January 27, 2021
Emirates Golf Club
NEIL AHERN: Thank you for joining us, Pádraig. Your second event of the season. I think we all know what your goals will be off the course this year, but can you tell us about your goals on the course and how your game is looking heading into the 2021 season?
PÁDRAIG HARRINGTON: Yeah, it's pretty simple for me. Obviously I'm 50 years of age this year and I'll have to make a decision at that stage about where I'm going to play my golf, so I've kind of been trying to be serious about my golf and go out there and play as well as I can with the idea that if I can compete with these young guys, I want to try staying competing with them.
So in the next eight, nine months, if I can contend to win a tournament, win a tournament, if I feel like I have a chance of contending a major, winning a major, well, then I'll stick at it. If not, it's time to move on.
It's kind of a nice eight months for me, kind of a serious, get out there and concentrate on the good stuff, whereas I often push things down the road and want to play well next year. Well, I've got sort of eight months to prove myself and that's it.
NEIL AHERN: Just with your Ryder Cup Captain hat on, I'm sure you watched Tyrrell Hatton's victory last week with great interest. Can you tell us how impressed you were, first of all, by that victory, and his performance over the last 12 months or so.
PÁDRAIG HARRINGTON: Yeah, for sure, he's everything you'd want in a player for sure. Obviously plenty of good golfers out there but Tyrrell does seem to have it when he comes under pressure on the big occasions with big players staring him down, like he was going against Rory last week and going against Tommy Fleetwood. He's a Ryder Cup Captain's dream, isn't he. That's exactly what you want, a player that has that gumption and can really get it done.
Even though he's won four times over the last year, they have been nicely spread out and it not flash-in-the-pan stuff. He keeps delivering. Very impressive with his win in Bay Hill last year I thought down the stretch and again he proved it last week. Rory took an early lead, and it would have been easy for Tyrrell to play nicely and finish I can second or third but he took that tournament by the scruff of the neck, and from a captain's point of view it was very impressive. That's the sort of stuff I'd like to see all my players doing.
Q Just talking to Lee Westwood last week, and he was obviously at the time in the team as it stands, but he mentioned that with the points system the way it is, he didn't think it was worth looking at at this point because of the way the points increase throughout year. Is that the same attitude you'll have? Will you not think too much about it until later in the season?
PÁDRAIG HARRINGTON: Well, I do agree the points are set up to give current players who come in and play well for the next eight months, if you play well, you will make the team.
But I think, I hope I set the points up, and I was very involved in this, to respect those players who have already played well. So like Victor Perez, he's almost there with his points. The work he's done, when it was qualification period, that hasn't been thrown away.
I think what Lee is trying to say is that Lee doesn't need to know where he stands well and all he needs to do is play well over the next eight months. And I think any player -- and Lee has had a nice start. It's not like he hasn't. But any player who isn't in the reckoning right now, they just need to play well over the next eight months and they will make the team. There's plenty of time for people to make the team.
But on the other side of that, there's a few players who have certainly broken the back of the work that needs to be done, just like Victor Perez. He's at a great place. He's on both tables based on his play from a year ago.
So it's not discounting what people have done in the past, which I think part of The Ryder Cup is about being fair to all the players and giving everybody a fair, possible chance of making the team.
Q You mentioned, I was going to ask you about Victor Perez who you played with last week in the first and second rounds. Another player you played with, coming from a parochial standpoint, Bob MacIntyre. He had a pretty good end of last year, and of course the previous year. He's obviously not as far on as Perez, but what would he have to do to get into your consideration?
PÁDRAIG HARRINGTON: He's definitely a good enough player to make The Ryder Cup Team. He's one of the future players of The European Tour. It could be his time in the next eight, nine months, there's no doubt about it.
From a statistical point of view and from a personality point of view, he's kind of a hearty fella, which you want. He's a tough customer. He's a fighter. He gets it done which very important when it comes to match play, and we've already looked at the stats and he's very, very balanced, so actually would work very well in different formats, foursomes, fourballs.
So he actually -- you know, as a rookie, he needs to play himself really tight to the team obviously. You won't be picking a rookie 16th or 17th or whatever, but if he's there or thereabouts, he's a player you would be very happy to have on the team based on the way he plays golf and also on his personality. He's a fighter. You put him out anywhere in a match, and talking to him, he likes that. He has that little bit of, I won't say he has a chip on his shoulder, but he certainly fights like he has a little bit of a point to prove.
Q Listen, on the back of Rory McIlroy's finish last week and we know Rory is going to be a cornerstone of your team going to Whistling Straits, what do you sort of say to Rory in those moments after sort of Sunday? And I know the answer to this question, but what do you think about the overall picture, and as I said to you earlier at the start of this question, he's going to be on the team for sure?
PÁDRAIG HARRINGTON: Yeah, look, 100 per cent, there's a few stalwarts that are definitely going to be there. Wouldn't we all like to play as bad as Rory McIlroy, that's just how it is. He's there every week. You look on and just wish you could have weeks like him because you know plenty of wins are going to come, and Rory has been great in his career; that he has had periods where he's just not winning.
This is a better period of not winning. The best period Rory has ever had of not winning is this at the moment. He's there or thereabouts all the time. If you looked at this three, four, five years ago he could have been missing a few cuts on this run. Now he's just contending. Right, he's not getting it across the line at the very end, but when he does, he'll go on a run and maybe he comfortably could have a run of winning six, seven, eight times in a year.
And from a Ryder Cup point of view, a little bit selfish, I'm kind of happy to see it. He was playing unbelievable at the start of last year and I said it at that stage, I'd just like to rein him in a little bit and hold him back. We don't want him burning himself out. We want him fresh and ready to go come September.
So I would be -- I'm actually very pleased with where he's at, yeah. I like seeing him just a little bit -- Rory is at his best when he's trying to prove a point or two. Obviously there's a bit of pressure on him, and there's a bit of media speculation, let's say, and Rory is always at his best like that. So bring it on. He's in great form and just keep pushing him, and the best comes out of him.
Q Did you get a chance to seek with him last week out at Abu Dhabi?
PÁDRAIG HARRINGTON: Oh, yeah, absolutely. To be honest, these bubble events are quite good in that sense because we're all in the same place. We're meeting up quite a bit and it's been good for me to be able to meet the guys and do a bit of planning.
The one thing we can't do obviously is we can't sit down and have dinners because you've got to stay with your buddy, so I planned with most -- not most, but some of the players at this stage, looking into when I can sit down and go through what they think and what they need and what goes on in their heads as regards to Ryder Cup. Last week I certainly started that process with Rory, chatting away with him, and we're going to sit down now when we're allowed to, when we're allowed to sit down and have more of a detailed chat.
At the moment, I'm just going through stuff. Robert Karlsson is here for these couple of weeks and we've been doing quite a bit and obviously Luke, we do it by text. It's getting things in position, but for sure there is a little bit of a bonus to this that we are all in the one space, in the one bubble. So I do get to see the players a bit more.
Q Just in terms of The Ryder Cup itself, given everything that's still going on in the world, especially with travel and stuff like that, should there be an acceptance that it may not be a normal Ryder Cup at all in terms of crowds and things? I know you're not a scientist but you'll have a bit more to say than we do.
PÁDRAIG HARRINGTON: Yeah, I'm with you on that. I read up personally on everything that's happening and I'm very interested in it, but you know, when it comes to public opinion, I'm certainly no scientist. You just can't predict what it's going to be like in September. We go through all -- I assume everybody goes through highs and lows thinking that, hey, it's all going to be over soon, and then it's not going to be over.
I think the only thing I can do as a Ryder Cup Captain is prepare myself and my team as best I can with the idea that it's full steam ahead. I don't think -- I know The European Tour will do the planning, or The European Tour Ryder Cup and The PGA of America will do the planning for all contingencies.
But as a captain, it's above my pay grade, and it's just about getting my team ready. There's no doubt there's going to be a Ryder Cup this year. I just, well, can't say that either, but you know, within all reason, The Ryder Cup will be there and played, and I suspect because of being later in the year, being after the summer, that it could be close to normal, you know, in some sense.
But you know, it's -- it's just outside my pay grade. I don't get to make a decision on that. I've got to turn up and play with whatever conditions, as every golfer. We have to turn up and play with what we are presented with, and that's very much the case at The Ryder Cup.
But I think from the discussions I'm having, from the work I'm doing, it is full steam ahead as if everything is going to be within reason, everything is going to be able to go ahead as normal, in whatever the new normal is, I think is the way we'll look at it.
You know, I know if it does go ahead with full spectators and things like that, it will be a seriously, seriously big party. I think the relief for people to get out there and go to a sporting event of that magnitude will be -- it will be palpable, and I'm sure the players will appreciate it. Maybe I'm being hopeful, but that's exactly what I want to see.
Q On the flipside, if it has to be a reduced crowd, say, we just have to live with that and get on with it and that's what it has to be?
PÁDRAIG HARRINGTON: 100 per cent. At the end of the day, there is no -- there's no wiggle room this time for -- I don't believe there is wiggle room, for pushing this back. It's full steam ahead.
I suppose I could have said the same thing this time last year; that I was planning -- well, not this time, but certainly March last time we were planning to go full steam ahead and deal with all contingencies as they came along. We are in the same boat now, but I'm an optimist, and I believe we will be good to go in a capacity for sure that the players will want to be there and enjoy it.
Q Just looking at the current rankings, you've got so many established names, Sergio, Justin, Molinari, who are outside the automatic places as the moment, are you concerned about any of their form, and is the American idea of having six wildcards, is that looking like increasingly a good idea in such an unpredictable year?
PÁDRAIG HARRINGTON: Certainly I did have a choice in how many wildcards I had, and I didn't want any more than three. I believe players should be given the right to qualify. Those who qualify deserve to be there. I think that's why we're good in Europe because of the system. We give everybody a chance.
It shouldn't be exclusive; that it's only limited to those who are supposedly the best players. You've got to give the rookies a chance to qualify. You've got to give them a fair crack of the whip. Everybody who is on The European Tour who is eligible feels like, hey, I have a chance of making this team. And that's very important for the morale of the team; that everybody feels they are part of it, and giving me six picks would have given me a hell of a headache. I just don't think it would help the morale of the team.
When you have a lot of options, at one stage we were talking about eight options. If you have eight picks; the more picks you have, the more people you have who think they can make it. If you have eight picks and you have 24 guys in contention, that's 730,000 distinct teams you can to come up with. That's going to cause -- everybody is going to second-guess that. Whereas if you have three picks and maybe five people in contention, I think that's maybe 20 different outcomes you can come up with; so there's not as many doubt or second-guessing.
And you don't want any doubt when you come to your team. You don't want somebody on the team thinking I should have picked somebody else that would have made a good partner for them or something like that. You want to narrow down that; my three picks are to build on the nine players who qualify, that's exactly it. I'm not interested in picking the 10th, 11th, 12th best player. I'm interested in picking three players who complement in foursomes and fourball and in attitude, whilst the other nine players who qualified are.
As regards to age of players, yeah, an extra year is going to be a year too far for some of the older guys. There is a little bit of a changing of the guard. I am looking forward to seeing a few rookies come through in the next eight months and set themselves out as the new stars.
As regards the likes of Frankie, I was delighted to see he played last week, as we all were, and showed some nice form. To be honest, I never worry about Sergio's form. Sergio, when it comes to The Ryder Cup, he knows what he's doing.
So things like that, I do look, and there's other older guys who are just -- are they changing, are they moving out, but the next eight months will decide that. And for sure, when we come to it, there will be -- there might be half a dozen guys who were stalwarts who maybe three have moved on and three will make the team and I might pick one or two of the others. It depends what's in the team, as well. Depends how many rookies and things like that. You will want some of the older guys for sure for their experience but you'll also want to young guys. So it will come down to who qualifies, really, at the end of the day.
Q Just a little bit of a follow-up to that. Given the changing of the guard that you alluded to there, how do you get to meet a lot of the young players on course, and do you have a role in terms of how tee times are made up at tournaments you're at and who you want to play with?
PÁDRAIG HARRINGTON: We have a role in, yeah, every European Tour event, I have a role and my vice captains in suggesting some options, even the ones I'm not at, trying to build up partnerships during the year.
You know, later on in the year could be a situation of playing young guys who are potentially going to make it with some of the senior players who are going to be on the team. At the moment, it's more myself and Robert just getting to meet some of the younger guys that we wouldn't have been -- like Jock said, I played with Bob MacIntyre last week, guys like that, Victor Perez, just building a relationship with them.
I'm not there to judge them. That's the one thing I want to set out straight. Players play golf their own way and they deliver their own scores, and if they perform and make the team, they deserve to be there. It's not for me to decide that, you know, a guy who is not a great ball-striker, if he shoots 69, he's better than the guy who is a great ball-striker and shoots 70. The score is the judge. I'm just there to meet them and just build a relationship.
I really don't like this idea of that I'm out there looking at them and analyzing them, because, look, their score determines how good a player they are. Doesn't matter what I think about how they get it done. It's the score. And we always have to get away from that sort of side of things.
I will look at the stats, and you do, when it comes to picks, you're wondering is a player suited for foursomes or fourball. But when I'm playing with them and what we're looking at, it's just relationships. It's just about building up the familiarity so that if they do make the team, if they are in the team, that they are comfortable to be able to come and say something to me if they need to.
Q Just a quick question. You mentioned your vice captains there briefly. How close are we to finding out who the others are going to be?
PÁDRAIG HARRINGTON: It's a quick question but you know me, it will be a long answer.
You know what, I would know -- I say that there's definitely one up for grabs. There's a few that are waiting on how the players play, but I think when you look at my vice captains, there's three more to come, they will all be based on players who are playing and who don't make the team. I'm not -- there's nothing -- there's nothing coming out of left field.
It's players who are senior players who still have a chance of making it into the team, and if don't make it on the team, will be included as vice captains.
Q What's your cutoff point?
PÁDRAIG HARRINGTON: Well, there's no real cutoff point to be honest. I've talked to a few of them and told them that they will be there. They know -- some of them know who they are. But you know, as I said, I still have options.
I don't believe there is a cutoff point. It will come as it happens. We'll see how players are playing. But it's going to be some of the senior players who are vying for the team. It will be interesting. You don't want them too close, so, yeah, it's not a question -- it's never great if you pick somebody who is vice captain. I'm not saying this won't happen, but if they finish 13th or 12th in the rankings and you pick them as vice captain, it's not a great option because they tend to bring some more doubt into the team. We have seen that happen in the past. So that could influence it.
But there's no set date for picking vice captains. The ones who know they are going to be vice captains kind of know they will be there or thereabouts at the end of the year, anyway.
Q Graeme McDowell, just looking at the people he's been drawn to play with over the last couple of weeks, Pieters, Hřjgaard, Lowry and Willett this week would he be one of those people who would be a player or a vice captain, he's in that category, is he?
PÁDRAIG HARRINGTON: Who is that?
Q Graeme McDowell.
PÁDRAIG HARRINGTON: Yeah, Graeme was excellent last time, so he would definitely somebody you would have an eye on to be vice captain.
I think Thomas had a very good backroom staff the last time. We had quite a few different personalities in that grouping. Some guys who were heavy on the stats, some guys heavy on the emotional side of it, and I think between us, we came up with nice options and balance for Thomas to make his decisions off, and Graeme was very much part of that.
So yeah, from what I saw, he makes a very good vice captain. He does have the ear of players and the respect of players, so it's certainly a possibility that he could be, may be, who knows.
Q What does he bring to the team, is it more the emotional sense or the statistical sense?
PÁDRAIG HARRINGTON: I think he was quite balanced in both sides. I would have said he was more middle of the road. He had a little bit of emotion and could appreciate the statistical side of it.
I think what he does bring is he's well respected by his peers, and I think that's very important. You could give Graeme a job and he'd be well capable of looking after players, and the players will be very happy with him being their go-to guy, a kind of mentor-ish role. So he's strong in all departments when it comes to that because he does have the respect of the players.
Q The Tiger documentary, this may come slightly out of left field, but the Tiger documentary which has just been shown over here, have you teen it?
PÁDRAIG HARRINGTON: It hasn't been released, has it?
Q It has. It's been released in America and over here.
PÁDRAIG HARRINGTON: It wasn't released before I left. I haven't seen it. I knew it was released in the States but it had not been legally released in Europe, so of course I haven't seen it. I wouldn't be using any of those dodgy sites or anything like that. Haven't seen it.
But the good news is I've met the man, so I don't necessarily need to see it. It's not something -- I wouldn't be running out to watch it or anything like that. I assume more because I know him. I know Tiger Woods. I know who he is. I know who he is today, which is really all that matters to me, the guy I played against on the golf course and the guy I know today. Whatever is there -- I don't know.
Like I'm not sure about documentaries. I really like -- I've watched a few of The Open Chronicles and I've really enjoyed those, because you don't know sometimes the history of players and how they came about.
Certainly from that side, I've enjoyed The Open Chronicles when it comes to being a documentary, but I haven't been necessarily running out to watch the Tiger one. I know it's not the official one and I saw the release by his manager, and you know, yeah, I'm kind of the opinion, I've got access to him now in terms of playing golf and who he is, and that's good enough for me. It's a better way to judge somebody when you actually have that inside track rather than maybe letting something else do it for you.
Q You say you know him; do you like him?
PÁDRAIG HARRINGTON: Yeah. He's an interesting character because I always thought he was one of the best guys to play golf with. Really good guy. I found him on the golf course so easy to play with. He only said "good shot" when you hit a good shot. He chatted enough but never about golf. He was serious. He was really good to play with. It was all about the golf.
I think I think back then it was harder to get to know him. I met him a few places socially, a few of these, like here or like this, we'd be at a corporate event or something like that. I've met him at a few barbecues and things off the golf course.
I think I can follow his career and empathise with how he has changed and matured because of family and kids. I can see that in my own life. I see him -- I'd like to see the parallels between myself and him; that, you know, definitely early on in our career, we were just so focused on our golf, what we were doing. You know, nothing got in our way.
And I can see as we get older, and certainly for me and I see that now with Tiger, that we appreciate being out here and actually enjoying everything that goes on. Where it was all about golf early on, now I enjoy the events and the places I go and I enjoy the venues, and I enjoy the company and I enjoy going out -- I love going out with the Irish lads and I see that with Tiger more now.
In his heyday, he'd walk on the range and he would obviously say hello to me because we were somewhat a peer of his, but now I see him, he's more relaxed. He chats more. He's not as businesslike as he was. He has mellowed out, and I like the fact that -- I suppose I like the fact that I can see the parallels of how you go through different stages.
What I'm basically saying is you can't be that intently focused out here for 25, 30 years. If you want to keep playing, as I'm trying to do, you've got to find a different angle to bring you the interest and focus. You just can't -- I can't do what I would have done 20 years ago, and I don't think Tiger can. That's why I kind of like watching the way he has changed.
Yeah, for sure, I think he's a very, very solid, straight guy. No, you know -- in conversations, I know sometimes he can be guarded with you guys, the media. But when we're chatting, he can be straight enough up and is a good guy to have a discussion with.
Q When you saw all the hoopla that surrounded his son, he and his son played in that tournament, did you think to yourself, would I have ever done that with my son; would I ever put my son in a situation like that?
PÁDRAIG HARRINGTON: My 3 1/2-year-old run on to the green ran on to The Open and said, "Can you put ladybirds in the Claret Jug." I think he's been famous since then. He's had to live with it, anyway. Everybody still to this day; a player came up to me today and said, could that be -- "is that the little fella who ran onto the green, is he that big?"
Yeah, look, everything in life, I suppose there's a relative payback, and Charlie, clearly, he loves golf, but because he's chosen to go down that road, there's going to be a huge amount of focus forever on him, and whether he was in that tournament or not, there's videos of him playing mini-events and things like that. I think it probably was an appropriate way to bring him out, lead him out into the limelight. He's going to be there.
You can't hide him from it. There's no situation that you can imagine that you can deflect and hide him. That wouldn't be a normal life, either. You have to understand that just like being a professional golfer, if I want to be successful, I have to accept the level of fame that goes with it, and most people think, oh, well, fame is good. What I mean by fame is whatever goes with fame. And if you're not prepared to accept that, you won't be very good as a professional golfer. They go hand-in-hand.
I've often said to people who are good at -- who think they could have made it or could have -- I said, they wouldn't be able to handle what goes with being a good golfer.
Look, introducing Charlie at this stage, and he did it in a very nice way -- what you guys wouldn't have seen at that event is so when Charlie and Tiger comes into the clubhouse, they sit down, and they are now in an environment with my heros, you know, the likes of Lee Trevino and Gary Player. And they are coming up and mixing and talking, and he's getting to meet these guys, and it's kind of very -- it's kind of surreal in that clubhouse because they are, like they are my heros, they are stars, and I'm sure they are Tiger's, too.
One of the best things is my son is friends with Gary Player. You know, they sat at the table. They know each other. They know their name. That is just brilliant for me that my son has that -- can meet these people and have a relationship, and it will be the same for Charlie. He's now mixing in the right times and places in the right environment, because that is his life. He's never going to get away from Tiger Woods being his father. He's just not. He'd better embrace it, because if he tries to fight against it, it will be crazy difficult to fight against it. He's got to embrace it and enjoy it because that's going to be his life. Like whether he's going to make it as a professional golfer, who knows, but the likelihood is if you look at all the sons of golfers, especially of the successful golfers, you know, they might rebel against it for a while. But they all end up in the industry. They all end up around it.
So Charlie is going to be there. It was a really nice -- away from what you guys saw, it was really actually quite a calm, nice week and very friendly atmosphere in and around the players' lounge.
Q Charlie seemed very composed and assured as if he had been well prepared for it all.
PÁDRAIG HARRINGTON: No, I don't believe that. I just think Charlie was happy. I think he was happy doing what he wanted to do. I don't believe for a second that there was anything but sheer enjoyment and enthusiasm.
You know, again, you wouldn't see this, but again, he's very respectful around his elders. You know, when he was in that environment, you know, you would have seen a little bit of banter between him and Justin Thomas, but you know, with the other guys, you could just see it; that he's an 11-year-old kid looking up to them, and he actually really seems to be in a great place in terms of his personality, that he loves golf, but it's not in any shape or form -- you know, he's not getting ahead of himself in any shape or form. He's just a kid, 11 years of age.
Q I'm grateful thank you, thank you. I think we've gone on long enough.
NEIL AHERN: Feel like I'm cutting in on a one-on-one interview here.
PÁDRAIG HARRINGTON: It's all my short answers.
NEIL AHERN: Thank you very much for your time as always. We appreciate it and hope you have a great week this week.
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