Padraig Harrington joined Chris Solomon on the NoLayingUp podcast for an hour-long discussion about a range of topics that included the recent U.S. Open at Los Angeles Country Club, the proposed rollback of the ball at professional level, his constant search for greater swing speed, the Ryder Cup, and of course, the shifting landscape of elite professional golf in the wake of the PGA Tour, DP World Tour and Saudi Public Investment Fund merger, and unsurprisingly, it was Harrington’s nuanced take on the most controversial of subjects that grabbed the attention most.
“It’s a complicated time to be doing interviews,” the ever talkative and interesting three time major winner admitted in the wake of a delicate discussion regarding the topic of LIV Golf and those who chose to defect. “It’s the one time in my career – I love talking, I love doing it – but it’s the only time in my career that I’m genuinely afraid of what I’m saying because you can get it so badly wrong.
“I mean, I love playing devil’s advocate, and I genuinely would argue to high heaven for the other side, even if I didn’t [believe it], just because that’s what I like doing but this is such a tough subject to try and see both sides of without offending people who’ve clearly taken a moral position and I really respect people who live their life with their beliefs and you just don’t want to be upsetting people and you’re trying to explain in something like that that, as much as people don’t like it, thus is the reality of the world we live in, that you have to do a business deal in a free market because that’s the way it is. But please don’t second guess individuals in what they say and what they do.”
Initially, the Dubliner had come out with a controversial tweet in the immediate aftermath of the merger’s announcement, and followed up with further clarifications in the days following as he, like the rest of us, was trying to peer through the frosted glass and get a better idea of exactly what was going on in the inside.
“Look, there’s two big sides to this. There’s the moral side and then there’s the business side. It’s obviously a lot easier to talk about the business side. It looks like any two other companies competing out there, the big incumbent company, the startup comes along and sees a niche and comes in. The big company thinks it’s not going to happen, then when it’s happening it thinks it’s never going to get going, then all of a sudden the challenger has gained some traction.
“It probably gained a lot of traction through the lawsuits in some way, and all of a sudden, the incumbent being the PGA Tour, has gone “hang on a second here, if we don’t move on this now, we’re going to be in a far worse position down the road.”
This wasn’t a decision made to put extra millions in the pockets of the star players, Harrington argues, because, as he puts it, “there was no player on the PGA Tour, two weeks ago, calling to play for more money. There was no appetite on the tour to go out and do this deal for more money. But like a lot of boards, they do deals where they don’t tell the shareholders what’s going on, especially during the negotiations, but the likelihood is they’ve done this deal because we were going to be in financial peril. That either the Tour has overstretched itself or there could’ve been penalties from the lawsuits. The Tour has done a deal, and I believe they’re acting in our best interests, they’ve done a deal based on us being in trouble.
“Now, then you go completely separately to the moral side which is, in some ways, much more difficult because the Tour has to act on behalf of all its players. An individual can decide not to go and play in Saudi Arabia, an individual can decide not to play LIV.”
The Tour, he argues, can’t act on moral grounds. “They have to act for the group, what’s best, and not take the moral side in. But the individuals can.
“I know golf has got bashed in Ireland quite a bit over all of this, but I kind of go, “well Rory said no, Shane said no, I said no and Darren Clarke said no,” so individuals can act the way they want. As for my own personal feelings on the moral side of it, the way we live in the western world, there’s no way we’d consider the laws in Saudi Arabia, who’d want to live under those ideals? But we don’t have a magic wand to change them, and no matter what, forcing will only cause more a kickback. I do believe trade and inclusion helps things change and I really hope that in 25 years, with the tourism initiative, we’ve seen the changes in Dubai and Abu Dhabi and places like that, that it’ll bring a lot of changes to Saudi Arabia.”
As for the Ryder Cup, Harrington helped clarify that the European players who joined LIV and have since resigned their DP World Tour memberships likely won’t be eligible to play in this year’s staging regardless of what pans out over the coming weeks and months.
“I think it’s too late this year,” he explained, “I think the rules specifically say in Europe that you have to be a member before the 1st of May. I suppose they could change the rule, but I think it’s too late for anybody this year. But it’s not too late for future Ryder Cups and future Ryder Cup captains.
“When it comes to Europe, do you think you’re playing for Europe or for the European Tour? I always felt I was playing for the European Tour. Seve had it that we’d a chip on our shoulder in Europe, that we weren’t treated with enough respect and we’d a point to prove for the tour. If you went to Europe, you’d find that there’s a huge support for the Ryder Cup from the South African players, the Asian players and the Australian players playing in Europe, so if it is more about the tour, then you could argue that it should only be members of the tour.”