Padraig Harrington: Ryder Cup captain on Rory McIlroy, wildcards and stats

Media playback is not supported on this device

I'm the right man to lead Europe at Ryder Cup - Harrington

New European Ryder Cup captain Padraig Harrington is considering reducing the number of wildcard picks he will have for next year's match in the United States.

The 47-year-old Irishman is also convinced Rory McIlroy will be fully committed to the European cause despite his pro-American comments made in Hawaii last week.

Harrington was the natural choice to succeed Thomas Bjorn as European golf's next leader.

As a three-time major champion and having been involved in the last nine matches - the last three as a vice-captain - the popular Dubliner ticks all the right boxes.

He is convinced the venue, Whistling Straits, offers Europe one of their best chances for an away win and commands plenty of respect among the younger generation on the European Tour.

And one of the game's most analytical brains is already considering reducing by one the quartet of wildcards Bjorn had last year for the 2020 matches in Wisconsin.

"I'm getting some stats done at the moment on whether to go for three or four," he told BBC Sport.

"My thinking is, does the ninth guy (on the qualifying list) ever get skipped over?

"I don't think it has happened and I think players are more comfortable and more confident if they've qualified directly rather than getting a pick.

"So I'd prefer more players to qualify than if I picked them but I will have a look at those stats. Anecdotally number nine always gets a pick so why not let them qualify?"

Rory concerns? Not here

Harrington was a vice captain when McIlroy formed part of Europe's team in 2018
Harrington was vice-captain of the 2018 team McIlroy was part of

One player who might need to be selected is McIlroy. Still to sign up for the European Tour in 2019, it is possible he would join the qualifying process late.

His comment last week that the European Tour is "a stepping stone" to America certainly wasn't on message from the continent's point of view.

But Harrington is unconcerned. "Rory loves it," the new skipper said.

"He's morphed into being the playing captain, he's a leader in that team room. Nothing gives back to Rory like the Ryder Cup.

"There's no way he will miss out," Harrington added.

"His actions are what I'm looking at and he will do everything he can to be in that Ryder Cup team. I know there's been a few words but his actions show he is one of the most fervent supporters, he just loves the Ryder Cup, he gets so passionate about it."

A European course in America

Padraig Harrington

The biggest challenge for any captain is to fashion an away win. The Americans have failed in every attempt since 1993 and Europe lost on their travels in 2016, 2008 and 1999.

"Both sides are using statisticians to set up courses to favour their own team," said Harrington.

"Luckily this time around we are going to a links golf course in the midwest in late September so it is as good as we're going to get for an away venue for the European side."

Whistling Straits is certainly a links-style course, with fairways sitting among sandy waste areas on the banks of Lake Michigan.

It is hard to see how the US skipper, most likely Steve Stricker, will be able to create the generous driving areas and lightening fast greens so favoured by the Americans.

Harrington added: "It is a European-style golf course, so let's hope we are somewhat on an even playing field."

Stats, gut instinct and a perfect skipper

Harrington has been a vice captain at the last three Ryder Cups

The new skipper, a former accountancy student, is inclined to embrace the statistics-based template of his predecessors Bjorn, Darren Clarke and Paul McGinley. These have been key indicators for wildcard picks and pairings.

"I'm stereotyped that I'd be 100 percent down that road but I'm certainly 50 percent down the road of looking at stats and things like that," Harrington said.

"If I have a decision to be made emotionally and the stats say one thing, I would go with the stats.

"But I would also bring emotions in and we saw that last time in France. There was a good mix with guys arguing for the stats and those just going with their heart which gave a good blend and balance."

Certainly he will not lack respect from the younger generation pushing to make it into his team. Harrington is already aware that on average he is likely to have three rookies on duty.

One of those may be Englishman Matt Wallace, who narrowly missed out on one of Bjorn's wildcard picks.

"I'd play under anyone at Whistling Straits but I've got a little bit closer with Padraig in the last few months," the 28-year-old Londoner told me.

"His career speaks for itself, he's going to be a Hall of Famer for sure. He's a brilliant guy and a great player.

"Padraig, for sure, is someone I would love to play under. He could do anything in a Ryder Cup, he could gee you up if needs be or he could be calm and chilled out."

Certainly the incoming captain has a very clear idea of what he needs to do. He will delegate administrative roles and do what he has always done - concentrate on the golf.

"My job is to get the 12 best players into the European team, performing together as well as they can."

He seems the perfect man for the job.

Top Stories