European Ryder Cup captain Padraig Harrington knows how much the biennial event means to the European Tour and its financial viability.
With that and the realities of the near-term future in mind, the 2020 captain and three-time major winner acknowledged it may be necessary for the Ryder Cup to be played in September without fans.
“Everyone wants fans to be there, but the question is does sport need the Ryder Cup and should the Ryder Cup take one for the team? Would it be for the greater good of sport?” Harrington said to The Times of London. “It wouldn’t be in the Ryder Cup’s best interests, but it could be in the best interests of enough people who want to see a big sporting occasion on TV.”
“It would be wrong not to consider the financial side,” he added.
The PGA of America, which puts on the Ryder Cup when it’s in the United States as it is this year, has already acknowledged it is looking into playing the event as scheduled as Whistling Straits from Sept. 25-27, albeit without fans.
When the Ryder Cup is played in the United States, the European Tour doesn’t make as much from the event as it does when Europe hosts. However, if the Ryder Cup isn’t played this year, that means the money from this Ryder Cup and the even larger pool of funds for the next European-hosted Ryder Cup will be delayed. That could be catastrophic for the European Tour, which has furloughed employees with their season officially delayed into July.
“They’d be playing for pride and for Europe on TV – it would be a big deal,” Harrington said. “I think we all understand our place in the world a bit more, but if it was played behind closed doors it would not pose any problem for the players.”
The notion of having fans isn’t entirely off the table yet, but it depends on a variety of factors, Harrington thinks. It depends on Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers, who has a stay-at-home order currently in place through the end of May. It also depends on the possible existence of a therapeutic drug or a vaccine, which is unlikely before fall. The Irishman also thinks the PGA Tour’s restart, scheduled to happen in June without fans at the first four events, will inform what happens with the Ryder Cup.
“If those PGA Tour events go well behind closed doors, then we are far more likely to see a Ryder Cup as normal,” Harrington said. “It massively increases the odds of being with fans, because by September we may have moved on. I assume there is no chance of a vaccine (by September), so we’re looking at how well-contained it is by then, and how treatable it is.”
Regardless of what happens, Harrington insists the European team will be decided on some kind of merit system.
He told the Times, “I can tell you there is no scenario where I get 12 picks.”