Pádraig Harrington is relieved he will have another year to prepare for the Ryder Cup after the COVID-19 pandemic threw his team qualifying preparations into disarray.
The European captain made it clear from the start that he wanted a highly competitive qualifying campaign and with many Europeans only returning to golf this week, he has now frozen qualifying until January 1 with a view to getting the most competitive team possible in September 2021.
Asked by RTE’s Greg Allen if had mixed feelings of disappointment and relief after months of speculation about the viability of staging September’s matches at Whistling Straits, Harrington said: “Definitely both feelings.
“Disappointed. But as you say, this has been coming for a number of weeks. I have been waiting on the news for the last couple of weeks but now that it is confirmed, it is certainly relief at this stage.
“The decision is taken purely on health and safety. With the set up of the golf course, for example, the workers would have had to go in at this stage and you can’t ask anybody to go out in these conditions necessarily.”
“But there were many complications behind the scenes that really would have made it very difficult for me as captain to go there with the team I wanted to go there with.”
Those complications included the difficulty of assembling a strong team as Harrington was always against following in the footsteps of opposite number Steve Stricker, who increased his wildcards from four to six when three months of the season were lost to the COVID-19 crisis.
Harrington had three picks and while he might have gone to four had the matches gone ahead, he was unikely to go beyond that as he believes wildcards feel more pressure and keeping them to a minimum helps the team.
Winning 2014 skipper Paul McGinley believes the postponement of the Ryder Cup is good news for Harrington as the US players are in tremendous form right now and many European and US stars had opposed playing behind closed doors
Asked by Sky Sports if he had sympathy for Harrington, McGinley said: “I don’t think sympathy is the word. He will be prepared. He was going to be prepared if it had to be played this year.
“If it had to be played this year I would have had more sympathy for him because he was making things up on the hoof with this new world that we are living in at the moment. Next year, all things going well, we are going to pretty much return to normal.
“We will have a pretty good qualification process in play and the Europeans will be showing good form and maybe the Americans mightn’t be as hot as they are at the moment. They seem to be winning every week on the PGA Tour. So it might work out from the European perspective.”
Having an in-form team is key for Harrington but it will also be important that Europe brings an army of supporters to Wisconsin next year, providing the COVID-19 pandemic eases.
“That was a big factor but I am not saying that was the overriding factor,” Harrington said of the reluctance of stars such as Rory McIlroy to play behind closed doors or in front of a reduced gallery. “But I think the PGA of America and Ryder Cup Europe had to consider that.
“The players didn’t want to be there without the fans and the fans certainly didn’t want to be not allowed to go. Talking to anybody from Europe, nobody was going to travel over to it.
“At the moment it is two weeks quarantine so it’s like a five-week trip if you wanted to go. Nobody was going to travel to the Ryder Cup and they would have missed out. I think for the fans and the players, we didn’t want a Ryder Cup without the spectators.
“It shows from our perspective how much we appreciate the fans. But when it comes down to it and the reality that we could be there without fans, the players spoke out.
“They really do play the Ryder Cup for the glory of it. There is no money involved. The players don’t get paid. They play because of the glory.”