Challenges ahead for Pádraig Harrington as Irish Open kicks off this week

Challenges ahead for Pádraig Harrington as Irish Open kicks off this week

THIS week should have saw the 43rd Ryder Cup contested at Whistling Straits in Wisconsin.   

However, due to the perils of Covid-19, the rescheduled Irish Open will instead take centre stage this week as, like most things this year, the 2020 Ryder Cup was postponed to next year.

In truth, while fortunate to be happening at all, this year's Irish Open at Galgorm Castle in Ballymena is a pale imitation to previous years - with the total prize money around a fifth of what it was in 2019 and the field lacking big names.

Still, at least Ireland’s Shane Lowry, Paul Dunne and Europe’s captain for next year’s Ryder Cup, Pádraig Harrington, will be playing.

Yet the latter of the three would be forgiven for being distracted from his game as he thinks of player selections and tactics for next year’s Ryder Cup.

Here are three issues Harrington should look to solve over the next 12 months to help him lead Europe to victory.

Find the right balance between rookies and experience 

Fortunately for Harrington, there are a number of European players currently breaking through, with the likes of England’s Tom Lewis, Scotland’s Robert MacIntyre and Lowry, of course, who won last year’s Open. Some of those players could qualify for the team automatically or will be knocking on the door for a wildcard to make their debuts.

Yet the question for Harrington is: does he really want to be going away to the United States, in a powder keg of an atmosphere, with numerous inexperienced rookies? For example, Darren Clarke, as captain in 2016, had five first timers on his team at Hazeltine and suffered a crushing 17-11 defeat. Hence, getting the balance right between youth and experience will be massively key for Harrington’s success.

Not overthink things 

Something Harrington is never going to be found lacking in is commitment to the job. After all, one of his best characteristics, alongside the unyielding belief in his abilities, is his constant search to be the best. It’s why he was selected for the captaincy of an away match - a mission which has fast become daunting considering nine of the last 11 Ryder Cups have been won by the home team.

But, at the same time, while Harrington lives and breathes the game - this is a man who measured the gradient of a slope at Augusta one year using a spirit level - such obsessiveness and adventure, without clear thinking, could turn out to be his downfall. Sometimes keeping things simple work best.

Calm tensions with American supporters 

Unlike what happened in 2016, Harrington and his players should not give the American fans, who have become notoriously boorish in recent years, anything to chew on. In a completely ill-judged move, the last time the Ryder Cup was held in the US, Danny Willett’s brother released an untimely piece referring to supporters across the water as “cretins”. While the fans proceeded to ramp up the abuse towards England’s Willett and others, the US players used the insult as inspiration to win.

Five years on from Hazeltine, you can only imagine that the heckling of European players will be worse and that a wounded US team will want revenge for their 2018 Paris drubbing. Harrington should not only get his players ready for a hostile atmosphere but make sure they don’t add any fuel to the fire this time round.