As it turns out, instinct led the way, with the stats supporting those moves.
“We clearly picked the team based on what we (he and his vice-captains) knew to be best,” Harrington explained. “And the great thing was that the stats never contradicted those decisions in any significant way. Yes, there were times when another partnership might have been mildly stronger, but there were other ‘intuition reasons’ why we went the ways we did.
“We never strayed off into any tangents,” he continued. “There was not a lot of change. Which was the great thing about the stats. Everything we came up with, the stats guys were able to back up. Maybe we could have strengthened one partnership or weakened another, but we were never far enough off that we had to change what we thought. It was nice to have that confirmation. We were able to go with what we felt best. Our intuition dominated.”
“You don’t want to lead with your strongest group into their strongest group,” he said. “The way to win is to play your weakest group against their strongest group. You want your 1-2-3 playing their 2-3-4. Which is what the Americans did. They never led with their strongest group. But we had to lead with Jon and Sergio [Garcia], never mind what the stats said.”
Perhaps the biggest decision Harrington – or any captain, for that matter – has to deal with is an old Ryder perennial: do you go with a player who is performing badly but winning points, or another who is playing well but losing? Then there was the case of Rory McIlroy. Clearly one of Europe’s best players, the Northern Irishman was equally obviously struggling in his first two matches, neither of which went beyond the 15th green.
As for how he has been feeling since it all went so very much pear-shaped for him and his team, Harrington is predictably philosophical.
“I’m OK,” he insisted. “I don’t want to get involved in it all. Certainly, I want no part of social media. But, as I said, there is a part of me that wants to explain. That’s frustrating. I’m the sort of person who’d like everybody to know exactly what happened and went on. For example, did no one see the US guys putting their weakest group against our best group? People say: why didn’t you play Sergio Garcia on Friday afternoon? But 12 does not go into eight. Sergio was a pick and at the end he played nicely, did exactly what we wanted. And we ended up leading with him the whole weekend. But on the first day you’ve got to give everyone a chance to play and see what you have out there.”
Prior to the matches, Harrington had expressed at least mild concern that a bad result in the matches would affect his “legacy”. Any lasting negative reaction seemed unlikely given his status as a three-time Major champion, but has his natural concern lingered in the wake of a truly awful scoreline?
“I did what I needed to do in the team room,” he said. “The fact that my players are happy is all that counts for me. I was so worried that I wouldn’t do a good job. That’s the biggest pressure and stress. But there is nothing we could have done differently. My team gave 100 percent. There’s nothing more I could have asked from them. From my perspective, I’m very comfortable saying there is nothing more we could have done.”