If Steve Stricker, the United States Ryder Cup captain, is fretting about the destructive potential of the feud between Bryson DeChambeau and Brooks Koepka then he need only look across to the opposing team room and see the relationship between Europe’s captain and the match’s best-ever player.
ecause there was bad blood between Pádraig Harrington and Sergio Garcia that lasted for more than a decade, and at one stage the discord was regarded as so extreme that Garcia’s permission was actually sought by a previous Ryder Cup captain for Harrington to be an assistant.
Before the 2014 victory at Gleneagles, Paul McGinley felt obliged to speak to the Spaniard concerning the long-standing rift.
“I wanted Pádraig as one of my vice-captains,” said McGinley said. “But I felt that I owed it out of respect to ask Sergio, was he OK if I appointed Pádraig as vice-captain?
“So I went to Sergio and over the course of three or four conversations, we got to a place where Pádraig could come in, but this is what he could do, this is what he couldn’t do, this is what Sergio will be happy with doing.
“And the irony is, they ended up playing table tennis together, part of the team, and there were absolutely no issues.”
So that was the hatchet buried . . .
Well, not quite. Because three years later the Irishman decided to fire up the enmity once more. And on that occasion it took an encounter at Rory McIlroy’s wedding to prevent the animosity from blowing up again.
The hostility can be traced back to 2003 and the Seve Trophy between Great Britain and Ireland and Continental Europe. In a close affair in Valencia, Harrington was playing Jose Maria Olazabal in the Sunday singles and on the third green the latter began repairing what he claimed were pitch marks on his line. Walking past, Harrington remarked: “You’re repairing a lot there.”
Harrington then beckoned the referee to check they were not spike marks – which, at that stage, golfers were not allowed to repair – but as the official stepped forward, Olazabal conceded the hole and furiously marched off to the next tee. Silence ensued over the remaining 15 holes and, somewhat inevitably, the game proved decisive, with the half point ensuring a Britain and Ireland win.
Olazabal remonstrated with Harrington afterwards, accusing him of “questioning my reputation”. With Seve Ballesteros as the captain and other Spaniards in Garcia, Miguel Angel Jimenez and Ignacio Garrido in the team, the lines were firmly drawn. It was Garcia’s national duty to pull up the drawbridge.
Fast forward four years and the patriotic beef became personal. Harrington beat Garcia in a four-hole play-off to win the Open at Carnoustie and Garcia went searching elsewhere for the reasons other than the display of the champion. “I’m playing against a lot of guys out there, more than the field,” Garcia said, hinting at sinister forces.
At the next year’s US PGA, Harrington once again denied Garcia after the latter had led for most of the final round. This time Garcia lamented an approach shot that hit the pin and cannoned 20 feet away. “There are guys that get a little bit fortunate; they get in contention, in a Major, and manage to get things going their way,” Garcia said. The inference was clear. There were no congratulations extended to Harrington and if that annoyed the champion it was nothing to the rage he felt at what he considered to be Garcia’s distracting antics on the final few holes.
Harrington felt Garcia was purposefully getting in his eye line, so told caddie Ronan Flood to stand in between them. There could be no doubting the antipathy, but Harrington went public with it anyway, saying to The Guardian a few months later: “We have zero in common, bar the fact that we both play golf. He is the antithesis of me, and I am the antithesis of him.”
But one day they had to patch it up and after Olazabal snubbed Harrington for a wild card for the 2012 Ryder Cup, with Garcia backing the decision, McGinley chose to reseal the bond. “I wasn’t concerned as I knew the Ryder Cup would bring them together. That’s what the team room and a common purpose does,” McGinley said.
But the team room is open only once every 104 weeks and there is plenty of time for the remnants of a squabble to be picked over.
In fairness to Garcia, he managed to bite his lip in the wake of Harrington’s extraordinary outburst four years ago. What was supposed to be an Irish radio interview praising Garcia at last making his Major breakthrough at the 2017 Masters turned into something ugly.
“I gave him every out I possibly could have at the 2007 Open,” Harrington said. “I was as polite as could be and was as generous as I could be, but he was a very sore loser, and he continued to be a very sore loser.”
Harrington recognised he was in the wrong and that those bygones did not need resurrecting. He was presented with the chance to address his error almost immediately. “It was Rory’s wedding and as sod’s law had it, the first person I bumped into was Sergio,” Harrington said. “It was something that needed to be done straight away and Sergio made it very easy for me.
“The crux of the radio interview was that Sergio had shown how much he deserved to win the Masters, and at that moment in time he had paid his dues.”
Now the relationship is at last on its plateau. “I want to say the last four or five years we’ve had a much better relationship and now enjoy our time together,” Garcia said. “And I put myself at fault because I was young and I wanted to win Majors and he got a couple of Majors from me and it made me feel bad.
“But once we get to the Ryder Cup you put your arms around each other – at least that’s what we do on our side.”
The last comment was as sneaky as it is pertinent, because it is up to DeChambeau and Koepka to put the team before the spat. Evidence of what is possible will be in full hug just across the corridor.