If Steve Stricker, the US Ryder Cup captain, is fretting about the destructive potential of the infamous “feud” between Bryson DeChambeau and Brooks Koepka then he only need to look across to the opposing teamroom and see the relationship of their captain and the match’s best ever player.
Because there was bad blood between Padraig Harrington and Sergio Garcia that lasted for more than a decade and at one stage the discord was regarded as so extreme that Telegraph Sport can reveal 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 longstanding rift.
“We had a situation with Sergio and Padraig, which was obvious, quite clear, it’s no secret, because it was all over the media,” McGinley said. “Obviously, that was a personality clash there. I wanted Padraig as one of my vice-captains, with our history and everything, and I really respect his views.
“But I felt that I owed it out of respect to ask Sergio was he was ok if I appointed Padraig as vice-captain – and this was before I’d even asked Padraig. So I went to Sergio and over the course of of a couple of weeks, and three or four conversations, we got to a place where Padraig 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. Quite the contrary, in fact, they started to reacquaint themselves with each other, which was great.”
So that was the hatchet buried and the once warring duo could walk off into a blue and gold sunset…
Well, not quite. Because three years later, after Harrington and Garcia had once again shared a teamroom as vice-captain and player at the 2016 Ryder Cup, the Irishman decided to fire up the enmity once more. And on that occasion it took a superstar’s wedding to stop the animosity from blowing up again. It it had that would surely have jeopardised Harrington’s hopes of being captain so long as Garcia remained one of Europe’s strike weapons.
The hostility can be traced back to 2003 and the Seve Trophy, the match between Great Britain & Ireland and Contintental Europe that was then riding high as the Ryder Cup’s dress rehearsal. 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 commented: «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 ultimately proved decisive, with the half point ensuring GB&I the win.
Olazabal remonstrated with Harrington for 10 minutes afterwards, accusing him of “questioning my reputation”. The row was so loud there were asked to reduce the decibels, as they were distracting the other players finishing off. 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 not simply Harrington versus Olazabal, but Harrington versus the Armada. He had dared to cast suspicion on “Príncipe Heredero”, the most respected player in Spanish golf. The Dubliner was excomulgado. It was Garcia’s national duty to pull up the drawbridge.
Fast forward three 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 play 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, this time down the stretch with a couple of nerveless putts after Garcia had led for most of that final round. Having retained the Claret Jug the month previous, Harrington could now boast three major titles to Garcia’s none.
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.
Harringtion felt Garcia was purposefully getting in his eyeline, 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.»
Earlier this year, Harrington told me how he regarded Garcia back then. “I used to sit and watch Sergio and just go ‘gee whizz, wouldn’t it be nice to be Sergio?’. He plays so well, every week, all he has to do is wait for the event until he putts well and then he wins. Wouldn’t you just be patient, instead of acting up?’ I can see it differently now.”
The divide was irretrievable. Two opposites, one believing the other had not made the most of his talent, the other somehow feeling robbed by what he believed was the other’s good fortune. Throw in Harrington’s enduring enthusiasm to express his feelings in the media and never the twain shall meet or at least play a polite practice round together.
But one day they had to patch it up and after Olzabal snubbed Harrington for a wildcard for the 2012 Ryder Cup with Garcia backing the decision – “he wouldn’t be a sure pick for me,” he said – McGinley chose to reseal the bond. “I wasn’t concerned at all once they were both there as I knew the Ryder Cup would bring them together – that’s what the teamroom and a common purpose does,” McGinley said.
But the teamroom is only open once every 104 weeks and there is plenty of time for the remnants of a squabble to be picked over in between. In fairness to Garcia, he kept his own counsel on the affair and indeed 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’m very strong on the etiquette of the game, so I don’t tolerate people spitting in the hole, throwing their shoes or throwing golf clubs,» Harrington said. “That would be my attitude, and it would be quite clear where I came from.
«Then we went into the majors and obviously I beat him at the majors. I gave him every out I possibly could have at the 2007 Open. I was as polite as I could and was as generous as I could be, but he was a very sore loser, and he continued to be a very sore loser. So clearly, after that, we have had a very sticky wicket.»
Harrington recognised he was in the wrong and that those bygones certainly 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. He’d done his homework on everything that had been said. The crux of the radio interview was that Sergio had turned the corner and 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. Last week Harrington told the Golf Channel: “Myself and Sergio will be an interesting case. We’ve obviously been competitors nearly all our career. It’s well publicised we wouldn’t necessarily have got on. The Ryder Cup is bigger than that. It’s been good for both of us.”
For his part, Garcia sounds yet more at peace. Harrington made it plain from a long way out that the Ryder Cup’s record all-time scorer would receive a captain’s pick – “Sergio would almost need to lose a limb not to be selected,” Harrington told Telegraph Sport – and he seems grateful for the patronage.
“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.
“However, he was a competitor just like me and wanted to win just like me, so there was nothing wrong from his point of view. But once we get to the Ryder Cup you think about all those things and 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.