Padraig Harrington was forced to make late Ryder Cup switch over 'ball issues' with key players

Padraig Harrington was forced to make late Ryder Cup switch over 'ball issues' with key players - AP
Padraig Harrington was forced to make late Ryder Cup switch over 'ball issues' with key players - AP

Padraig Harrington was forced into a pairings change on the eve of the all-important opening session of last week’s Ryder Cup because of “ball issues” with some of the players.

With former captains such as Paul McGinley and Thomas Bjorn emphasising the imperative for the visiting team to get off to a fast start, Europe lost the Friday morning foursomes 3-1, with the United States gaining a commanding advantage they were never to surrender in their record 19-9 victory.

In defeat, Harrington announced: “The one thing I can walk away with is I am very comfortable with all the decisions all along.”

Harrington made great play of the months of preparation he undertook with his stats team – predominantly Dylan Beirne, a fellow Irishman who Ryder Cup Europe seconded from his position as a golf trader at Nellie Analytics, the sports gambling division of Susquehanna International Group – and revealed that his pairings had largely been set before arriving in Wisconsin for the three-day shoot-out.

However, Telegraph Sport has learnt Harrington’s best-laid plans were ultimately forced to be ripped up on the Wednesday, the penultimate day of official practice, when it was discovered that Lee Westwood and Paul Casey played different balls and, so too, did Matt Fitzpatrick and Viktor Hovland. Harrington felt obliged to make a hasty switch in the quartet of duos he named 24 hours later, with Westwood partnering Fitzpatrick and Casey teaming up with Hovland. Both partnerships lost.

Hovland and Casey did not appear together again, but Westwood and Fitzpatrick also went out in the Saturday foursomes, which they again lost.

“Maybe they should have thought about the ball issue earlier, as it is always part of the equation of putting two players together in a foursomes,” an insider said. “But all four play Titleist and you might have thought it would be fine. Yet there are different sorts of Titleist balls.”

Fitzpatrick plays the Titleist Pro V1x issued in 2019, while Hovland plays the Titleist Pro V1 released earlier this year. Westwood and Casey also employ different types of Titleist, by far the most popular brand on Tour. As the source said, the ball has long been a factor in putting together pairings, although interestingly a new rule introduced in 2006 apparently reduced its relevance.

Instead of being required to use one make and model the entire round, team-mates were allowed to switch balls at the end of each hole. That permitted a compromise where the player driving off would use the favoured ball of his partner, who would then have the luxury of familiarity on the approach shots, for which distance control is paramount. However, stats have since revealed that those partnerships who use the same ball do have an advantage.

In Sunday’s final round of the Dunhill Links Championship at St Andrews, Shane Lowry – who won one out of three points as a debutant at Whistling Straits – has an immediate opportunity to take consolation when he goes out in a tie for second, three off the pace set by England’s Danny Willett. Tyrrell Hatton is alongside his Europe team-mate on 11-under chasing Willett, the 2016 Masters champion who was so impressive in shooting a third-round 66 at the Old Course.

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