Padraig Harrington Faces Ryder Cup Headache

By: | Tue 16 Jun 2020 | Comments


SO IT looks like the Ryder Cup may be going ahead after all. Why else would Steve Stricker, the US captain, have been given six picks?

The event at Whistling Straits is still several months away and with news that the Memorial Tournament at Muirfield Village in July is going to be played in front of a restricted gallery of 8,000 spectators, it would appear that things just might be on track for the event to take place with spectators in attendance, with Europe defending the trophy they won in such magnificent fashion at Le Golf National in 2018.

It has to be said that when you look at the American qualification table as it stands right now it is difficult to understand why Stricker might feel that he needs six picks. The top 12 places are occupied by Brooks Koepka, Dustin Johnson, Patrick Reed, Gary Woodland, Xander Schauffele, Webb Simpson, Justin Thomas, Tiger Woods, Tony Finau, Matt Kuchar, Bryson DeChambeau and Patrick Cantlay.

Of those, only Schauffele, Woodland and Cantlay are rookies. Woodland is the US Open champion, Schauffele could count himself extremely unfortunate to have been overlooked in 2018 after finishing 12th in the points table and Cantlay is widely regarded by many as having what it takes to win majors. 

Arguably, the only star name missing from that list is Rickie Fowler and since he has been struggling of late, Stricker may have no problems overlooking him. The same thing applies to Jordan Spieth.

So all is shaping up well for the USA.

But what about Europe? Padraig Harrington currently has three picks and will readily admit that he faces a bigger headache than his American counterpart. The top nine in the European rankings are Tommy Fleetwood, Jon Rahm, Victor Perez, Rory McIlroy, Tyrrell Hatton, Lee Westwood, Matthew Fitzpatrick, Danny Willett and Bernd Wiesberger. So, no Paul Casey, Ian Poulter, Henrik Stenson, Sergio Garcia, Shane Lowry, Rafa Cabrera Bello, Graeme McDowell, Francesco Molinari - and that’s just for starters. And what about Viktor Hovland, who has made such a stunning start to his career on the PGA Tour?

The likes of Fleetwood, Rahm, McIlroy and Hatton are shoo-ins. The problem for the Irishman is the quality of the players who do not currently occupy automatic places and he will surely now be looking for a greater say in the make-up of his team. A European team without the likes of Garcia, Poulter, Casey and Open champion Lowry is simply unthinkable. Molinari won five points for Europe in France.

Another big concern is that with the PGA Tour now back up and running, those players who ply their trade exclusively on the European Tour are going to see their world rankings tumble simply because they currently have nowhere to play.

There are six UK-based tournaments and the US Open before the Ryder Cup is scheduled to take place in September. The top 60 in the world rankings will qualify for the US Open and it stands to reason that many European golfers who would otherwise be in the field are going to miss out because they will have been overtaken by PGA Tour golfers in the rankings.

It is going to have a massive impact on the likes of Robert MacIntyre who, without hitting a golf ball, saw his world ranking fall from 67 to 72 after the Charles Schwab Challenge, Paul Waring, Jorge Campillo, Marcus Kinhult, Benjamin Hebert and Joost Luiten. Even if they all hit the ground running when the action resumes in Europe they will already have tumbled down the rankings and will have a mountain to climb to get back to where they were wen the rankings were frozen in March.

In sports such as tennis, players who are sidelined through injury are given protected ranking status - surely it is not beyond the wit of man to do something similar with golf in these extraordinary times. European Tour golfers often feel like second-class citizens and sometimes it is not difficult to understand why. Under normal circumstances, MacIntyre, Hebert and Luiten would also have expected to be riding high in the Ryder Cup points table at this stage of the year.

Europe thrashed the Americans two years ago but Harrington knows that winning at Whistling Straits will be a different matter altogether and he will want to take his strongest possible team. Perez is in third place in the standings on account of a purple patch last year, and the same applies to Wiesberger. Willett is a former Masters champion, of course, and has shown flashes of that form. But would they still be in contention for places in the team had golf continued as normal? Possibly not.

Harrington has spoken about the possibility of choosing all 12 players but can you imagine the fallout if, as is likely, he were to overlook the claims of Perez, Willett, Wiesberger and even Westwood?

The bottom line is that there really isn’t an ideal solution and the powers-that-be have some serious thinking to do in order to resolve this. If the Ryder Cup does go ahead we want it to happen with fans in attendance in a safe environment. We want a typical Ryder Cup atmosphere - it is what makes the event so special. But we also want to send a European team that is competitive, that is as strong as it can possibly be. The Americans are never more dangerous than when they are smarting and what happened on the outskirts of Paris in September 2018 still hurts. Their team already looks incredibly strong, the Europeans, less so.


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