Captain Harrington's Blog: June
Hi everyone and welcome to the latest of my monthly Blogs in the build-up to the Ryder Cup in September.
There is only one place to start this month and that is by offering my heartfelt congratulations to Jon Rahm on his brilliant victory in the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines a couple of weeks back – his first Major Championship triumph. It is always fantastic to have Major winners in a Ryder Cup team and there is no question that Jon will walk just that little bit taller to the first tee in Whistling Straits in September because of what he achieved in California. Not only the fact that he showed tremendous nerve and character to hole lengthy birdie putts on both the 71st and 72nd holes to win, but also the fact he achieved all of that after having to pull out of the Memorial Tournament a fortnight earlier due to a positive COVID test when he was six shots clear after 54 holes.
I called Jon not long after that incident as I was worried about how he would be feeling, having been disqualified myself ahead of the final round of the Benson & Hedges International Open on the European Tour in 2000 when I was leading by five shots. My misdemeanor was that I hadn’t signed my first round scorecard [a mistake that was subsequently unearthed after three rounds] and although I was obviously hugely disappointed, I accepted the decision as it is a rule of golf and learned a lot more about myself, how to cope with adversity and move on, than I probably would have learned about myself if I’d gone on to win at The Belfry. I shouldn’t have been worried - during the call I quickly realised that Jon had it all in perspective and was in a good place, as he proved to be the case at the U.S. Open.
While Jon’s triumph in the U.S. Open was undoubtedly the highlight of this month, there were other notable performances by leading Europeans on both sides of the Atlantic. Only two days ago, Viktor Hovland showed once again just what an asset he will be to the team in September when he became the first Norwegian player in history to win on the European Tour with a stunning triumph in the BMW International Open in Germany. Over in the US, my fellow Irishman Shane Lowry finished tied for sixth place in the Memorial Tournament, Englishmen Tyrrell Hatton (T2) and Matthew Fitzpatrick (T10) did well in the Palmetto Championship, while three players joined Jon in the top ten of the U.S. Open (Guido Migliozzi (T4), Paul Casey (T7) and Rory McIlroy (T7)). To see how those performances affected the players’ standings in the qualification race, click here.
Away from the golf course, the biggest Ryder Cup-related story of the past month was my announcement last week that I have selected Martin Kaymer and Graeme McDowell as my next two Vice Captains for Whistling Straits. Both have a broad range of knowledge and experience of the event and, of course, both have also experienced that magical moment of securing the winning point – Martin at Medinah in 2012 and Graeme two years earlier at Celtic Manor. They will join forces with the two men already in the role – Robert Karlsson and Luke Donald – and I really like the blend of different characters, experience and skill sets that this quartet will present in the team room. Obviously that leaves only one Vice Captaincy spot now up for grabs, which I will decide on much closer to the end of the qualification period.
Martin is somebody I wanted as a Vice Captain because he’s got a great personality and brings a calmness, a European element, and a lot of confidence with him. The fact that he won the US PGA Championship around Whistling Straits in 2010 also brings that level of authority and assurance that you need. Martin will also bring a nice emotion to the team, which is very important. He’s somebody who will help with the atmosphere, put an arm around a player or two when it’s required, and will bring that level of belief that we may need during the week. Below is what he said about his appointment:
“When Pádraig approached me, I felt very honoured immediately as I wanted to be part of this year’s Ryder Cup team for sure, in whatever position. It tells you a lot about what the Captain and the whole team behind him think about you and how they value you. It was a really nice moment.”
Finally, talking of Martin, it would be remiss of me not to mention his own performance inside the ropes in Munich last week. He was fantastic, in particular during his closing eight under par 64 which helped him claim second place, two shots behind Victor. I don’t know whether I inspired Martin in Germany last week or not but, as I said during the press conference when I made the announcement, I would be delighted to have Martin as either a Vice Captain or as a player.
I decided on Graeme as a Vice Captain a long time ago. He was Vice Captain in 2018 with me and I liked what he brought to the team room. He’s quite an authority, confident in what he’s doing and saying, and knows the scene. Graeme is a strong influence; the players look up to him. When he speaks, people listen, but he doesn’t speak unless he’s got something to say. I definitely saw that when he was Vice Captain previously – players pay attention and follow him. Below is what he said about his appointment:
“Being Vice Captain of the European Team at the Ryder Cup is a great honour. If you can’t play on the team, being part of the support network and the Vice Captaincy is the next best thing, and I was very proud to do it in 2018. In 2018, one of the biggest things I learned was how to handle players, how to communicate with players, which players require a lot of communication, and which players you just wind them up and let them go.”
Tough but necessary…..
The Vice Captains perform a hugely important role over the course of the match week. I will delegate a lot of jobs to them and most of that is simply down to the fact that I can’t get around to doing everything. During a Ryder Cup, the Captain gets pulled every which way and there is so much stuff going on. You are trying to run the team, but there are also a lot of media requirements every day and many other areas that require your attention. However, the most difficult thing that a Captain has to do is to ring up players to tell them they haven’t got a pick, which is one area that would never be delegated to a Vice Captain. When you sign up for the job of Captain, you have to take on certain responsibilities. It’s a tough part of the job but it’s a necessary part too. It’s probably the one job that each Captain looks forward to the least, having to tell someone who could well be good enough to make the team on his own merits, that for some particular reason they just don’t provide the necessary piece of the jigsaw required. It’s tough to tell them that you have chosen to go with a another option, but it has to be done.
Although both myself and Steve Stricker are 100% committed to our roles as respective European and American Captains, we are also keen to perform as well as we can in the tournaments we play. Never was that better illustrated than last week when Steve captured the Bridgestone Senior Players Championship at Firestone Country Club in Ohio, his third Senior Major triumph. He opened with a stunning seven under par 63 and never relinquished the lead all week, winning in the end by six shots. From myself and everyone at Ryder Cup Europe, many congratulations to Steve on a fantastic victory.
Finally, there is no question that for any professional golfer, playing in your home country is a thrill, which is why I am very much looking forward to this playing week on the European Tour at the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open at Mount Juliet. The Irish Open is a truly special event for the whole island of Ireland and amongst my many wins around the world since I turned professional, my Irish Open victory at Adare Manor in 2007 – in the process becoming the first Irishman to win our home title since the late, great John O’Leary at Portmarnock a quarter of a century earlier – was right up there. Although understandably, given the current circumstances we are all living through, there will not be the normal tens of thousands of fans at the tournament that there has been in the past, I am still very much looking forward to playing in front of the home spectators who are there, and who are some of the most enthusiastic and knowledgeable in the whole of our sport.
Speak to you all again next month………….