Harrington: Donald has clear idea of team despite LIV uncertainty

Ronan MacNamara

Padraig Harrington and Luke Donald at Whistling Straits (Photo by Andrew Redington/Getty Images)

Pádraig Harrington feels the uncertainty surrounding the LIV Golf rebels for the Ryder Cup in Rome is difficult for Team Europe skipper Luke Donald but insists the Englishman will already know what the bulk of his team will be.

Currently, LIV golfers are still eligible to play on the European Ryder Cup team while the legal dispute with the DP World Tour rumbles on with Belgium’s Thomas Pieters the latest potential Ryder Cupper defecting to the Saudi backed tour.

Such uncertainty won’t make Donald’s task any easier but Harrington was quick to quash such fears over unnecessary selection headaches.

“I think it does [make it difficult]. But I think saying he has no idea, either, he has a fair idea who’s making up the backbone of his team, and he definitely has a good idea of who else is challenging,” Harrington says.

“Whether you’re some of these LIV players, it’s a long shot for them to make the team, qualification — like I don’t know what — nobody knows at this moment whether they’ll be eligible to play or not, but it’s a long shot. It’s a pretty tough team to qualify to get into, so unless you play a substantial amount of qualifying events, it’s very hard to make the team.

“I just think it’s probably a little clearer to Luke when he’s looking at his potentials and looking at the stats and who’s playing well and who’s not. It’s probably a little clearer to him than it is to the public who are maybe hopeful that some player is going to make the team, but when you look at the reality of it, well, it’s probably not going to likely happen.

“I don’t think it’s as big a deal for Luke as maybe an outsider looking in would think. When you’re on the inside, you can see the team is shaping up.”

The Dubliner, who was shortlisted for the 2024 Class of the Golf Hall of Fame, was speaking ahead of the Honda Classic on the PGA Tour at PGA National where he is a two-time champion (2005, 2015).

Harrington has been bullish over his chances of winning on the PGA Tour again and gave a glimpse last month of his capabilities with a 4th place finish at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

“I’m feeling good about my game,” he says. “It is interesting, you do come into a week like this and you do get a little bit anxious, a little bit stressed because it’s like it’s a one-off week, and I think I’m playing great and I’m so desperate to come out here and play great, and yet obviously that’s not the way you play great. I’ve got to play like it’s just any other week on the Champions Tour.

“My game has really gone up on the Champions Tour because I’m obviously a big fish in a small pond. It’s a little bit more relaxed, and it’s let the good stuff come out. Clearly that’s what I want to keep doing when I come back to the regular tour, but it’s tough in the sense that you’re wanting so much to show that form out here, and it’s like a one-off.

“It’s like a European coming over here for one week or like somebody getting an invite, as I have an invite this week, but it’s like a one-off invite; you tend to put a little bit too much emphasis on it. I have to be wary of that this week, to just try and play like I play on the Champions Tour and let it happen.”

Harrington was rookie of the year on the Champions Tour last year with four wins and thirteen top-10s in nineteen starts and the 51-year-old feels the difference between playing on the senior circuit and the PGA Tour is a mental approach.

“My game had turned a corner coming into 50 years of age,” he explains. “49 I was starting to play well in regular events. Still a little bit hard on myself at those events, and what happened when I went to the Champions Tour is I just was getting — I always explain it like this: If I play this week and say I have a week where I finish 15th. Pretty much most people will come up to me next week and say, ‘well done, you finished 15th’. That’s going to be about six shots back from the winning score. Now, if you finish six shots back from the winning score, I guarantee on a Sunday night you’re going to go, I need to swing it better I need to hit it better, I need to hit it further; it’s all technical stuff.

“Whereas on the Champions Tour on a Sunday night I’m going to be in contention with nine holes to play and in likelihood finish a couple of shots back. And if you finish two shots back in any tournament, I can guarantee on a Sunday night you are sitting there ruing the mental error you made on some tee box or some shot.

“I do a lot of talks, I talk to professional teams, athletes at home, and I’m always telling them what to do. Now that I’m on the Champions Tour, I realise I was only paying lip service to it myself. I could see when I kept going close, a couple shots, that it was about doing the good — the stuff I know to do, but maybe I wasn’t allowing myself to, because as I said, when you’re that far off the pace on the regular Tour, you’re always thinking, if I fix this first, then I can get the mental stuff right, whereas on the Champions Tour I’ve just gone straight to the mental side. I’ve tidied that all up and I’m a lot better mentally. Physically I was playing well, so mentally I’ve gotten a lot better because I’m in contention so often.

“It’s a nice place to be. It’s nice to be a big fish in a small pond. It’s nice not to have the stress of a cut. Even the couple of events I played on the European Tour, even the first one where I finished fourth, at one stage on the Friday I’m like, what’s the cut going to be, where am I, and when you start thinking like that you just hit a brick wall. It’s amazing how hard it is to play when you’re thinking about the cut and you’ve got to get that out of your mind, which the Champions Tour, again, we don’t have a cut. 54-hole golf is not 72-hole golf.

“That’s very obvious. It’s a big difference having a cut line. A lot of pressure, a lot of stress in that cut line, and it doesn’t matter how good, what you’ve done in your career.”

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