Padraig Harrington.
Padraig Harrington will return for the Dubai Desert Classic Image Credit: Supplied

Team Europe Ryder Cup captain Padraig Harrington had quite a year in 2021, starting with an impressive sixth position at the Dubai Desert Classic at Emirates Golf Club in January, claiming a brilliant fourth at the PGA Championship in May, and taking eighth spot at the Aviv Dubai Championship on the Jumeirah Golf Estates’ Fire Course in November.

All at the grand old age of 50.

Not that the Irish veteran who famously won the Open Championship back-to-back in 2007 and 2008 is planning to slow down any time soon. Even a thumping by the United States Ryder Cup team at Whistling Straits could dampen his spirits and love of the game.

“I’m exceptionally motivated when it comes to playing the game,” Harrington told Gulf News in an exclusive chat ahead of the Dubai Desert Classic next week. I didn’t need any extra motivation from being Ryder Cup captain as I am always itching to play. I love my golf and I love to play. I’m fascinated by it and obsessed with it in many ways and don’t need an excuse.”

Harrington did admit that he is still on a learning curve, despite his age.

“I did learn from the Ryder Cup experience. What you say to the players you also hear back as you are saying the words and they apply to you also as golf is all about playing your own game. I was telling the players this and watching from the sidelines. That showed me it is all about your own game, the consistency and the little things that add up over 72 holes.”

The Irishman, who also claimed the US PGA title in 2008, is looking forward to getting back on the course after a winter break — and he can think of no better

place to get going again than Dubai.

“The Desert Swing and Dubai Desert Classic are very important to the whole golfing season,” he said. “If a player can get in contention or even win one of these early tournaments, it can give them the confidence they need for the season ahead. It sets them up for a great year.

“Secondly, coming out to the Middle East, you have these great facilities. I have played something like one week in Florida in the past 10 weeks. I am sitting in Ireland and have not been near a course. Heading to the Middle East, I hope things work out for me, but if they don’t there is nowhere better to work on my swing and any problems given the world-class facilities and academies to get you in shape for the rest of the year.

“It is a win-win. Sure, you want to play well, but if you don’t, you know you are in the perfect place to sort it out. Everyone walks away from the Desert Swing feeling good about their game — they either played well or they got their problems sorted among the best surroundings and coaches in the world.

“I think everybody enjoys playing out in the UAE: Warm, windy weather; dry, fast courses in perfect conditions. What is not to enjoy in terms of golf? What’s not to enjoy in terms of sunshine, top hotels, restaurants and facilities. Plus it is easy to get to with direct flights from pretty much everywhere making it an ideal destination.”

Harrington will also hope to claim a first trophy out here as the Dubai Desert Classic follows the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge and then comes the inaugural Ras Al Khaimah Championship.

“I was runner up to Thomas Bjorn alongside Tiger Woods at the DDC back in the day in 2001 and that is a special memory for me as that is the closest I have come to a title out in the Middle East,” he recalled.