Willett ‘felt’ for Harrington while sitting uncomfortably through Ryder Cup

Bernie McGuire
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Willett ‘felt’ for Harrington while sitting uncomfortably through Ryder Cup

Danny Willett (Photo by Meg Oliphant/Getty Images)

Danny Willett admitted he ‘felt’ for Padraig Harrington as the Masters champion ‘uncomfortably’ sat through TV coverage of last week’s Ryder Cup.

Willett knows only too well the hurt of being on a losing European Ryder Cup side having been a member of the 2016 team that also lost on American soil five years ago at Hazeltine. As well, Willett played in three of five matches under Darren Clarke’s leadership and was on the receiving end of three losses.

“I would have to think Padraig is hurting,” said Willett, speaking at St. Andrews ahead of this week’s 20th anniversary Alfred Dunhill Links Championship.

“It’s why I really didn’t enjoy watching it on tv. I didn’t enjoy watching the lads get beat. I didn’t enjoy not being around it. We have two years to fix that. But all you can do is put out the pairing you wanted to at the time.

“Unfortunately, the lads didn’t play as well as the Americans. They were really good. Look at the scoring and how they played. They were just a very good team.”

Like most observers, Willett also singled out the influence of a near 100% American support base lining all 18 holes of the host Whistling Strait course as also a big key to Steve Stricker’s team’s success.

“You never know what influence the crowd will have but you definitely don’t get the same adrenaline rush when you hole a putt and maybe only your mum and dad are clapping in a crowd of 50,000 people,” said Willett.

“So, you are constantly trying to get yourself up. That’s tiring over a long three days. Plus, they got on top of us that first morning. That’s always a big key. That set the tone for the week. The Americans just went out there and won games in which the Europeans have been better.

“The thing is also I was waiting for someone to repeat my assessment of the 2016 match in the press conference. But no one did. It’s just tough. Only rarely does either team go across ‘The Pond’ and win. There is something about being in your home environment. It’s just the way it is. Fingers crossed our team will enjoy that next time and go on to win.”

Willett also shares the view of his fellow Europeans, including Ryder Cup captaincy selection committeeman David Howell, that Europe does not have to go reaching for the panic button or go back to the drawing board following the 10-point defeat.

“No, the European Tour doesn’t have to do any of those things such as reinventing the wheel,” said Willett.

“The Americans looked special on paper. It looked like it could go the way it did. And that ‘gel’ they’ve struggled with over the last few years was there too. They had a good team atmosphere.

“A lot of those lads are the same age and played a lot of college golf together. They played together a lot at home now too. And we saw all of that come together in a team environment. Throw in their skill level and their current form – many of them had a really good run in the FedEx Cup – and they were always going to be dangerous.

“What will help the European Tour is that when the Tour gets going again properly following the upheaval caused by the Covid-19 pandemic maybe the introduction of some new team formats would be nice.

“I’m also not sure if you can predict 20 years of dominance from just one Ryder Cup victory as some in the American side are already suggesting. You can have that opinion, but that is all it is.

“As I mentioned, the Covid stuff has been so tricky for the European Tour. Trying to get the lads together had been tricky. So, it’s been tough to get the same level of camaraderie.

“Some of them have been in America, in Europe, playing in different bubbles. It’s been a very different scenario for young European golfers as opposed to young Americans. Hopefully we can get that back when things return to normal. Two years is a long time.”

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