Can a 51-year-old make the Ryder Cup? We’ll find out soon

padraig harrington

Padraig Harrington is hanging tight with some of the best players in the world this week at the Genesis Scottish Open.

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GULLANE, Scotland — LIV Golf, PGA Tour, DP World Tour, it doesn’t matter where your preference lies. The player with the most fascinating schedule right now is a 51-year-old Irishman. 

Padraig Harrington is here at the Genesis Scottish Open where the grass is firm but saturated after a mid-morning rain. The wind is up, and it switched directions from where it blew Thursday. The golf here is much trickier than whatever his Champions Tour comrades are facing at the Senior Players Championship in sweaty Akron, Ohio. But Harrington is here to embrace the trickiness. If he wants to play in the Ryder Cup this fall, now is the time to show it. His 67-66 is a lovely start. 

“Luke [Donald] rang me a couple weeks ago,” Harrington said Friday. “He was actually ringing me to say well done for my win. And said it would be remiss to say ‘I’m not watching.’

“I said, [my schedule] is going to be very clear. How I play in Scotland and how I play at the Open will determine everything … I know if I don’t perform these two weeks, it’s the end of that.” 

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That might be the case. Harrington has reached the point in his career where every aspect of his golf is couched with the fact that he’s 51-going-on-52. He playfully sighed when one reporter began a question with “at your stage of life,” but it’s true. If he doesn’t play well during these two starts against the best players in the world, why should he be considered for one of the 12 top spots on the European team? Harrington is old enough to have been a Ryder Cup captain. After that, you don’t join the team as a player. You ride off into the sunset on the Champions Tour, which is what he’s been doing. And ironically what he thinks has helped him.

The mid-2010s were a grind for Harrington. From 2016-2019, he made just $434,000 in 38 events on the PGA Tour. He went back to devoting himself to the tour he grew up on, in Europe, and found himself having fun again. “Then when I went to the Champions Tour, I changed a lot about what I do.” 

Mentally, he reaches a more comfortable place at the senior events. Is it fewer demands? Higher expectations? Whatever it is, it leads to better golf. Six top 10s in eight events. Normally, returning to the PGA Tour would prompt a wake-up call. But Harrington has made the cut in every PGA Tour event this season — five for five — finishing T10 at the Valero Texas Open. He slowly crept up the leaderboard on the weekend at the U.S. Open, finishing T27, and now sits T5 halfway through the second day of the Scottish Open, tied with the No. 1 player in the world.

“Honestly guys,” he told reporters Friday. “If I never hit the ball any better than I did the last two days, I’d be happy very happy.”

The idea of an older veteran earning a playing spot in a Ryder Cup isn’t without precedent. Fifty-one-year-old Ray Floyd played for the Americans in the 1993 Cup, going 3-1 for the winning side. Recently, 48-year-old Lee Westwood competed on the 2021 European team at Whistling Straits, brought to tears by the end of a record-setting defeat. It was the end of an era for Westwood, who secured one point, during his Sunday singles match. Harrington was the captain. They’ve lived very different lives these last two years. 

It is undoubtedly Ryder Cup Season in this part of the world. European captain Luke Donald gathered a number of his potential team members together Tuesday evening for a barbecue. We are just seven weeks from the automatic qualifiers cementing their place on the team, after which six captain’s picks will be made. Until we put the question to Donald, it will be hard to say exactly where Harrington ranks on his list of hopefuls. On the European points lists, he’s nowhere close. But according to DataGolf, an analytics site, Harrington ranks 19th out of the eligible Europeans. Essentially, he’s two rounds into an eight-round tryout. Pre-qualifying, if you will. Champions Tour performances shouldn’t impact this race, Harrington said, and you don’t have a chance to catch the captain’s eye unless you do it at the highest level.

“If I turned up and played the Senior Players Championship this week, then I’d be telling you I don’t think I can win the Open. As in, I know I need to be here to play links golf if I want to challenge in the Open. I still think I’m a serious player.”

Serious enough for us to talk about it.

Sean Zak Editor

Sean Zak is a writer at GOLF Magazine and just published his first book, which follows his travels in Scotland during the most pivotal summer in the game’s history.

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