Padraig Harrington says he has no regrets about this year’s Ryder Cup being postponed in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The 43rd edition of the biennial battle between Europe and the USA should have been getting underway at Whistling Straits in Wisconsin next Thursday, with Harrington leading the trophy holders into battle with Steve Stricker’s hosts.
However, after months of speculation, it was finally put on hold for a year in early July. As a consequence, rather than plugging in a walkie-talkie and firing up his golf buggy next week, Harrington will be playing in the rescheduled Irish Open at Galgorm Castle instead.
One of the many reasons for the decision to postpone the match was the impracticality of having spectators in attendance. So far, the PGA Tour has been able to resume behind closed doors, with the US PGA also successfully staged minus fans on site. It's the same deal at this week’s US Open.
Harrington, though, says that such a scenario would never have worked for the Ryder Cup, insisting that it “couldn’t have been done”.
“I think the tours have done a really unbelievable job of getting back out there,” the three-time major champion told bunkered.co.uk. “They’re right on top of things and have created a great opportunity for the players to go and play. But it’s different with the Ryder Cup.
“These are individuals. It’s not like it’s a football team where we can say, right, we’re going to take you in for six weeks of a training camp and that’s your job. No, a professional golfer’s job is playing the US Open this week. We get them for a week at the Ryder Cup and that’s not enough time to guarantee that the bubble wouldn’t have one person come in with [COVID]. If one person has it, that’s the end of the whole tournament. And it wouldn’t be postponed either, it would be cancelled.
“That's partly why we’ve just pushed it back by a year. It’s not as catastrophic as if we’d cancelled.”
Harrington added that concerns over the fairness of qualifying also factored in the decision to postpone.
“There wouldn’t have been a way of doing it fairly,” he said. “It’s hard enough to pick a team as it is. You always have to leave somebody out and then ring them up and try to justify it to them. But there would have been a lot of players left out who would genuinely go, ‘I wasn’t given a fair chance’. Postponing it by a year gives everybody a fair shot. Nobody’s losing the points they’ve gained and there’s another eight months of qualifying for people to play their way in.
“I mean, look, Rasmus Hojgaard and Sam Horsfield both played great golf over the summer. Do I bring in these new guys coming in from pretty much out of the blue or do I stick with the old reliables? What do I with Frankie Molinari, for example? He hasn’t played. There would have been so many issues, so having those extra eight months will make it a lot easier. It’s not an easy job but it’ll make it a lot easier to select my three players.”
Harrington says that it was early in May that the realisation began to settle that there would not be a Ryder Cup this year.
“At the start of it all in March, we worked real hard on trying to come up with alternatives both to the qualification system and what we were doing in the background to try to get all of the facilities ready.
“We did that for six weeks, maybe two months. By the time we got to the end of April, early May, all of a sudden we were going, ‘This can’t happen’. We were looking at everything, all of the logistics. They were talking about giving me 12 picks. Even if they’d given me eight and there were 24 players in contention – because obviously the more picks you have, the more players start to come into the mix – I did the maths and worked out that there were 732,000 different teams I could have picked. I had to check that several times. I got my son to do it first then I went on YouTube and did a tutorial and, sure enough, that’s what it was: 732,000 variables. That’s how complicated it could have got.
"And then they were even talking about subs. Could you imagine ringing a guy up and saying, ‘I didn’t pick you but would you fancy coming along and quarantining for a couple of weeks to be a sub?’
“There were many problems like that. We were working hard but it soon dawned on me that, wow, I need this thing postponed. It seemed like the sensible thing to do. It just wasn’t feasible at that stage. We couldn't just pull the plug. There are a lot of stakeholders behind the scenes and I have to say the PGA Tour, as much as we give them a hard time, they really did move for us. It affected them the most, changing the date, but they did it, they moved the Presidents Cup and fair play to them, they did it for the good of golf.”
The decision to formally postpone the Ryder Cup was announced on July 8. However, there were rumours that the decision had been made to call it off long before that. Not so, according to Harrington.
“It’s funny the amount of times I was told the Ryder Cup was postponed,” he laughed. “You could have 90% of the information on things and that’s good enough for an individual to say, yeah, I know what’s happening. But you actually need to be 100% to press the button.
"Everybody else could see the writing on the wall. If you were sitting in the pub, there was enough information for you to go, yeah, this isn’t going to happen. But there wasn’t, I guarantee you. There was a lot that had to be worked out. Future courses, the Presidents Cup, the PGA Tour, the European Tour – there were a lot of people involved. And that’s before you got the insurance companies involved.”
Harrington was talking to bunkered.co.uk from the Schoen Clinic London. The 49-year-old has partnered with the world-renowned innovator in the treatment and prevention of sports related injuries, something he says he is becoming more acutely aware of as he gets older.
“It’s so important to look after your body and the thing with golf is that we all have our own pinch-points,” he said. “For one guy, it might be his left knee. For another, it’s his right hip. We’re not all the same. I, for example, used to get a lot of upper back problems. So, it’s a question of continually assessing and watching and trying to get ahead of things that might become a problem two or three years down the road.
“It’s not just for older guys, either. Younger players should be taking greater care of themselves. We’re seeing more and more injuries where guys are out of action for six months or so. It’s becoming a much more physical game and most players are close to playing 100% flat out.
“That’s why knowing your weak points really does help you and that’s where Schoen are so good.”
• Padraig Harrington has partnered with leading healthcare provider Schoen Clinic London, a world-renowned innovator in the treatment and prevention of sports related injuries. Schoen Clinic London is lending its expertise to benefit some of the world’s leading golfers and Harrington visited to learn how the clinic can help players continue to play competitively. Visit www.schoen-clinic.co.uk/golf to learn more.