VIRGINIA WATER – Padraig Harrington has long been conscious of what the reaction would be if he picked Shane Lowry, his good friend and fellow Irishman, to play for Europe at the Ryder Cup.
“It’s always been the elephant in the room — everybody says, ‘You’re going to pick Shane, you’re going to pick Shane,’” the European team captain said. “If anything, that pushed it away from me.”
Harrington still made that call.
Becoming the third rookie in a team otherwise filled with lots of experience, Lowry completed Europe’s lineup for its defense of the Ryder Cup at Whistling Straits in Wisconsin from Sept. 24-26 by receiving one of Harrington’s three captain’s picks, along with veterans Sergio Garcia and Ian Poulter.
While Garcia and Poulter were heavily favored to be selected — Harrington even said as much at the start of the week — the decision to bring in Lowry clearly weighed heavily on Europe’s captain.
“I had to keep checking with the vice captains, ‘I’m not biased here, this is right, don’t let me be distracted here because Shane is my friend,’” Harrington said in a video call Sunday, giving a window into his thinking.
Making it all the harder was Justin Rose, another reliable Ryder Cup stalwart, closing the BMW PGA Championship — the final qualifying event -- with a 65 at Wentworth to finish in a tie for sixth on Sunday and ahead of Lowry.
Aside from Rose, Harrington felt Swedish player Alex Noren would be a good fit for the team, and for Whistling Straits.
Yet Lowry got the nod. Even though he won the British Open in 2019 in memorable scenes at Royal Portrush, Lowry described his Ryder Cup selection as the “proudest day of my career so far.”
“Playing all year, really all I wanted to do was make the Ryder Cup team,” Lowry said. “That’s all that’s mattered to me all year.”
The other rookies in the team will be Bernd Wiesberger and Viktor Hovland, compared to the six that will play for the Americans. That contributes to the huge imbalance between the teams in terms of experience, with Europe having 38 past Ryder Cup appearances compared to 12 for the U.S.
Wiesberger, Lee Westwood, Matt Fitzpatrick and Tyrrell Hatton secured the final automatic qualifying places for Europe following the BMW PGA Championship. It will be Westwood's 11th Ryder Cup appearance.
They joined Jon Rahm, Rory McIlroy, Tommy Fleetwood, Hovland and Paul Casey in the team as Europe defends the cup it won outside Paris in 2018.
The 41-year-old Garcia will be looking to add to his record haul of 25 1/2 points at Ryder Cups, and appeared to be a no-brainer for Harrington.
“He's a leader. He loves match play. He's a great ball-striker and is well suited to the golf course,” Harrington said. “But it's what he does for the team. He really leads out that team.”
Poulter, who has earned the nickname “The Postman” because he always delivers in the Ryder Cup, has been given a captain's pick for the second straight time. He is unbeaten in singles matches in his six appearances.
“I don't think this should have been too much of a doubt,” Harrington said of Poulter's selection, calling the Englishman a "talisman."
“He brings an unbelievable passion to the team room, he brings incredible passion to his matches. He lifts his playing partners, he lifts his team.”
Rose needed to win at Wentworth to qualify automatically but fell three shots short. Still, the way he spoke afterward put some pressure on Harrington.
“I played match play against the golf course, just to get into the spirit of match play,” Rose said pointedly.
Harrington said Rose was unlucky to miss out, but added that Wiesberger would have got in ahead of him, too, if the Austrian had required a pick.
As it was, Wiesberger qualified in fourth place in the European points list courtesy of a 20th-place finish at the BMW PGA Championship.
“I talked to Justin a few weeks ago and, you know, he was very keen that he was going to work on his game, get his game ready. And, look, he did," Harrington said. “But ultimately, Bernd went in and stole his thunder and got in there and got that automatic position. At the end of the day, there just wasn’t enough room.”
Wiesberger, the first Austrian to make a Ryder Cup team, said it had been a “really, really hard” week.
“I have never felt quite like it on a golf course before,” he said. “I’ve been in a situation where I was playing for tournaments, but everybody says this is bigger and it already feels that way.”
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