Padraig Harrington has insisted the cash-strapped European Tour does not “need” the Ryder Cup to take place this year and even claimed that if September’s match was postponed to 2021 - when it presumably would be guaranteed to have fans - the Tour would make more money.
The Europe captain’s comments emerged the day after Rory McIlroy, the world No 1, said players should not be forced to play at Whistling Straits without fans, pointing out they do not get paid and warning that a match with “no atmosphere” could damage the Ryder Cup’s lasting popularity.
McIlroy claimed the majority of the players, on both teams, would rather wait 12 months and the likes of world No 2, Jon Rahm, world No 3 Brooks Koepka, Justin Rose and Tommy Fleetwood have expressed their opposition to the no-galleries concept.
Yet Harrington has gone on record as saying his players “might have to take one for the team” and stomach a sterile scenario. In a recent interview he stated “it would be wrong not to consider the financial side”.
However, Harrington now asserts that a Ryder Cup minus supporters would have nothing to do with economic necessity.
"The European Tour is sitting on one of the biggest assets in sport. They are not going anywhere," Harrington told AP. "When you look at the financial side of it, it's not for financial reasons to have it this year. Nobody needs it for that reason. Financially, it would probably be better to have it next year.”
Harrington has changed his tune a number of times in the past few months - initially, at the start of the lockdown, the Irishman declared “a Ryder Cup behind closed doors is not an option” - but now his contention seems to be that, although the Ryder Cup would be “diminished” as a product, it could act as a fillip in the pandemic.
"There is a much bigger thing going on," Harrington said. "Put it in context of what's going on in the world. But this is why we are actually talking about the Ryder Cup going ahead. Because, in its current form, it certainly would only go on because sport may need - and people may need - a bit of an uplift.”
McIlroy and his fellow big-hitters are clearly not in an agreement and it seems almost perverse to suggest they could be emotionally blackmailed to appear in Wisconsin against their wishes.
“To ask players to go there under their good, I think it would be asking a bit too much of them. Let’s face it, there is no Ryder Cup without the players at the end of the day,” McIlroy told the McKellar podcast.
“There wouldn’t be any atmosphere and I think it would halt any momentum that the Ryder Cup has [built up]. And the fact it is the third or fourth biggest sports event in the world, I don’t see any reason why it cannot be played in 2021 and be a celebration of golf. I can’t see it being played without fans. It would just take everything away from it.”