Padraig Harrington loves his European Ryder Cup team, finally confirmed on Sunday at the BMW Championship at Wentworth when the qualifying ended and he made his three captain’s picks.
Well he would, wouldn’t he? Harrington framed – or at least approved – the qualification process that had double points up for grabs in the last event before the cut. In a Rolex Series event, possibly the biggest and most prestigious annual one on the entire European Tour.
He was also the one who wanted three wildcard picks: not six like his US counterpart Steve Stricker, or four like his predecessor Thomas Bjorn.
TEAM EUROPE 🇪🇺👊 pic.twitter.com/QVSBYz7R7x
— Ryder Cup Europe (@RyderCupEurope) September 12, 2021
Harrington is at least as systematic and detailed a captain as both Bjorn and his friend Paul McGinley. He said himself that the level of precision both bought to the job “set the legacy for every captain who follows”.
A qualified accountant and more than a little analytical about his own game – there’s an understatement – Harrington was bound to be the same. Not least because Bjorn and McGinley won.
Here’s the main pointers for the finalised team, and those who just missed out.
Sergio Garcia was always in
Early in the year, Harrington gave a broad hint that the two main totems of the European’s run of success in the Ryder Cup this century were going to get picks if they needed.
Garcia is the all-time leading European points winner – he passed Nick Faldo three years ago in Paris. But it is Sergio’s presence in the team room that is just as important. He is a passionate leader, head cheerleader and more switched-on in strategy than you’d think.
It’s why Bjorn still picked him when he’d played like a drain all of 2018, missing the cut in all four majors. Sergio completely justified the decision, going 3-1 and being a central figure off the course. This year, of course, he’s playing far better than he was three years ago.
There was a clear enmity between Harrington and Garcia for many years, probably up until McGinley threw them together at Gleneagles. The fact that Padraig seems to have had no question in is mind whatsoever that Sergio needed to be on the team shows he recognises how indispensable he is.
So was Ian Poulter
— Ryder Cup Europe (@RyderCupEurope) September 12, 2021
Poulter has the best Ryder Cup record of anyone with 20 matches or more on the European side, and only Arnold Palmer and Hale Irwin edge him from the US. He’s now been a wildcard five times out of his seven appearances, but that’s because, as the nickname suggests, he delivers.
Like Garcia, Poulter’s actually playing better now than at any time he’s previously been a pick. And usefully, he’ll be a willing lightning rod for the inevitable hostility of the US fans.
Unlike some who get upset at being called someone else’s name, Poults loves that stuff and feeds off the energy.
Vice captain Graeme McDowell joked that Harrington’s selection was actually two wildcard picks and Ian Poulter. Except it actually wasn’t a joke.
The last pick was between Shane Lowry and Justin Rose…and Alex Noren?
— Shane Lowry (@ShaneLowryGolf) September 12, 2021
A twitter battle inevitably ensued between fans of Lowry and Rose even before the pick was made. That was mostly entertaining to see people tying themselves in knots producing “convincing” stats that prove their man was a certainty.
Neither was, of course. Lowry is 40th in the world, Rose 42nd. Lowry’s fans insisted he was the form player but the figures don’t really bear that out.
The play that would have made him a certainty is two years ago now. He’s been consistent, but there’s nothing startling in there.
Rose led the Masters after the first round, was top ten in the PGA (as was Lowry) and it can easily be argued he is in better form right now – a T10 and T6 in his last two events.
Noren was the man none of us thought about, but Harrington mentioned him a lot so he must have been close. The Swede, a good team member in Paris, had “incredible stats” and they thought his game would fit Whistling Straits.
Lowry’s game would be a fit for the venue as well. But Rose has masses of Ryder Cup experience in comparison and played well at the last major there.
In the end, it’s a judgement call. Harrington was at pains to stress his close friendship with Lowry made it more difficult to pick him. Clearly any bias was only ever going to be subconscious. The contenders were so close in profile, you have to wonder.
But would the absence of either diminish the team? They’re both quality players and characters, so probably not. Somebody had to miss out.
Wiesberger is not the weak link
— Bernd Wiesberger (@BWiesberger) September 12, 2021
The first Austrian to play in the Ryder Cup has been close before. He’s won eight events worldwide. He’s got a game which should suit Whistling Straits, he’s popular with his new team-mates so should be a great fit.
Over the weekend at Wentworth Wiesberger had massive stress levels knowing how close it was. He left no doubt he was claiming his place.
As Lee Westwood said when he thought he’d missed out, anyone who qualifies deserves their place, anyone who doesn’t has no excuses.
Harrington says he won’t have to hide anyone on his team. But he’s got to be concerned about some other automatic picks.
Westwood hasn’t really played well since March. Tyrrell Hatton limped over the line, missing the cut at Wentworth. At least Matt Fitzpatrick showed some form at the weekend.
There’s where captaincy and the presence of Garcia and Poulter will hopefully bring those players up. It didn’t happen at Hazeltine or Valhalla, but has on every other occasion for Europe this century.