Padraig Harrington hoping resurgent Lee Westwood can play his way onto Ryder Cup team
Padraig Harrington believes Lee Westwood can earn automatic qualification for his Ryder Cup team and save him a dilemma when he considers his captain’s picks.
Westwood has been in blistering form over the last six months, capturing the Race to Dubai title for the third time last year and continuing his resurgence on the PGA Tour, with back-to-back top-10 finishes in Florida lifting him back into the top 20 in the world rankings.
The English veteran, who turns 48 next month, lost out to Bryson DeChambeau at Bay Hill and then finished just a shot behind Justin Thomas at The Players Championship on Sunday, and Harrington believes he can play his way into Europe’s team for Whistling Straits and “free up” a wildcard pick.
Harrington would welcome Westwood for both his playing abilities and his inspiration in the team room, something he admitted was sadly lacking for Europe when Nick Faldo did not select Darren Clarke in his team for the heavy defeat to Team USA at Valhalla in 2008.
“You’d love to have experienced guys who are playing well,” said Harrington ahead of this week’s Honda Classic. “You can’t just have an experienced guy for the sake of it. You want an experienced guy playing well, and it’s great to see Lee is playing well.
“I will look at my team and look at the balance and certainly you would probably ask him to do a little more than just play golf that week, but I’m looking at it and I seem to be getting a nice balance so far. The majority of the people who are going to qualify automatically look like that side of my team is really taking shape.
“Obviously Lee playing his way in frees up another spot for a pick, which would help some of the senior guys because I do have a number of senior players who are unlikely to make the team automatically. So everything about Lee playing well is a bonus for me.”
But when asked about what he learned from Europe’s defeat at Valhalla, Harrington insisted that Faldo sorely missed having a “team leader” in the locker room, with Ryder Cup stalwarts Colin Montgomerie and Clarke both missing.
“The US were a better team, straightforward, on a golf course that suited them,” Harrington added. “We didn’t gel very well together. I would have been a senior player there, with Lee Westwood and Miguel Angel Jimenez, but we didn’t really have a leader in the team room.
“I think maybe not picking Darren Clarke was one of the big mistakes of that Ryder Cup. You do need a personality in the team room. We didn’t have a Monty, so Darren would have done that job. I think if you look back, you could certainly look to that pick because it was a little bit missing in that team room.
“I had just won a couple of majors. I was too busy doing my own thing to be trying to take over that responsibility, and we were missing that for sure. We were missing a leader in the locker room. Whether it would have made a difference to the result? As I said, that seemed like a very strong US team.”
Harrington also welcomed the return to form of Open champion Shane Lowry at TPC Sawgrass, where his eight place finish was his first top-10 since the WGC-FedEx St Jude Invitational last August.
“Shane has been playing probably the best golf I’ve ever seen him play of recent,” he said. “He hasn’t been putting very well. As I’ve said about a few players, I’m never unhappy to see a player playing well but not quite get the results at this time of the year because I know they’re going to turn around for Shane.
“I can see good form there, and when it does turn around, it’s going to be at the appropriate time of the year. It’s going to be coming into, as you said, the majors, and then following up into the Ryder Cup. It is strange that Shane would be a rookie, but you do kind of think of him as a senior player.”
Harrington also admitted he was “startled” by Rory McIlroy’s revelation last week that chasing extra speed and distance – prompted by Bryson DeChambeau’s victory at the US Open – had been detrimental to his swing, clearly evident as he missed the cut by 10 shots at Sawgrass.
“It’s not like I haven’t done it myself, so I’m not going to sit here and pass judgment on him. I’m startled, Rory used that tool exactly in 2010 and 2011, and Rory’s long hitting and just hitting more drivers allowed the likes of DJ, Bubba Watson, J.B. Holmes – they were all trying to play golf like the rest of us at that stage.
“Rory came out and starting hitting drivers on more holes, being more aggressive off the tee. That’s when you started seeing these guys freeing up and going, oh, maybe we should hit drivers. What you do see on Tour now is pretty much the whole field now hits drivers on holes that used to be a lay-up off the tee, we all push that risk.
“Bryson being out there on his own is okay at the moment. The field doesn’t have to worry about one guy. Bryson obviously is a good player, a great player, so they do have to worry about him, but not excessively about his length.
“But you don’t have to do it right now. At the moment 180mph ball speed is plenty good enough. Rory has that easily. He’s the best driver of the ball in the game. So he doesn’t need to worry about it himself. If you’re trying to hang around for 10 years, you might have to think about trying to get those 190mph ball speeds.”
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