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captain's pick Pádraig Harrington primed for Ryder Cup mental battle and why Shane Lowry 'just needs to chill out'

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Irish duo Pádraig Harrington and Shane Lowry fist bump after Harrington played his tee-shot on the 17th hole during the final round of the 2021 PGA Championship at the Ocean Course of Kiawah Island last Sunday. Photo: James Squire/Getty

Irish duo Pádraig Harrington and Shane Lowry fist bump after Harrington played his tee-shot on the 17th hole during the final round of the 2021 PGA Championship at the Ocean Course of Kiawah Island last Sunday. Photo: James Squire/Getty

Irish duo Pádraig Harrington and Shane Lowry fist bump after Harrington played his tee-shot on the 17th hole during the final round of the 2021 PGA Championship at the Ocean Course of Kiawah Island last Sunday. Photo: James Squire/Getty

Pádraig Harrington won’t be of an age to beat Phil Mickelson’s record as golf’s oldest Major winner until Monday, August 8, 2022. But while he’s distracted now plotting to regain the Ryder Cup on US soil, nobody would be shocked if he pulled it off.

If Mickelson winning the PGA Championship aged 50 years, 11 months and 7 days was the big story at Kiawah Island on Sunday, Irish golf was clearly more enamoured by Harrington’s finish than the fact that Shane Lowry catapulted himself to the fringes of automatic selection for September’s Ryder Cup.

At 10th in the standings, the Offaly man looks a great bet to make the side on merit, given he still has the US Open, The Open and the Olympic Games still to come.

Even Lowry was caught up in the Harrington mania on Sunday, becoming so relaxed in the company of his regular practice ground sparring partner, he clinched his most significant finish since The Open almost without trying.

Not only does he look like he’ll make the Ryder Cup team, but he also looks like he may well make it with ease if he pays attention to what Harrington has been saying for months about what it takes to get to the next level.

“He’s already at the level,” Harrington said on Sunday. “He just needs to chill out. Same as all of us. We need to somehow get golf in that right place.

“Like all of us golfers, if you put us out on this golf course without this tournament, or let’s say if you put me out on this golf course in the same conditions playing off the same tees, everything the same, but I was playing against, you know, a much lesser field, I’d have shot a better score than two-under par.

“So it’s not a physical thing. At this level, it’s never physical. It’s mental. It’s amazing. There’s a fine line between pushing and actually not pushing too hard.”

Lowry now talks often of his attitude. After all, he’s spent the last decade travelling and practising with a three-time Major winner whose ability to think about the game is only rivalled by his ability to play it.

What Harrington whispered in Mickelson’s ear as the left-hander walked in to sign his card following his epic victory on Sunday will remain between them. But the win can only fuel his dreams of another golden day in the sun.

To expect a man who has missed the cut in 12 of his last 15 Major starts to win another grand slam title might seem far-fetched. But should he give himself a chance coming down the stretch, only a brave man would bet against him should he discover the keys to Tír na nÓg nerveless putting under pressure.

“There’s no doubt, put me on a windy golf course and I’m going to be competitive to pretty much everybody,” he said at Kiawah Island.

“There’s nothing stopping me in my golf swing. I swing the club well enough and I hit the golf ball well enough and I hit it far enough to compete.

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“Give me the right conditions, as I probably needed the right conditions even back in my own heyday, and I will be competitive, no doubt about it.”

Harrington’s problem as he heads for his 50th birthday on August 31 is that he lacks the resilience of youth.

When he double-bogeyed the 18th in the second round of The Open at Carnoustie in 2007, he dismissed it as irrelevant to the final outcome. These days, he knows he’s got to play to the limit of his powers.

“I can’t take as many punches,” he admitted on Friday when he played his back nine in 38 to Mickelson’s 31. “I can’t take as many mistakes.”

As he dares to dream, he need only listen to his own advice. At this level, it’s never physical. It’s mental.

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