Rory McIlroy / Image from Getty Images
Still nursing a broken wrist from his mid-December fall, Padraig Harrington has probably watched more golf than he’d be used to at this time of year.
Yet given his new role as Ryder Cup captain for Whistling Straits in 2020, observing from afar will likely prove a much more common task in the life of Harrington as he goes about selecting his team to topple the Unites States in Wisconsin.
And for what it’s worth so early in the season, the three-time Major champion has liked what he’s seen, not least from Rory McIlroy who will undoubtedly prove a key member of Harrington’s side when the biennial contest gets underway next September.
“I was watching it, not from a Ryder Cup perspective, just golf-wise,” said Harrington of McIlroy’s 4thplace finish at the Sentry Tournament of Champions and his 5thplace finish at the Farmers Insurance Open.
“I don’t think Rory is going to turn around and say, ‘wow I played my best golf’. Or ‘wow, I had any particularly great breaks of luck’ and all of a sudden, he’s fourth and fifth. How easy is that?”
“Most guys finishing fourth and fifth are saying, ‘Wow, I had a great week, didn’t I do well?’ Rory is walking away from both those weeks thinking, ugh, and yet that’s how close he is.”
For Harrington, a victory for McIlroy is not a matter of if but when with the Holywood superstar returning from a two week break for the February 14th starting Genesis Open at Riviera Country Club.
“I’d love to be sitting in his spikes going out next week because there is a win coming pretty quickly, and he is hoping it doesn’t come that quickly. He is hoping it comes in about 10 weeks’ time!
“But it’s right there. He could easily cross that line just with a putt or two dropping. Nothing has happened for him for two weeks, and he’s been close enough.”
Speaking at the launch of Peter Lawrie’s Spawell Golf Academy, the contrast between the lives of Rory McIlroy and Harrington himself seem to be widening with age. While Harrington might like the idea of walking a mile in Rory’s spikes, he’s more than happy to give McIlroy’s gym shoes a wide berth.
Often ridiculed for his excessive lifting in the gym, McIlroy’s robust weights routines are a distant memory in the rear-view mirror for a man who’s long served his time in that regard.
“Things have shifted for me,” admits Harrington. “I’m not as serious as I was and I don’t need to be as serious as I was. I was saying it before; I went three, three and a half years there where I didn’t eat a burger; never had a French fry.
“I was diet dedicated. That’s not me anymore. I’m out there enjoying myself. I want to play good golf, yeah, but I’m much more about being out there and having fun and enjoying what’s happening. I don’t think I could do the other thing anymore.
“I see the young guys out there doing it and I kinda go, ‘yeah, I’ve done that’. I’m not going to have 500 calories of a protein shake when I can have that in chocolate! The last couple of years I could have done it like that but I realise time changes and I’m not trying to hang onto being that guy.
“I still like practicing. I’m not doing as much as I used to but that’s the nature of the game. The main thing is I’m embracing it rather than trying to fight it.”