CAPTTAINS

Ryder Cup 2021: Harrington v's Stricker

By Ronan MacNamara

After three years of preparation, one would think that when the week of the Ryder Cup begins it’s time for Pádraig Harrington and Steve Stricker to sit back and let the players do the talking, but it is the complete opposite.

Being a Ryder Cup captain can be a thankless task considering the number of uncontrollable variables that are out of their hands. In fact, other than selecting the pairings on Friday and Saturday and the order of Sunday’s singles matches, nearly everything else is out of Harrington and Stricker’s control.

When the 24 players arrive in Wisconsin on the Monday it will be the captain’s job to make sure the three practice days go swimmingly on and off the course. Both captain’s have served their apprenticeship as vice captains over the years and will draw on those experiences and the methods previous captains used to get the best out of their teams in years gone by.

Paul McGinley has set the bar very high after his meticulous approach at Gleneagles in 2014 including drafting in Sir Alex Ferguson as a motivational speaker before the first day of play.

McGinley left no stone unturned, so much so that his stint as Ryder Cup captain is still talked about seven years later.

Thomas Bjorn was the last European Ryder Cup captain and he went for a much more laid back approach, playing a video of Conor Moore - better known as Conor Sketches - doing impersonations of all the players which brought the house down in tears of laughter.

That seems to be the European way, togetherness, bonding, making friendships that last a lifetime, who can forget that week in 2018 when Molywood was born!

Europe seem to irk out some unlikely pairings who go on to achieve great things in the blue and gold and that comes from a proper team spirit established in the locker room.

For Harrington, the job of pairing people together should come a whole lot easier than his opposing captain who will have his hands full in the egotistical home dressing room.

Europe have not gone without their feuds either, the relationship between Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell had soured by the time 2012 and 2014 rolled around but in typical European fashion any grudges are put aside for the week.

It is no secret that Harrington and Sergio Garcia were once arch enemies after their famous battles at Carnoustie in 2007 and at Oakland Hills in 2008 but they have patched things up to a point where they are civil and have shared many Ryder Cup dressing rooms together since to great effect.

Most of all the Miracle at Medinah in 2012 was probably the greatest captain’s performance in terms of inspiring a team. José María Olazabal is an emotional man at the best of times and in the wake of the passing of his dear friend Seve Ballesteros the 12-men of Europe were more motivated than ever to win the Ryder Cup that Sunday in the greatest comeback in golf and one of the great sporting comebacks.

The lasting image of that week is how the players reiterated how much they wanted to win it for ‘Ollie’ and how the Spaniard had the locker room in tears after some of his speeches in between sessions.

Will Harrington leave anybody in tears? Probably not, but I expect him to be as meticulous as McGinley and I think he will have a passionate plea up his sleeve behind closed doors. I mean, we have seen how gutsy and determined he can be when he won his three majors. I expect the Dubliner to channel his experiences of winning majors and Ryder Cups down through the years

Becoming a winning Ryder Cup captain would cap off a wonderful career for Harrington who has grinded out every single inch out of his game to get to where he is today and after just turning 50 this would be a nice way to finish his full Tour career before he decides on committing to the Champions Tour or not.

Historically the aftermath of the Ryder Cup has painted the US team in a poor light, most recent cases include the American team declining to have a post-match beer with the victorious European Team in 2012 and when Phil Mickelson publicly hit out at then captain Tom Watson after losing to Europe at Gleneagles in 2014, when Tom Watson was sitting at the same table as him!

Ryder Cup 2020 _EC96004

Steve Stricker US and Padraig Harrington Europe during Monday’s Preview Day.

The Bryson DeChambeau and Brooks Koepka spat will divide the locker room and it is not like the team is filled with wonderful personalities, Patrick Reed has already proven to be a divisive character after a falling out with Jordan Spieth which has seen their highly successful partnership come to an end for now.

Koepka has already said he would rather not play alongside his teammate this week while DeChambeau countered that by saying “I think it would be funny.”

Phil Mickelson is another dominating personality in the locker room, while Dustin Johnson and Cantlay are about as much craic as a piece of paper if their on-course demeanours are to be believed and seem to struggle to integrate themselves amongst their peers.

While the American side have the best team on paper, boasting eight players in the top-10, Europe have always proven tough underdogs and have dominated the Ryder Cup, winning seven of the last nine contests since the turn of the Millennium.

Teamwork really does make the dream work and a huge part of Stricker’s agenda will be to bring a group of egotistical individuals together for one week. One fears the collapse of the US locker room should things not go their way early on.

This year there will be the added caveat of keeping the fans onside which seems unheard of. The Europeans will be bracing themselves for the tirade of abuse they are about to receive, similar to the vile jibes aimed at Danny Willett and Chris Wood in 2016 but could we see the home support turn on their own players? They’ve done it before this season.

The Bryson and Brooksie banter has clouded the PGA Tour season so much that commissioner Jay Monahan has had to intervene and impose a ban on anyone caught calling DeChambeau ‘Brooksie.’

These are grown men being subjected to elementary school discipline.

There seems to be something simmering both in the American team and in the fanbase and the potential for both players and fans to boil over and be divided is rife.

Stricker, commonly known as a reserved soul has a serious job on his hands to unite the locker room or scenes of Bryson or for arguments sake, Koepka lashing out at one of their own fans could become the talking point in Whistling Straits.

With European crowds set to be limited in comparison to other years for obvious reasons, it will only spur on Harrington’s charges to silence the partisan stars and stripes and I feel the task at hand will be much easier for Paddy than it will be for Stricker who will find it hard to come up with successful pairings once he has already exhausted himself from babysitting and satisfying the egos of his players.

That being said, if the 54-year-old can get everyone singing off the same hymn sheet for 90 holes of golf then the USA can live up to their favourites tag.

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