2008 PGA Championship at Oakland Hills, where he showed his mettle by holing crucial putts on the back nine.
This is a different kind of pressure.
Anything less than a European victory and blame most likely will start with Montgomerie for picking Harrington. The Irishman was aware of that when he was picked.
“It obviously puts you under a little bit more focus during the week, and brings certain expectations and certain pressure,” Harrington said. “So it’s certainly different.”
Harrington contributed four points during Europe’s blowout victory at Oakland Hills in 2004. What happened after that?
First came a “home” match at The K Club, the first Ryder Cup played in Ireland. Harrington had three partners, didn’t win a single match, then lost to Scott Verplank in singles.
Two years ago, he was coming off a whirlwind summer in which he became the first European to win successive majors in the same season. He arrived at Valhalla with nothing left in his emotional tank, and it showed. Again, he didn’t win a match.
“When you come in off highs, it’s just hard,” Harrington said. “Physically, your body is not ready for it. The end of the day, the majors take too much out of you in the summer. I would love to put my hand to heart and say, ‘It’s a Ryder Cup,’ and I accept that it’s a Ryder Cup and all that. But you know what? I have to look back on it and say … I was just flagging.”
Montgomerie noticed a different player at Celtic Manor.
Harrington was among the first to arrive. In a surprise to European team members, he even was early to the team meetings. Montgomerie said the Irishman had the enthusiasm as a Ryder Cup rookie, not someone playing for the sixth time.
“A lot has been said about Padraig’s Ryder Cup record,” Montgomerie said. “The last two Ryder Cups – 2006, I think he would agree himself that he was trying a little too hard in front of his home crowd in Dublin to succeed. And I think if you push in golf, sometimes it doesn’t quite happen.
“And of course last time in 2008, he had come off the back of two major wins. I think he was emotionally drained during that time, so I can understand that.”
Harrington isn’t interested in atoning for the last two Ryder Cups, or proving why he was a good pick. Like anyone else on the European side, he is interested only in keeping the gold trophy in Europe.
Asked about his record at The K Club, he was quick to point out that Europe won. That’s all that mattered. In his first Ryder Cup, he won an important match against Mark O’Meara on the 18th hole at Brookline in 1999, and the biggest thrill quickly turned into a devastating blow when the Americans rallied to win.
“It’s all about team,” Harrington said. “If we can get a win this week, everybody will have an effect on it, regardless of the points they get and when they do it.”