Padraig Harrington / Image from Getty Images
Arm in arm with great friend, Peter Lawrie as he took a scissors to the red ribbon unveiling the new Spawell Golf Academy, Padraig Harrington envisages no such encounters with red tape for Ireland’s golfing elite in their pursuit of a place on Paddy’s Whistling Straits’ wanderly wagon.
Speaking at the launch of Lawrie’s pristine practice facility in South Dublin, Europe’s Ryder Cup captain was full of encouragement for both Shane Lowry and Paul Dunne, insisting that he’d welcome both talents with open arms should they play their way into Padraig’s 2020 vision.
“Shane couldn’t have got a better win,” reflected Harrington on Lowry’s ginormous Abu Dhabi success. “It’s not going to get him on the team, but it puts him in the tournaments that mean it’s within his control.
You don’t make the Ryder Cup if you’re not in the top-50 in the world so he’s put himself in position and come September, when the qualifying starts, he’ll be in the driving seat. It will be up to him.
“It’s all about self-confidence… There is nothing Shane can do bar play his own game and trust that’s good enough.”
As for Dunne, Harrington will be heartened that the Greystones golfer lifted a mini-hoodoo off his back this week by making the weekend cut in Saudi Arabia, but the skipper insists that given the 26-year-old’s talent, he would have no qualms with Dunne’s inclusion should he qualify for Team Europe next September despite his slow start to the year.
“He’s had a slow start, but Paul Dunne has something,” Harrington said. “He has that little bit of X-factor, he’s got a great short game, he has a little bit of bottle in him.
“Somebody like Paul, if they hit form or are in good form, they have the bottle that you want in the Ryder Cup. They have the attitude and the ability.
“No doubt about it, if Paul Dunne plays his way into the team, you’d be happy to have him. Good putter, good attitude, good short game and bottle.”
Harrington admits he sees a little bit of himself in the stocky swinger and whether that’s a good or a bad thing, he’s convinced that through patience, the 2017 British Masters champion can return to the winner’s enclosure once more.
“The great thing about Paul is he’s capable of winning,” added Harrington. “He has the game to win under pressure.
“A player of Paul’s like is the kind of guy, no more than myself, who can get caught up in his swing at times and get lost in something for 6-8 weeks but then find it for 6-8 weeks and be comfortable.
“And when he’s comfortable, he goes and wins. He just needs to stay patient and wait for those periods. I like his style of play, maybe because it’s a bit like mine!”
With the press assembled, Padraig the prophet was in full swing, even dishing out tips to former World Cup teammate Lawrie himself about what’s needed for the range at Spawell – sloping mats to cure the average golfer’s slice to be precise.
But as much and all as the pen pushers enjoyed Padraig’s verbal clinic, his wrist still in a cast from a New Year tumble with his playing return at least a fortnight away, it was the chances of Ireland’s leading golfers being picked upon his roster that remained the question on everybody’s lips.
“Unfortunately, at the end of the day it is pretty tough for a rookie to get picked. Shane and Paul, they either play their way in or something exceptional has to happen for them to get a pick,” he admitted.
“And to be honest, and I will tell you the absolute truth because I have seen it three times at Ryder Cups, it’s hard for the captain when he is talking about his own countrymen. They are so afraid of being biased that it could actually work against home players.
“But it would be very evident with Paul or Shane if they either play their way in or something happens that they won’t be a hard pick. It will either be obvious, or they will play their way in.”
Whether Ireland’s leading players can land a spot on Harrington’s team, only time will tell, but Padraig did leave those in attendance on tenterhooks with a not so subtle hint that a big change is coming to his selection criteria for 2020.
“I have decided what I am doing,” he smiled. “There will be one change that will be talked about. A lot! … when it is announced.
“I’m not going to say it until the tour is ready. But I instigated it!”
An evening at Spawell wouldn’t have been complete without one of the game’s great minds teasing the masses, but what ‘The Tinkerman’ has in store for us with his big reveal may be a long way off yet. What’s sure, Padraig’s team sheet remains a blank canvas and although Ryder Cup qualification is some distance away, the prospect of a tri-colour or two amongst it can’t be discounted.
Something that should be counted is the amount of driving range balls Peter Lawrie’s stocked up at his Spawell Golf Academy. With Padraig mere weeks away after an unplanned but extended winter’s break, he might just be needing a whole lot more!