Right about now, Padraig Harrington should be putting the finishing touches to his Ryder Cup Battle Plan. In a sane and normal world, every one of his waking hours would be focussed on Whistling Straits and defending the Samuel Ryder trophy won in rampant fashion by Thomas Bjorn’s European heroes three years ago. Sadly, it’s not a normal world right now and Covid-19 has now officially pushed the 43rd Ryder Cup back to September 2021. Happily, the postponement has given Padraig more time to fine-tune that Ryder Cup Battle Plan – and to reflect here on a lifetime in the game.
Rescheduling the Ryder Cup had to be done. It was never going to be an easy decision given the many factors that had to be taken into consideration, but I believe it is the right assessment given the unprecedented circumstances we are facing at this time. When you think of the Ryder Cup you think of the distinctive atmosphere generated by the spectators, such as around the first tee at Le Golf National three years ago. If that atmosphere could not be responsibly recreated at Whistling Straits in September, then it was correct that we all wait until it can be.
An extra year has given me plenty of time to plan. At the time, September 2021 felt like a long time away, but it has come around quickly and I guarantee that the European players and I are as ready as we’ll ever be. I can’t wait.
Going back through the years, the question I’m asked most often is ‘At what age did you start playing golf?’ I was four-years-old, but I don’t really remember it too well. I spent a lot of time as a small boy on the golf course at Stackstown, County Dublin, chasing rabbits or playing golf. The whole family worked on the course there, so it was with me from an early age.
Watching Jack Nicklaus win the Masters in 1986 had a massive influence on me. The passion, the hype, the adrenalin, it all came out from the TV for me and into the sitting room. You felt as if you were there. I was 15, and it made a real impression on me that remains to this day.
I played a lot of other sports growing up. I played Gaelic football and captained the schools team. I was a solid full-back, but probably wasn’t physically fit enough to make it. And I played in goal in football. I had a trial for Dublin schoolboys as a goalkeeper. The trials involved playing for 15 minutes. In the first minute I received a back pass and let it through my legs. It was a blessing, really, but that finished my football career. I can remember standing there for 14 minutes, knowing it was pointless.
I studied accountancy and passed all my exams, but I don’t think I would have ended up as an accountant. I think I’d have been more likely to have ended up in the business end of golf, managing a course or representing players.
I turned pro almost by accident. I saw the guys I was beating as an amateur turning pro, so I thought I should do the same. It wasn’t because I thought I was good enough. So I turned pro and I thought that if I did well, maybe I’d make a comfortable living on the tour. I thought I’d keep my head down for a couple of years on tour, learn the ropes and see what I needed to do to improve. But then I won the Spanish Open in my first season and it all went crazy. It was just fairytale stuff. I just kept my head down and ran with it.
At one point I had 29 second-place finishes and it took me time to realise that I could play well on Sunday, but not score as well as I played. I remember putting them into seven or eight categories of how those second places panned out. They were actually completely different. But it was a good learning experience. I was up there competing and just learning my trade.
It’s better in golf to be erratic than consistent. You’re better off having your wins than being consistent but never tasting victory. Winning is what you’re remembered for. The problem you have in America is with statistics showing a player having six top 25s so far this year. That’s just horrible! Why would you be telling anybody you’ve had six top 25s? I wouldn’t play the game to have six top 25s: it’s either the chance of winning… or nothing.
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