Padraig Harrington isn’t one to mince words. Nor is he a guy who misses many opportunities. Never have those two personality traits been on display together more than during the summer of 2003.
Coming off results of 22nd or better in six of his previous seven major starts, Harrington went into the PGA Championship armed with plenty of momentum – and a very pregnant wife. So pregnant was Caroline, in fact, that she was due with the couple’s first child on the Monday after the tournament.
And yet, there he was at Oak Hill Country Club, potentially separated from the birth by 3,000 miles and an ocean. There was plenty of logic in his reasoning.
'As the doctor said, I wouldn't be much help in the delivery room,' Harrington explained at the time. 'Hopefully everything will be all right, regardless if I'm there or not.'
Right decision? Wrong decision?
Doesn’t matter what we think, because it was his decision.
The simple truth is, nobody outside of a player’s immediate family should force their opinion on what to do in this specific situation. If he elects to compete with the blessing of those close to him, it’s the right decision. And if he chooses to remain at home and eschew a major championship, well, that’s the right decision, too.
It’s a discussion that is once again relevant based on the current climate.
That’s because there is a growing trend amongst the professional ranks. The new generation is making it more difficult for the older generation to win more major championships.
The preceding paragraph could easily refer to such players as Bubba Watson and Keegan Bradley keeping the likes of Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson from claiming more hardware over the past few years. Instead the “new generation” should be taken more literally, as newborns are keeping their dads from competing in some big events.
Already this year we’ve seen Masters champion Watson skip a handful of events – including The Players Championship – following the adoption of his son Caleb. It’s a pattern that will continue at this week’s Open Championship, where a pair of potential contenders will be absent due to familial responsibilities.
Jason Day finished runner-up in two of last year’s majors, but won’t be competing at Royal Lytham & St. Annes after his wife gave birth to their first child recently, a boy named Dash.
“Obviously I'd love to be playing in the British Open, but as I've said all along family comes first and I want to be with Ellie and Dash right now to enjoy this wonderful miracle,” Day told the Australian Associated Press. “I will return to golf when the time is right.”
There’s a similar sentiment from reigning U.S. Open champion Webb Simpson, whose wife Dowd is expecting their second child soon. He’ll become the first player to win a major then fail to compete in the next one since Tiger Woods claimed the 2008 U.S. Open before being undergoing knee surgery and missing the final two majors of that year.
“I'm a guy who loves my family and we're probably only going to have a couple more babies,” Simpson explained. “I have the rest of my life to play in the British Open. I don't want to miss the birth of the second child. So it's an easy decision.
“After winning, it's certainly a little harder not to go because I'd love to go and try to win another major, but in the grand scheme of things and grand scheme of life it's a decision that I know I'll always be happy that I made. Because the first experience watching my first son being born was one of the greatest experiences I think a person can have. And I don't want to miss it again.”
This is hardly a new phenomenon.
In 1991, Nick Price eschewed the PGA Championship to be with his wife in the delivery room, paving the way for a ninth alternate named John Daly to forge his way into the field and win the title. Conversely, eight years later Phil Mickelson traversed Pinehurst No. 2 for four days armed with a beeper, prepared to leave the U.S. Open if his wife went into birth.
In each case, it was the right decision, because it was their decision.
Jason Day and Webb Simpson may get criticized for choosing to remain with their families rather than playing The Open Championship this week, but that’s a nearsighted viewpoint.
The truth is, whether a player elects to play a major or stay home with an expanding family, it’s always the right decision – because it’s their decision, and theirs alone.