Padraig Harrington has made his three captain’s picks, an on-paper blend of experience and Major-winning quality. In naming Sergio Garcia, Shane Lowry and Ian Poulter, the European Ryder Cup captain has added a total of 15 past appearances in the biennial contest, even with Lowry, a rookie, in that mix. The trio will join the nine automatic qualifiers – Jon Rahm, Tommy Fleetwood, Tyrrell Hatton, Rory McIlroy, Viktor Hovland, Paul Casey, Matt Fitzpatrick, Bernd Wiesberger and a relieved “last man in” Lee Westwood – on the plane to Whistling Straits later this month.
Little in the way of suspense surrounded the selection of both Garcia and Poulter. Harrington long ago intimated both were front and centre in his mind, which was no surprise. When it comes to the qualities each will bring to the 12-strong mix that will defend the trophy won so convincingly at Le Golf National in France three years ago, both are easy cases to make.
Garcia will arrive in Wisconsin as already the highest-ever points scorer for Europe, having amassed 25-and-a-half from his nine previous appearances between 1999 and 2018.
And Poulter? Surely every golf fan is familiar with the pride and passion the 45-year-old Englishman has brought to each of his six Ryder Cups. His tangible contribution is also remarkable, quite apart from the never-to-be-forgotten, game-changing, five-birdies-in-succession run he made in a Saturday evening fourball at Medinah in 2012. Never a loser in singles, Poulter has an overall record of 14-6-2, one that means he “plays with a target on my back”.
“This year will be no different,” he said. “It’s not a case of me being the ‘bad boy’. This is about me being one of 12 guys who can do the job we need to do. We have the experience in the team. We need to go out and enjoy what we have to do.”
Still, the same levels of certainty and justification were not in place when it came to the third pick. While Lowry’s selection is easily justified – he is, after all, a former Open champion – Harrington was quick to hail his fellow Irishman’s ability to cope with “brinkmanship” over the course of the qualifying period. Always on the edge, either just in or just out, Lowry played the last few months with much self-induced pressure hanging over his every competitive appearance.
In the end though, it was relief Lowry was feeling, not disappointment, especially after suffering the agony of waiting for the captain’s decision.
“I don’t normally talk myself up, but I think I’ve done enough,” Lowry said before his selection. “I deserve to be on the team, but it’s up to them. I’ve put forward as strong a case as you can put forward.”
Which turned out to be enough.
As things turned out, it was Justin Rose who was the “13th man”. The former US Open champion made a last-ditch attempt to impress the skipper with a closing 65 in the BMW PGA Championship. But a T-6 finish wasn’t quite enough to overtake the three men selected.
“It was incredibly difficult with JR,” Harrington said. “Clearly he was in contention in his last two events. Did I need more? Maybe not, but the fact of the matter is, with who he was going up against, the consistency of Shane Lowry, what Ian and Shane have brought over the years, somebody had to lose out. It really was as close as that. And if you don’t play your way in it’s a tough place to be. We just went with the passion, the core, the heart of the team that has been Ian and Sergio through the years. stress. JR did deliver this week, he performed. He came here under pressure. Maybe if he’d had a couple more weeks. But it was just a step too far.”
All of which elicited some sympathy from Poulter.
“It’s never easy is it?’ he said. “I don’t think any captain has had an easy time with this. I know this will be tough for Justin. He played great golf this week. I know the call he had to take from Padraig will have been difficult. I’ve had that call myself. Justin is a great player and a great person. He’ll respect what Padraig’s choice was.”
In that, there are no options. Not any more.